If Gary Patterson thought last year’s game was a media circus, he is likely to expand his horizons a bit this weekend, as the ESPN Game Day event has become the talk of the town in fan circles and Provo has become the town of the talk on the national scene. The nation will be watching. All day. The Cougars may actually be able to undo some of the damage done in the Florida State game by showing up on Saturday and showing what they have shown in the last couple of games. Yes, underneath all of the hype and hoopla, there is an actual game being played, and yes, it should be a good one. It seems almost a distraction right now to focus on elements of the game when there are clever signs to be made, television images to be aware of, and talking heads to analyze. But let’s do it anyway.
• Can Max Hall get rid of the ball in time? Having enough time to throw is relative. If you have a lot of time, you can throw it deep, where it takes some time for plays and patterns to develop. If you don’t have time, you need to throw dump it quickly. Max (and Anae) have been much better at dumping it off this season, introducing a screen pass and throwing more underneath routes.
• Will the BYU defensive front seven be able to contain the TCU run game and still get some pressure on Andy Dalton? Aside from the Florida State game, BYU has been able to contain the run in nearly every game this season. However, last week, despite holding SDSU to only 20 yards rushing, there was almost no pressure on the quarterback and Lindley looked like an all-american. Dalton is a better runner and passer, and if given time, will be able to do more damage.
• Has the BYU defense learned to adapt to the Wildcat and can it contain Jeremy Kerley? Last season Jeremy Kerley ran seemingly untouched every time he lined up behind center. This season he has been dangerous as well on special teams.
• What impact will the return of the injured have? Last week several players were out with injuries, as well as another half dozen or so playing under the influence of influenza. Manase Tonga (knee) should immediately upgrade the run game. Improvement from Scott Johnson (ankle) and Brandon Bradley (flu) should improve the secondary. McKay Jacobsen (hamstring) will be a game time decision. Several special teams players are also back.
• Will BYU win the turnover battle? Whichever team wins the turnover battle on Saturday is likely to win the game. Both teams are so evenly matched that an extra possession or improved field position could be the difference. It was the 5 turnovers against Florida State that was the Cougar’s undoing as much as anything.
• Will BYU’s running game find success? The passing game will be there. Will there be a complimentary running game. If so, the Cougars will be in good shape. If not, this one could easily become a battle to the wire or worse.
• Will BYU have the emotional intensity to match TCU without letting it interfere with their execution? That is something that all of us will be watching. It was obvious last year in Ft. Worth, that the BYU team had no idea what had just hit them. After the first possession, it will be clear again, which team showed up for the emotional battle. But key to that will be maintaining focus and execution at the same time—Bronco said that he has never seen his players as fired up as they were prior to the FSU game, but that lead to missed assignments and lack of focus, as football fans across the country are well aware.
I am putting on my Cosmo head right now and picking the Cougars to win this one. The coaches will have a great game plan for this one and do what is necessary to get the team up for the game. BYU stays focused and avoids big mistakes. The defense contains TCU’s run game and BYU is able to get 100+ yards on the ground opening up the passing game even more. Max gets rid of the ball when under pressure, limits turnovers, and guides the team to its second victory over a top 10 opponent this season. BYU 34 TCU 27.
Feel free to add your thoughts on what to watch for and your predictions below.