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Friday, September 24, 2010

Game Preview: Brigham Young Cougars vs. Nevada Wolfpack

The Brigham Young Cougars’ game against the Nevada Wolf Pack has taken on new dimensions that were unimaginable two months ago. At the end of July, the Nevada game represented a run-of-the-mill non-conference game for BYU. Since then, three things have happened.

First, news broke that BYU would leave the Mountain West Conference and join with the WAC in all sports except football. Nevada, one of the key players in the arrangement, quickly jumped ship to the MWC before the BYU-WAC deal could be finalized. Nevada and Fresno State’s departure from the plan put the brakes on the deal and eventually BYU did leave the MWC, but for the West Coast Conference, not the WAC.

Second, BYU fans all figured that this year would have some drop off, but no one thought the pass happy Cougars would average a measly 155 yards passing in their first three games. Coaching decisions and player dissensions have cast a cloud over the possibility for BYU to turn things around.

Third, Nevada has started the year 3-0 highlighted by last week’s 52-31 mauling of the Cal Bears. Nevada hasn’t won 2, let alone 3, of their first three games since the 2004 season. The Wolfpack is 5th in the nation in rushing yards per game, while BYU is giving up 271.7 yards rushing per game.

This game could be a defining point of the season for BYU. The Cougars are still trying to find an identity. Dropping to 1-3 and all the wheels could come off. Evening up the record at 2-2 with a win will mean that BYU was able to contain an explosive offense while finding some offensive rhythm.

Things to watch for:

  1. How will Jake Heaps play in his first start? He played most of the downs against Florida State, and with Riley Nelson out for the season with a shoulder injury, this is now Jake Heaps’ team. This is a huge burden for a true freshman, but it is one he has been preparing for.
  2. Who will help Heaps? Besides J.J. Di Luigi, both quarterbacks have had very little support. The offensive line, the tight ends, and the receivers have been major disappointments this season. BYU needs some guys to step up, now.
  3. Who will step up on defense? A few players have accumulated a nice number of total tackles (Andrew Rich-33, Jordan Pendleton-25, Shane Hunter-23), but a tackle 8 yards down the field doesn’t mean very much. More turnovers, third down stops, and some sacks/tackles for loss would be nice. Free safety Steven Thomas will the game, and Brian Logan could as well.
  4. Will the stories off the field be a distraction? BYU did well in game one to not be distracted by the news of BYU declaring independence. This week O’Neill Chambers was suspended, Bronco Mendenhall was scrutinized, and one more big game was scheduled for the future. The Chambers and Mendenhall stories hit closer to home than the independence story did. This is a great time for the team to build character.
All-time series: BYU leads 4-1-2
Last: Nevada won 31-28 (2002)
Streak: Nevada won 1

KICKOFF: 4:00 PM (MDT)
TV: The Mtn.
RADIO: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, www.ksl.com

For this week's Reaction to the Rankings, click here.
For the results of last week's opinion poll, click here.
For this week's Flashback, click here.
For this week's Trivia question, click here.

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