Coming off of the most complete game of the season, it will be hard for the Cougars not to regress somewhat, at least statistically (611 yards is hard to live up to), while at the same time trying to string together back-to-back complete games. San Diego State is going to put a better defense on the field than UNLV did, although the SDSU offense is likely inferior to what BYU faced last week. With that in mind, the outcome of the game is not as much in question as to how it is achieved. Here are a few things to watch for as you assess the “how” on Saturday afternoon:
• Health—Aside from winning the game, the number one goal for the team in this game is to come out with everyone at full strength for next week’s match with what will be a top 10 TCU team (if they win on Saturday). Should BYU get a big lead, watch for the bench to be cleared sooner than later.
• Box Score Victory—Just as last week, no one not wearing BYU blue is going to be watching this game and thus the team needs to look good in the box score as well for voters that will make decisions based on what they find. To do that, the spread is 17.5 and needs to be covered at a minimum. Holding SDSU to under 20 points would also contribute to that perception.
• Another Clean Game—It would take a combination of significant mistakes—several key turnovers, meaningful penalties, blown coverages, special teams meltdowns, etc—for BYU to lose this game. But, aside from playing well enough to win, the team needs to prove its own identity to itself, that it really is the team that showed up last week, and building confidence in consistently clean play.
• Max Protection—SDSU has had a bye week to prepare for this game and on top of that, Rocky Long has historically been successful at limiting BYU’s offense. Watch for SDSU to try to disrupt the passing game with stunts and blitzes in an attempt to keep Max from getting into a rhythm. If Max Hall is constantly throwing on the run, getting flushed from the pocket, or dropped for a loss, then it will be working for the Aztecs. But should Max get into a groove early and the passing game and running game get off to a good start in the first quarter, it is going to be a long afternoon for the hometown team.
• Scott Johnson—The senior free safety is the quarterback of the defense making coverage calls and making sure everyone is on the same page. Due to his experience and knowledge, he has been likened to another coach on the field. He is coming off of a two pick game (his first two), but also tweaked his ankle and will be a game time decision. The last game he missed was with Florida State, and we know how that one turned out. Hopefully he is good to go, but if not, watch to see how the defense performs in his absence.
• Eenie, meenie, minie, moe, to which receiver will Hall throw? Jacobsen is still out, so who will fill in for his production from the wideout spot? Last week it was freshman Brett Thompson with a big game. The week before it was junior Luke Ashworth. Will they repeat? Will Hafoka or Chambers come up big? Since these are all capable options, the SDSU defense has no more idea of who it will be than fans do—a positive factor for the benefitting receiver.
• Secondary Impact Games—As you change the channels during commercials, a few games outcomes that will impact BYU this week are Oklahoma/Texas and TCU/Colorado State. An Oklahoma win would help to recall BYU’s opening game performance to the collective national memory. A TCU win is needed to ensure that BYU faces its second top 10 ranked opponent next week in Provo, and provide the game with more luster to capture some additional national attention.
• Player Records—Hall , Pitta, and Unga will continue their assault on the career record books--watch for Dennis Pitta and Max Hall in particular to move up this week.
o Max Hall—with 8 yards passing and 37 of total offense, Hall will move into third place all-time in both of those categories, passing Jim McMahon and trailing only Ty Detmer and John Beck.
o Dennis Pitta—with 14 yards receiving, Pitta will pass Gordon Hudson to become the all-time leader in receiving yards among tight ends, at the same time he will move into sixth place among all receivers. With 78 yards, he will pass Phil Odle for fifth place. Pitta, already the all-time leader in receptions by a tight end, will pass Margin Hooks and move into third place among all receivers with 2 receptions this week, trailing only Austin Collie and Matt Bellini.
I think the team will come out focused and meet SDSU’s preparation with preparation and execution. After a tight first quarter and a close first half, BYU pulls away in the third quarter and plays the subs in the fourth. Records fall, experience is gained, and the Cougars can finally focus on TCU. BYU 45 SDSU 17.
What else should be watched for? What is your prediciton?