PROVO — When BYU opened the season last Saturday with a lackluster victory over Portland State, team captain and star linebacker Butch Pau’u could only watch helplessly from the sidelines due to a hamstring injury and the flu.
Pau’u obviously is looking forward to taking the field for the first time this season Saturday (7:30 p.m., MDT, ESPN) when the Cougars collide with No. 13 Louisiana State at the Superdome.
The destruction left by Hurricane Harvey in Houston forced the relocation of the game to New Orleans.
“Now that we know that we’re playing in Louisiana, we’re excited to play there," Pau'u said Tuesday after BYU practiced inside the Indoor Practice Facility. "We hope we can play well and give a good performance.”
In order to give a good performance, the Cougars know they’ll have to play much better than they did last week against Portland State.
During the offseason, LSU hired a new offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, who previously coached at Pittsburgh and has installed a multiple-scheme attack.
“They’re going to try to trick us. They’re going to use a lot of motion,” BYU safety Zayne Anderson said of the Tigers’ new offense. “Each of needs to do our job on each play.”
Canada has plenty of weapons in his arsenal.
LSU boasts one of the nation’s top running backs, Derrius Guice, who rushed for more than 1,300 yards last season. Guice is an All-America and Heisman Trophy candidate.
“He’s a great player. He breaks tackles,” Anderson said. “He’s fast and he’s an all-around back. It’s going to be a big challenge, but we’re ready to face it.”
“If you make an error, he’s going to gut you,” Cougar defensive end Sione Takitaki said of Guice. “He’s going to take the ball and run it 40 or 50 yards.”
Guice missed practices recently due to issues with his wisdom teeth.
Although LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Monday he wasn’t sure whether Guice would be able to play this week, Guice made it clear Tuesday that he plans to carry the ball against the Cougars.
“My teeth aren’t holding me back,” Guice said. “I don’t care if they pull all of them out. I’m playing this week.”
Meanwhile, Tiger wide receiver D.J. Chark caught 26 passes for 466 yards last season. “He doesn’t drop passes,” Anderson said.
Senior quarterback Danny Etling took over as the starter early last year and steadily improved. Etling had streaks of 101 and 93 attempts without an interception.
“He’s very consistent, and he gets the ball to where it needs to be,” Pau’u said of Etling. “He’s not a dual-threat quarterback, so he stands in the pocket and delivers it. Our goal is to get a lot of pressure on him so he kind of freaks out.”
No doubt, the Cougars are going to be facing a lot of elite athletes Saturday, including left tackle K.J. Malone, the son of Utah Jazz legend and NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone.
“We’re expecting to see some SEC speed. They’re fast,” Pau’u said of LSU. “We saw last year that Mississippi State was phenomenally fast. We’re going to see some big guys up front. Those are big guys to deal with for four quarters. We’re eager to take on that challenge.”
Like last year, the goal for the BYU defense is to force three turnovers every game. The Cougars had only one last week against Portland State, when Anderson picked off a pass in the fourth quarter.
“The coaches have been emphasizing for us to strip the ball. We want to force the ball out so we can get fumbles and give the ball back to the offense,” Pau’u said. “Against this kind of team, LSU, getting turnovers would be amazing. If we can prevent them from getting to the end zone by getting turnovers, it would give us momentum and we know our offense will finish.”
Pau’u, who was No. 2 on the team in tackles last season, said he’s healthy and ready to go for LSU.
“I've had some trouble with my hamstring,” he explained. “Then right before the game last Saturday while we were warming up, I was throwing up. I threw up again at halftime. I wasn’t feeling well. Thankfully the flu, or food poisoning, is gone. I’m okay now.”
BYU is glad to have Pau’u back in the middle of the defense. And the Cougars, as a team, will need to make marked improvement over last week when they line up against LSU.
“We can’t make mistakes,” Takitaki said. “If we make some errors here and there, they’re going to gut us. We have to have our ‘A’ game from the first quarter. This game is going to show where we’re at.”