The BYU Cougars come to Austin this week fresh off a 14-13 comeback win in their season opener at Ole Miss. Saturday's contest will mark the third meeting between Texas and BYU and the first since the Cougars won both games of a home-and-home series in 1987-88. BYU's last game against the Big 12 came in their 2009 season opener in which they knocked Sam Bradford out of the game and defeated the Sooners 14-13.
Last Week: Defeated Ole Miss 14-13
BYU earned a hard-fought win at the Grove last Saturday, erasing a 13-0 deficit with a pair of 4th quarter touchdowns. The Cougars outgained the Rebels 316 to 208 and had 20 first downs to Ole Miss's 13, but they were unable to register on the scoreboard until quarterback Jake Heaps found Ross Apo on the right sideline of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown strike. Less than 5 minutes later, BYU took the lead after Kyle Van Noy forced a fumble and then fell on it in the end zone, the extra point providing the Cougars with the game's final margin.
BYU tailbacks carried the ball 29 times for 109 yards (3.8 average), while Heaps completed 24 of 38 passes for 225 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 very costly interception (returned 96 yards for a score). On the other side of the ball, the Cougars defense bottled up Enrique Davis (28 yards on 12 carries) while limiting first-year starting QB Zack Stoudt to just 140 yards passing on 25 attempts. BYU won the battle on third down (6-of-13 to 3-of-12), in turnovers gained (2 to 1), and in time of possession (34:37 to 25:23).
Quarterback: True sophomore Jake Heaps is the returning starter after a relatively promising freshman campaign in which he completed 57 percent of his passes 15 TDs against just 9 picks. At 6-1, 200 lbs Heaps doesn't have great size, but he has good footwoork (although he's not a threat to run) and spins a catchable spiral with some zip from a fluid, over-the-top motion. Heaps will operate both under center and in the shotgun during the game, and when he's grooving Heaps is keeping the defense off balance with quick-strike passes to lots of different receivers and backs. If you can get pressure on him quickly, Heaps can struggle and he's still prone to youthful mistakes, but the Cougars do a nice job of building counters to pressure into their offense, both with the quick-timing stuff as well as plays designed to use the defense's aggressiveness against it (e.g. screens).
Running Backs: Like Texas, BYU uses a committee of rushers, with the contrasting pair of JJ DiLuigi and Bryan Kariya carrying the bulk of the load. DiLuigi (5-9, 185 lbs.) is a diminutive back who can squirt through tight spaces with his quick feet, excellent balance, and good acceleration, and if you lose track of him he'll pop you as a receiver out of the backfield. Kariya doesn't excel in any one area, but he's a steady power back who always picks up positive yards and who helps BYU try to control possession and wear down the defense.
Receivers: Sophomore Cody Hoffman (6-4, 208) is an impressive player -- big and physical, with excellent acceleration for his size great hands, and the ability to create separation either with speed or strength. His long, powerful stride gives him deceptive speed and he was the Cougars' most dangerous big play threat as a true freshman last season, when he caught 52 balls for 427 yards and 7 TDs, while serving as the team's kick returner.
The other wideout of note is redshirt freshman Ross Apo, who committed to Texas before switching his pledge to BYU in June 2009. He's got good size (6-3, 206) and solid speed, and was a favorite target of Heaps last week at Ole Miss, catching 4 balls for 46 yards, including the Cougars' only offensive touchdown. Senior McKay Jacobson (from Southlake Carroll) and JD Falslev (also returns punts) are both solid possession receivers, but don't provide the same big play threats. At tight end, Richard Wilson is the best receiving option of the group and was one of 8 Cougars to catch 2 or more passes last week at Ole Miss.
Offensive Line: BYU returns four of five starters, including left tackle Matt Reynolds, who passed on being a high NFL Draft pick to return for his senior season. The Cougars also return 13-game starters from last year at right tackle, center, and left guard, and the unit as a whole seemed to work well together against Ole Miss, whether timing the blocks on the Power play or releasing on a jailhouse screen. Having Reynolds at left tackle is a huge boost for BYU to counter Texas' edge rushing talent.
What To Expect
*BYU's two biggest concerns are, first, becoming one-dimensional with no success on the ground, and second, falling behind by a couple touchdowns early. In both cases, Heaps would be forced to carry the load and into a role he's not really ready for yet, and to try and do so against a Texas defense that will be amping up the pressure.
*I wouldn't be surprised to see BYU test Byndom and Diggs early in the game with Hoffman and/or Apo, hoping to get a big play and to keep Texas' defense honest, both of which would help the Cougars run the ball.
*Crucial for Texas will be the play of their linebackers in coverage, as BYU excels at picking on linebackers with quick, short- and intermediate-range passes.
*Texas also needs to finish tackles and convert opportunities to get BYU off the field on 3rd down. Giving BYU extra downs that allow the Cougars to keep wearing down the clock and the Texas defense plays right into their game plan.
*Texas DE Alex Okafor versus BYU LT Matt Reynolds should be a fun match up to watch, and if BYU's line succeeds in keeping the pressure off of Heaps on Saturday, Heaps will have time to pick on Texas' green secondary. No doubt Manny Diaz will get creative in trying to find ways to create pressure and dictate what BYU has time to do.
All in all, this is a solid group of personnel with a good bit of potential, and though they failed to score until the 4th quarter last week at Ole Miss, like Texas they steadily improved as the game progressed and were really starting to find a rhythm in the second half of the game. The ability to maintain ahealthy run-pass balance will go a long way towards putting Heaps in the best position to succeed, ease pressure on him, and open the field to improve the chances for Hoffman or Apo to make a big play through the air.
Next up: the BYU defense, which may well be a good bit shorter since I can direct you to Scipio's excellent write up on the Cougars D.