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Friday, September 23, 2011

Game Preview: More At Stake For BYU Than UCF

The Brigham Young Cougars take on the UCF Knights as both teams look to rebound after losses to in-state opponents last week. While both teams had similar results in their most recent game, it is much more important for BYU to win than UCF.

For starters, BYU is 1-2 on the season; UCF is 2-1. Last week, the BYU loss was one where “the bottom falls out.” UCF lost by a mere touchdown. Coming off its best season in school history that culminated in a bowl win over a big SEC name (Georgia), UCF is moving up in the college football world. BYU took a step back in 2010. After being outscored 68-10 in the last six quarters of play, a loss to a mid-tier Florida school will really set BYU back.

On the other hand, a win over a rising Florida school will help salvage BYU’s national reputation. It could also spur the Cougars on a great run to finish the season.

With freshman sensation Jeff Godfrey back at quarterback, it has been assumed that UCF would automatically take one or two steps forward this year. Such progress, however, won’t be so automatic. The loss to FIU last week is proof of that.

UCF preyed on two very weak teams to start the year and built up impressive team statistics, particularly on the defensive side. When they finally faced a team with a formidable offensive threat last week, that offensive threat suffered an injury with 5:47 left in the second quarter. Nevertheless, UCF still lost the game. The UCF defense is suspect.

Only four defensive starters return from last year. Seven of the top 10 tacklers from last year are gone. The number 1, 3, and 6 leading tacklers are back, but, of those three, two are defensive backs. If you follow this site closely, you already know I think that having a defensive back as your leading tackler is a bad sign. Players who start so far away from the play should have the fewest tackles; otherwise, you are giving up a lot of plays that are five yards or more.

The UCF offense is a run first attack. Last year, UCF ran the ball twice as much as they passed (46:23 times a game). That ratio has been maintained this year (44:24 run-to-pass ratio). UCF returns its top seven rushers from last year, while the Knights lost their top three receivers. Godfrey’s stats, year to date, reflect the loss of his top passing targets. He is averaging close to 10 more yards rushing per game and 10 yards less passing per game this year than 2010.

Even though the season is three games old, UCF is still a mystery, in my book. BYU should be their toughest challenge to date, and should show just how good the Knights are.

For BYU, this game will define the 2011 team. If BYU is going to have a quality season, the Cougars must win. A loss will reveal that this team lacks the character and backbone necessary to make this year better than last year. UCF is a formidable foe, but BYU should win this game.

The key for the Cougar defense will be the secondary. The better that the BYU defensive backfield plays, the more the front seven can commit to stopping the run. If the BYU defensive line and linebackers can attack the run with confidence they won’t get burned over the top, then UCF will not have an effective run game.

The key to the Cougar offense will be a balanced passing game. The UCF secondary has confidence right now. However, they haven’t faced a passing attack like BYU. With Ross Apo, Cody Hoffman, McKay Jacobson, and Austin Holt or Richard Wilson at tight end, BYU has five legitimate receiving threats. BYU should be able to psychologically break down the UCF pass defense. No matter what UCF does, one or more of these guys should be open every play. Jake Heaps needs to find them and focus on spreading the ball around to these five guys. Each should have at least three receptions.

Pass protection will be key for the BYU passing game. Heaps has gotten flustered this year when feeling pressure. I expect UCF to blitz a lot if Heaps starts picking apart the secondary. If that is the case, both running backs should be used as blockers.

Historically, UCF has not been a good road team in non-conference games (3-15 since 2002). The short week, plus lengthy travel should also favor BYU. In the end, I expect this game to be close, as ESPN gets its money’s worth again.

Things to watch for:
  1. Rebound. The loss to Utah left a feeling very similar to the 2010 loss to Utah State. BYU successfully rebounded against a good San Diego State team last year. That win shaped the rest of the season. A win over a good UCF team this year could do the same. The demeanor of the Cougar offense will be particularly interesting to watch.
  2. Revamped Offense. A big part of the win last year against San Diego State was BYU revamping its offense. BYU probably doesn’t need a total revamp, but some new wrinkles to the offense once in scoring territory is desperately needed. Emphasis on third down conversions (anywhere on the field) would also be valuable.
  3. Improved pass defense. Utah sort of exposed the BYU secondary. Corby Eason and Preston Hadley may be better than the average BYU cornerbacks, but they aren’t quite up to the Brian Logan and Brandon Bradley level. As stated above, the BYU DBs need to have an excellent game. If they get burned on a couple of passes, this could be a long game.
  4. Containing a mobile quarterback. BYU has struggled with this recently. Bronco Mendenhall said Wednesday night that Jordan Pendleton is doubtful for this game. That will only make it harder. If Pendleton and Kyle Van Noy were both available for contain, I would feel a lot more comfortable. This might be Ezekiel Ansah’s chance to shine.
  5. Home Field Advantage. How much will playing at altitude and playing after a long airplane ride add to the home field advantage? UCF is inexperienced at both. Maybe BYU should look to run a no huddle offense regularly to take advantage of these facts, in addition to helping create a spark in the offense.
TIME: 6:00 PM (Mountain Time)
TV: ESPN, ESPN3.com
RADIO: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, www.ksl.com

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com

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