September 5, 2008

Breaking Down BYU

Washington and BYU will meet this Saturday for the seventh time and first since 1999. The Huskies hold a 4-2 edge in the series but that won't matter much as BYU comes into town ranked No. 15 in the nation and so much to lose. In fact, there's a lot on the line for both teams and this will not be your average non-conference game. BYU has legitimate aspirations of running the table in 2008 and going to a BCS bowl game. Washington is trying to regain the trust of their fans after getting demolished by Oregon last weekend 44-10. Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham's seat is on fire and a loss against BYU could all but burn up his chances of remaining the main man at Montlake.



  • HOME COOKING: The traditional though is that coming home automatically makes it easier to play. In most cases this is true, but with so many young players on the roster, the first home opener will carry with it a lot of nerves. The young pups need to get over it quickly because they cannot afford to start the game down 14-0 again.

  • FIND THE RUNNING GAME: Against Oregon the Huskies only managed 95 yards and 2.2 yards per carry on the ground. That is not good enough to beat anyone, especially the 15th ranked team in the nation. BYU is not going to allow the deep ball and will play mainly a zone defense with safeties over the top. The Huskies have to run the ball effectively early and force BYU to commit another body into the box.

  • PRESSURE MAX HALL: The Husky's secondary has improved since last season but they are not ready to fend off the Brigham Young passing attack. With the loss of projected starting center Tom Sorensen, all-conference tackle Dallas Reynolds has moved inside and taken over. Washington needs to take advantage and put the pressure on BYU's outstanding quarterback Max Hall.


  • HOLD ONTO THE FOOTBALL:The Cougars fumbled the ball five times against Northern Iowa. Most of that could be attributed to first game nerves, but they will never beat a Pac-10 team with that many turnovers. For all of the bad things Washington did last Saturday they didn't turn the ball over. BYU must do the same.

  • PLUG THE BOX: The Washington receivers are young and haven't yet proven they can step up and provide playmaking ability. If BYU can shut the run game down much like Oregon did and force Washington to pass, it could be a good day for the Cougar faithful.

  • FORGET THE PAST: BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall has put the program back into the national spotlight. He's won 28 games in three seasons including back-to-back 11 win seasons. However, he has yet to beat a BCS team on the road, something he will have to do if the Cougars want to play in a BCS bowl game. This fact needs to motivate them and not haunt them if they plan to succeed in Seattle.


Max Hall - QB - Last season threw for 3,848 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Dennis Pitta - TE - Last week had 11 receptions for 213 yards!
Austin Collie - WR - Had 56 receptions, 946 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2007
Harvey Unga - RB - Had an impressive 1,882 yards of total offense and 17 touchdowns in 2007.
Ray Feinga - OG - 6-foot-5, 330-pounds and experienced.
Dallas Reynolds - C - All conference tackle moved to center this season
Matt Reynolds - OT - Dallas' younger brother could become all-time BYU great.
Jan Jorgensen - DE - Had 77 tackles, 20 for loss and 14 sacks in 2007.
David Nixon - LB - Had 66 tackles, 10 for loss and 3.5 sacks last season.


Sophomore Jake Locker, the reining Pac-10 freshman of the year had a rough game against Oregon but he's still a special talent. Much of his struggles can be placed on his supporting cast, but BYU's defense will not give him the same struggles that Oregon's did. Locker is nearing a 100 percent heath and that could mean trouble for the Cougar defense. BYU will not have the speed on defense to slow Locker down.

BYU also has a very good talent at quarterback in Max Hall. Last season Hall threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns and a 60.1 completion percentage as only a sophomore. His top four targets all return and he should have another great season. He won't beat you with his legs, but he doesn't have to. He's a great leader and has total command of the Cougar offense.

Running back Harvey Unga is the reigning Mountain West Conference freshman of the year after rushing for 1,272 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching 44 passes for 655 yards and four more scores. He was the team's third leading receiver and is truly a threat all over the field. He has a big frame and the ability to run between the tackles, decent speed that can allow him to hit the edge and amazing hands out of the backfield. Add to the mix a great full back in 245-pound Fui Vakapuna and you have a very good combo.

We still don't know how good Chris Polk can be. All indications are that he could be special and one of UW's best, but until he does it you can't put him ahead of someone like Unga. Brandon Johnson is still not a 100 percent healthy and was forced to workout in the pool this week. This unit is just so young that only time will tell how good they really are.

BYU returns their top four pass catchers from last season led by Austin Collie who had 56 receptions for 946 yards and 7 touchdowns last season. Tight end Dennis Pitta is one of the best in the country finishing last season with 59 receptions for 813 yards. Last week when Northern Iowa stacked the box and double teamed Collie, Pitta had 11 receptions for 213 yards! BYU has many targets and will spread the ball all over the field.

