PROVO — After a tough 20-19 loss to the University of Utah last Saturday, the Cougars need to regroup and move on to UCLA. No more "woulda, coulda, shoulda," it's all about preparing for the Bruins.
BYU has a tough task ahead against a UCLA team that started the season ranked. The Bruins started the season with a tough loss to Texas A&M and then squeezed out a victory over UNLV last week.
Here are three keys to victory for the BYU Cougars:
1. Keep it close in the first half
Expect the Bruins to throw the ball a lot in the first half. The Cougar defense will be without defensive backs Kai Nacua and Austin McChesney for the first half, and it's still unclear if Troy Warner will be back after missing the Utah game. The BYU secondary will be vulnerable without its captain and leader.
Bruin quarterback Josh Rosen has had a shaky start to his season, throwing more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2) through two games. Like the BYU offense, the UCLA offense is still finding out. Now with two weeks under their belt, Rosen and the Bruins will have plenty of film to see how to refine the offense in time for the Cougars.
Rosen will take full advantage of a BYU secondary without its leader. Michael Davis and Micah Hannemann will do all they can until Nacua is back in the second half.
2. Shut down the UCLA run game
The Cougars will need to make the Bruins one-dimensional and with that stout front seven, the run game will be the target. The Bruins are averaging 172 rush yards per game, led by running back Soso Jamabo with 181 yards and three touchdowns through two weeks. Jamabo is replacing NFL draft pick Paul Perkins who ran for 219 yards and a touchdown against the Cougars last year at the Rose Bowl.
The Cougars are allowing 142 rush yards per game, but gave up 169 rush yards to the Utah and most of those yards came in the fourth quarter. In the past two games, opposing run games have abused the BYU defense and worn it down. This is where the Nacua disqualification for the first half may help the Cougars. The Bruins will throw the ball more in the first half and run more in the second half. This will keep the BYU front seven fresh for the second half and more prepared for long Bruin drives.
3. Harness the emotion of the home opener
BYU is expecting a sell-out crowd for the home opener and LaVell Edwards Stadium will be rocking. The team and fans are coming off an emotional defeat last week and they are hungry for a win this week.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake showed last week he won't hide his emotions and BYU fans love it. That emotion will feed into the stands and bring the kind of energy that the team hasn't felt in its first two road games. Expect the Cougars to get an extra boost from the electric atmosphere at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Nathan Harker is a sports writing intern currently enrolled at Brigham Young University majoring in broadcast journalism. Nathan can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @n8_harker.