The battle of the Cougars could come down to which team can make a defensive stop in the offensive-focused game.
The BYU Cougars will take on the Washington State Cougars this Thursday at LaVell Edwards Stadium at 8:15, to kick off the football season for both teams.
The game will feature two passing offenses that claim to be some of the best in the game. BYU brings an offense that relies on throwing the ball down field and keeping defenses guessing thanks to the mobility of senior quarterback Riley Nelson. Washington State will unveil a new offense thanks to a new coach, Mike Leach.
[pullquote]“(Leach) has had so much success doing things the way he’s done them. He hasn’t changed year in and year out, so we’re going to bank it off of that.” – BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall, about WSU’s new coach, Mike Leach[/pullquote]
Leach inherits an offense that ranked ninth in the country in passing yards per game in 2011 with 322.3 yards per game. However, Leach comes from a school in Texas Tech, that ranked seventh nationally last year with 345.4 yards per contest, and is looking to improve the already impressive numbers at Washington State.
“(Leach) has had so much success doing things the way he’s done them,” BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “He hasn’t changed year in and year out, so we’re going to bank it off of that.”
The spread offense has become one of Leach’s trademarks over the years, and he has coached many college quarterbacks on their way to set NCAA records and develop them into NFL talents at most of his stops along the way. But BYU will not be treating them any different from their past preparations.
“They’re just like any other team,” senior cornerback Preston Hadley said. “We’re only worried about us, our pass coverage, and our techniques and assignments. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
“(Wilson’s) a good player,” Hadley said. “Any player you go against, you have to respect. But you have to have confidence. This guy that I might be going against, he might be big, strong and fast, but I consider myself big, strong and fast. It’s always good to be challenged.”
Washington State’s quarterback is senior Jeff Tuel, who only played in three games last season because of injuries to his collarbone and leg. However, his sophomore season, he was awarded all-conference honorable mention, and will start this season. Catching his passes will be senior wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who has a lot of national hype and has been dubbed as first team preseason all-American for the 2012 season.
[pullquote]“(Wilson’s) a good player…But you have to have confidence. This guy that I might be going against, he might be big, strong and fast, but I consider myself big, strong and fast.” — BYU cornerback Preston Hadley, on guarding WSU’s star wide receiver Marquess Wilson[/pullquote]
To combat the potent spread offense, Coach Mendenhall has said he plans to use a lot of nickel coverage, a defensive formation in which five defensive backs are used to cover the passing game more efficiently.
“We’ll have a lot of good athletes all playing at the same time to match some speed and athleticism,” Mendenhall said.
BYU boasts a defense that ranked 22nd in the nation in points allowed last season, at 20.4 points per game, and the return of eight starters on that end of the ball should help them be on the same page. Washington State, however, had a difficult time containing opposing teams, finishing 95th in the country last season in points per game allowed, with 31.8, but welcomes in a new defensive system.
“Obviously, they’re going to be playing in a new system,” Nelson said. “We can see where their new defensive coordinator has been, and the teams he’s coordinated for and see his tendencies and look at their personnel. Most of the time, though, we just prepare ourselves the best we can. The focus has to be more on an inward or self focused than on the opponent.”
BYU features a passing offense that came on strong in the second half of last season, led by Nelson, who finished 17th in the country in quarterback rating with 152.9. Nelson threw 19 touchdown passes, 10 of which went to Cody Hoffman, who enters his junior season, and along with Nelson, is on several national watch lists.
The battle of the two potent offenses has the potential to turn into a shootout, but BYU is confident their defense can be up to the challenge.
“We’d hope our defensive just executes, and if we can just hold on to the ball, we can avoid that kind of thing,” Nelson said. “The only way we’re getting into a shootout is if we turn the ball over. You never want to get into a shootout with a team like that. But if it happens, we just got to answer back. There’s no secret to it, you got to score more points at the end of the game than them.”
The game will kickoff at 8:15 p.m. on ESPN, the second game of a double header to kickoff the football season nationally.
“That’s exciting. It’s cool that people all around the country can see us,” senior linebacker and team captain Brandon Ogletree said. “That first college game of the season is always a big deal, so there will be a lot of eyes on us, so hopefully we can come out and do well.”