With less than 24 hours until kickoff, the team finally has a chance to rinse the residue of last weeks’ disappointment from their collective and individual memories. Each week, I provide a list of things to watch for as you assess the team’s progress over the previous games. As always, improvement is the name of the game, and to assess this, you need to look beyond just the yardage totals and final score. And, as expected after last week’s non-show, the defense will be under the microscope this week.
• Will they play with fire in the belly? Watch for the team to come out on fire—swarming, sharp, hitting hard, having fun, playing with intensity. There may not be a more motivational situation in college football than to vindicate a bad loss and prove the doubters wrong. If this doesn’t happen, and the team looks tentative or only luke-warm, then underlying questions of the heart may surface… and my dating life tells me that nothing good happens after that.
• Will the front seven be able to contain CSU’s QB? Last week, FSU QB Ponder seemed to be able to pick up whatever yards he needed whenever he needed them. CSU’s QB is not as mobile or as accurate, but has now seen how it’s done and no doubt will hope to emulate. The defense will need to adjust and make corrections, or they could be on the field a long time. QB pressure, like was displayed in the first two games is also going to be key.
• Will the defense get stingy on third down? Unless they are able to do this, the time of possession could be just as imbalanced as last week (40 min for FSU compared to 20 min for BYU). After allowing 12/15 third down conversions, BYU is near the bottom in the nation. This week they will need to correct that.
• Will the punt return unit finally get a chance? That will depend on how the defense does on third downs… but it is about time. Two games without a punt return.
• Can the defense limit the big plays? Colorado State is known for taking big chances and utilizing a number of trick plays. They have had relative success with that approach this season (and last season against BYU). BYU’s defense on the other hand has been relatively stingy on per snap yards, having only given up three plays longer than 25 yards in three games. If they can keep it up, it will make a statement about the secondary and the pre-game preparation.
• Which run defense will show up? Last week in giving up 313 yards rushing the defensive line made FSU’s offensive line and backs look All-American. Bronco thinks that it was execution errors and is (and hopefully was) correctable. That remains to be seen.
• How effective will the blitz be? Part of the success against the run is going to be getting to the QB and linebackers taking the right gaps. This worked for two weeks. Last week it was shredded by FSU. Was this due to failed tackles and missed assignments (better execution needed), or was it a matter of FSU watching and learning and dissecting our system and tendencies (structural adjustments needed)?
• How big of a factor will missed tackles be? For that matter, last week several key plays were made after the FSU player slipped the first tackler. Had the first BYU player to arrive held on the game would have been significantly closer, and perhaps ended differently.
• Will the turnover pendulum swing back? Speaking of holding on… the offense needs to hold on as well. Can Max avoid a pick? Will Chambers dig out his death grip? Will the defense pick up a few?
• How much success will Max to McKay have with deep balls? McKay has become a deep ball specialist this season averaging an incredible 28 yards per catch. Last year against CSU Hall to Collie was the story of the game. Will McKay have similar success?
• Have the fans recovered and will they show up? After last weeks’ hype attack and subsequent crash, will the fans be able to rebound? As of Thursday, the game was not yet sold out and the ticket office was advertising available tickets. They will likely be needed in this game to get the team off to a good start in the first quarter, something that has yet to happen, as BYU has only scored 6 points total in the first quarter so far this year.
• What impact will the new turf have on the game? Much has been made of the failures of the new turf. It was not obvious during the game, but was commonly raised after. It has only been a week, and some of the issues cannot be corrected except with time, so it will be up to the players to adjust and make it work.
I think that the team comes out with a little fire and a chip on their shoulder. They will have corrected the tackling issues, and will show up on third down. With the ball in the hands of the offense more, the defense will be more rested, becoming more stingy, and will put up more points than last week. The long plays go in our favor and BYU gets a nice rebound. BYU wins 41-20.