Whether it's Nelson or Lark, the BYU offensive line is pivotal

The suspense over who will start at quarterback for the Brigham Young Cougars in the Poinsettia Bowl is capturing most of the headlines. As important as the quarterback position is, the offensive line may be just as pivotal to BYU winning the game as who is behind center.

Whether it has been lack of continuity due to injury, lack of discipline, or lack of talent, the offensive line has had its share of struggles this season. It is just as easy to build a case blaming the offensive line for the losses this season as it is Riley Nelson. Penalties by the offensive line and poor blocking cost BYU dearly against Utah and Boise State.

At key moments in the games against Oregon State and Notre Dame, both opponents were able to alter the course of the game—in their favor—by winning the battle in the trenches. Whether it was a sack that took BYU out of field goal range, pressure that forced an interception, or a sack that forced a field goal when BYU really needed a touchdown, the offensive line didn’t do its part to help the team win.

BYU can't afford any of this against San Diego State.

The San Diego State defense is capable of bringing pressure. The Aztecs have sacked the opposing quarterback 31 times this season, which is exactly how many sacks BYU has this season. The 31 sacks is tied for 25th most in the nation. San Diego State got two sacks against Boise State, while BYU had just one. Boise State has allowed only eight sacks all season. The BYU offensive line ranks 88th in the nation in sacks allowed (28).

It is also important to point out that this is a Rocky Long defense. He developed the kamikaze 3-3-5 defense at New Mexico. This defensive scheme can bring pressure from anywhere. The BYU offensive line has to come ready. It’s not just that San Diego State might throw anything at BYU, the Aztecs will.

As detailed yesterday, hate isn’t a strong enough word to describe the feelings San Diego State has for BYU. There is nothing they want more for an early Christmas present than to beat BYU. Emotions will be running high on the San Diego State sideline. Typically, teams play their best in emotionally charges games.

This might be the biggest game in San Diego State football history since the 1979 or 1986 meeting between these two schools. With a win, San Diego State will have double digit wins for the first time since 1977.  

BYU, and the offensive line in particular, needs to come prepared for an amped up San Diego State defense. Use the 2008 TCU game as a reference point for what I am talking about.

If the o-line isn’t ready, it won’t matter who is at quarterback. He will be running for his life. Arm strength won't matter since he won't have time to get a deep pass off. Mobility won't help much because the pressure will be coming from everywhere.

While the decision over starting James Lark or Riley Nelson looms large, it may be a moot point after the game. It all starts up front. The BYU offensive line will be challenged in every way possible. BYU can’t afford the same mental mistakes and breakdowns in protection at key moments that have crippled the offense at times this season.

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