What a game the Cougars put together. They came out with the A game that was seen against Oklahoma, Tulane, and Wyoming earlier this year—an A game that would keep the Cougars in contention with any team in the country. There are a number of interesting things to note coming out of the game. First we will recap what we were watching for (original outlook from last week in italics) then list a few other items of note in a follow up post.
What to Watch For on the Field:
• Max at his best. When Max is having fun and relaxed he is at his best and nearly unstoppable. When he feels pressure and weight of expectations, he tends to play tight, force things, and generally play at a lower level. Watch for him to come out playing loose as he got the monkey off his back by beating Utah and solidified his place as a successful Cougar QB. The rest now is bonus.
Max played a nearly flawless game. He was loose and it showed. He took some of the hardest hits of the season and stepped up to the line for the next play. There was one decleating hit on him in particular that would have taken most other QBs out of the game. He said after the game that he was more beat up after this game than any other game since his first—at UCLAin 2007. What a way to go out.
• Watch for the BYU seniors to have big games. There are several seniors (Hall, Unga, Pitta, Andrew George and Jan Jorgensen) on the team with aspirations to make an NFL squad next year. This will be the first time they have appeared on ESPN (a true national audience) since the Tulane game and it is their chance to impress. [Unga is only a junior].
All of these seniors, and Manase Tonga, had great games and likely improved their national standing. Hall was already discussed above. Unga (71 yds rushing, 15 yds receiving, TD) repeatedly carried defenders with him and several times picked up an extra 4-5 yards after the first hit. Tonga was particularly impressive (5 carries for 42 yards, 2 catches for 19 yards, 2 TDs) in what was easily his best game of the season, as he was effective not only as a lead blocker but with the ball as well. George (4 catches, 46 yds) and Pitta (5 catches, 45 yds, TD) consistently made clutch catches, impressing not only fans but also the ESPN talking heads. Jorgensen had a complete game, anchoring an effective defensive front, getting a key third down bat-down, and even had a 6 yard carry at the end of the game. Watch for all of these players to work hard going into this spring’s NFL draft. I believe that Pitta, Tonga, and Unga have the best shot at being drafted, with Hall, George, and Jorgensen likely getting a shot through free agency.
• Stop the run and limit the pass. The BYU defense has been decent at stopping the run this season. They will have their hands full with Jaquizz Rogers—a speedy, shifty, short but powerful back. There is a chance that they are able contain him. But, can they contain the run and limit the pass at the same time? This season, when focusing on the run, they Cougs have tended to give up on the pass completely. BYU will need big games from its ends and blitzing linebackers to keep Canfield on the run (an accurate passer, but slow of foot).
The BYU defensive game plan was nearly perfect. Not completely unexpectedly, the Cougars were able to contain the running game, holding OSU to 88 yards, but more impressively, they held the passing game in check as well—not through pressure as much as solid down-field coverage. I don’t recall a game where more BYU defenders were able to break up or knock down a pass.
• Will OSU get pressure on Hall? OSU’s defense is not known for its front line, and has been inconsistent with the pass rush. BYU’s offensive line should be able to keep them at bay. If they don’t, it will mean trouble for the Cougs.
The O line was able to give Hall just enough time. He was hit at the end of several plays, but never lost his rhythm.
• McKay Jacobsen has declared himself 100% for the first time perhaps all season. Watch for him to have a breakout game. The receiving corps has not had a significant impact this season, and the focus of the defense will likely be on the tight ends, leaving McKay open to make a difference.
Apparently, OSU didn’t get the memo about covering the BYU tight ends, and both Pitta and George had big games. Jacobsen was relatively quiet (2 catches, 27 yards). As far as him contributing, the large lead mitigated the number of passing downs, and thus his performance. I imagine that there is no one complaining there.
• BYU’s secondary. James Rogers, is the leading receiver for OSU and will be several steps faster than any of BYU’s DB’s. If the front seven is unable to force Canfield to throw off balance or hurried, no doubt the Beavers will be gunning for the long ball, just as Utah did. The only difference is that Sean Canfield is much more accurate and seasoned than Jordan Wynn and where Wynn consistently overthrew his open receivers downfield, Canfield will hit them. Bradley, Logan, Rich, and Johnson will need to be up to the challenge.
Challenge resoundingly met. If I had a game ball to give away, I would give it to the secondary. They played their best game of the year. Perhaps I overestimated Canfield’s accuracy, but in any case, BYU’s last line of defense was incredible bringing big hits, breakups, and sure tackles. Good news for Cougar fans is that 3 of these 4 will be back again next season (Johnson is a senior).
• Limit turnovers. OSU is known for holding on to the ball. BYU has been spotty, but improved over the course of the season. It will be important for BYU to limit the turnovers. A minus one might be overcomeable, but should they have a minus 2 or more it will be difficult to win.
The reverse of this was also applicable for OSU as they ended up with the minus one in turnovers and were never able to fully overcome that deficit. Despite 5 turnovers overall, 3 for OSU (two fumbles and a pick) and 2 for BYU (two fumbles), while the game was still in question OSU had two critical turnovers, while both of BYU’s (Unga fumble near the red zone and Tonga on an onside kick) came after the game had already been decided and essentially only kept the score from becoming ridiculous.
I think the BYU offense will be successful with both the run and the pass. Max will play as relaxed as he has in several games executing the passing game flawlessly. This will open the door for Unga to have a good game as well. The BYU defense will have its hands full in both the running and passing game. It might very well come down to possessions and turnovers. I predict a high scoring affair with BYU winning in the end. BYU 38 OSU 31.
I saw BYU having success on offense, but I didn’t see BYU’s defense having the success they did to limit OSU. It could have easily been worse than the 44-20 final score.