Again youth is the calling card for Washington. Last week against Oregon the young receivers were manhandled and couldn't get separation into their routes. Jermaine Kearse did show some promise with a couple of catches and D'Andre Goodwin led the team last week with 8 catches for 67 yards, but both will have to improve quickly. The receivers dropped too many passes, but coming home should solve a lot of that. A bright spot for the Huskies last week was Kavario Middleton who had 4 receptions for 35 yards and was open even more. Middleton appeared unfazed by playing at Autzen Stadium and looks like he could be the next great Washington tight end.

This unit is very good and they will have a chip on their shoulder after being embarrassed at Oregon last week. To a man the unit took it personally and expect them to play with passion this week. I would hate to be the Cougar's defensive line because the Husky maulers will be out to prove something this week.

BYU has a very good offensive line, but they lack depth. All-Conference tackle Dallas Reynolds had to move inside to center because of the injury to Tom Sorensen. Dallas' younger brother Matt Reynolds takes over in his spot and many believe he could be one of the best offensive lineman ever at BYU when it is all said and done.

BYU's defensive line will take a step back from last season but they will still be good and they are by far the best unit on the defense. The line is led by defensive end Jan Jorgensen who had 14 sacks last season. Jorgensen is one of the best in the nation and would be on everyone's All-American watch list if he were on a BCS team. He is fast and will force Ben Ossai to play better this week. In the middle is 320-pound Russell Tialavea who is their run stopper. This unit didn't allow a 100-yard rusher last season, but don't expect that this year. Their ends are small but have decent speed, which is what gives the Husky offensive line problems. However, they are not nearly as fast as Oregon and they will be a step down in class.

Last week the Huskies gave up 256 yards on the ground and most of the problem started on the line. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim had five tackles but didn't manage to get into the backfield that often. He is the best Husky lineman and will need to step his game up this week against a young left tackle. 295-pound true freshman Senio Kelemte showed some flashes but will need to step up big this week and eliminate the run. 6-foot-2, 348-pound Alameda Ta'amu was a bright spot for the Dawgs and combined with Kelemete and another true freshman Everrette Thompson gives Husky fans reason for optimism. 6-foot-3, 296-popund senior, Johnie Kirton played a solid game last week and his role could expand against BYU.

Outside linebacker Mason Foster is a stud and led the Huskies last week with 10 tackles. Middle linebacker Donald Butler is a good player in his own right and had 6 tackles. These two need to step up and lead a young defense and they are more than capable. Joshua Gage didn't have a very good game against Oregon but expect the smart veteran to bounce back this week.

BYU returns David Nixon who had 66 tackles, 10 for loss and 3.5 sacks last season and he will start at strongside. However, they have two new starters, one being 240-pound Vic So'oto, a converted tight end. So'oto will play at the weakside and could be special, but first he must prove it on the field. The middle backer position will be by committee, with plenty of capable bodies, but no one who will scare Washington's offense. This unit lacks solid depth and a couple of injuries could put a lot of pressure on the Cougar's defense. It will be the linebacker's job to stop Locker and that could be the biggest mismatch the Huskies have in this game.

In know - how in the world could the Washington secondary have the edge over anyone? They showed improvement last week and they have the athletes to be a competitive unit. This week they will be tested and they can't allow mental lapses like they had against Oregon. Quinton Richardson looks like he could be a shutdown corner in the Pac-10. He's big, fast, strong, plays with a swagger, and expects to be special. The safeties will have to step their game up this week and can't be caught out of position, but hey have the athletes to make huge strides at this position.

BYU lost every starter in the secondary from last season and they don't replace them with overwhelming talent. Scott Johnson and Brandon Howard take over at corner and both could be solid but neither are world beaters. Howard is listed at 5-foot-9, 165-pounds and despite his speed will struggle against bigger receivers. At safety you have David Tafuna and Kellen Fowler. Tafuna has good size and speed and could be very good, but Fowler is a small safety that will struggle in the running game, especially against Locker. Fowler does have experience though and collected 28 tackles last season as a backup. BYU's defensive system will often mask any weaknesses the secondary may have. They are very disciplined and run a lot of zone to allow for help - not leaving many one-on-one match ups.

I'm picking Washington assuming they bounce back after a poor showing at Oregon. This unit is solid with returning place kicker Ryan Perkins and strong leged punter Jared Ballman. Ballman was especially bad against Oregon, hitting one punt only 6 yards. But, he also had a 57 yard punt and averaged over 40 yards per punt last season. Once Jordan Polk got his nerves settled he showed signs of being electric in the return game. D'Andre Goodwin is one of the fastest players in the Pac-10 and could be a game changer if the rest of the unit gets better.

Mitch Payne hit 10-of-14 field goals last season for BYU but none from beyond 42 yards. Punter C.J. Santiago only averaged 39 yards per punt but does have a nice touch, placing 21 punts inside the 20-yardline last season. Austin Collie is a very good kick returner who averaged 25.8 yards last season. However the Cougars were last in the Mountain West in punt returns and will need to improve this season.

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