You would think that, after a festive day of Thanksgiving, I would want to take a break and relax. But the fact of the matter is I can’t stop thinking about the game this Saturday. This probably has to do with the fact that I have been watching the replays of past BYU-Utah games. Anyhow, here are my latest thoughts on the ensuing Holy War.
Much has been said in the last few days about what is going to determine the outcome of Saturday’s game. If you look at my previous posts, I wrote extensively about the offenses of each team and what they need to do to get the victory.
After finishing a hearty slice of pumpkin pie for breakfast, I came to the conclusion that while it is important for BYU to establish its offensive presence, the defense will have to win this game for the Cougars. In order for that to happen, the front seven has to come up big. It’s all about the battle in the trenches.
Unlike years past, the defensive linemen and linebackers are somewhat of a no-name crew. Ever since 2005, this group has produced a hard-nosed playmaker that became the face of the defense — guys like Cameron Jensen, Brian Khiel, Jan Jorgensen, David Nixon and Colby Clawson come to mind. This year, the front seven has yet to produce one of these kinds of players, but all of them have played with consistency.
The defensive line is probably my favorite unit because of how unique each player is and how well they have responded to injuries to their two horses, Romney Fuga and Jordan Richardson. First, there is Matt Putnam, who is stranger than a three-dollar bill. He doesn’t get a great pass rush, but he has a knack for batting down passes with his massive wingspan. Vic So’oto has put on a few pounds since moving from the tight end position but he is still pretty darn quick. And Ethan Manumaleuna has taken over the nose guard spot and does a good job plugging and chugging.
The key for these three will be taking on multiple blockers. In the 3-4 defense, the linemen aren’t supposed to be big playmakers. This explains why Albert Haynesworth threw a massive fit when Mike Shanahan brought in the new defensive scheme in Washington this summer. Haynesworth wanted to be a big time sack master, when what they needed him to be was a gap-filler. It’s a good thing no one on our defensive line has a massive ego. If the defensive line does their part in taking on blockers, then the linebackers should have a big game.
The linebackers for BYU have been a pleasant surprise in the second half of the season. I know most us have gone through intense psychotherapy to forget those games against Florida State, Nevada and Utah State, but they are a good reference for noting progress. In the middle, Shane Hunter has been serviceable and Brandon Ogletree is living up to his supposed nickname “The Hammer.” (Side note: One of the talented announcers on The Mountain said that everyone in Provo calls Ogletree “The Hammer.” As a resident of Provo for the past few years, this was news to me. If this has been the case, I apologize for my lack of nickname knowledge.)
The outside linebackers are probably the most intriguing of the group and play a very important role in this game against Utah. Jordan Pendleton was the big name of the defense before being sidelined with an injury. From what I hear, the decision on whether he will play will come sometime today or tomorrow. With Pendleton sidelined, Kyle Van Noy and Jadon Wagner have filled in. Van Noy has the capability for making big plays as he has had a few sacks and tackles in the backfield in the past few games. Both of these guys need to have a solid game in order for the Cougars to win.
The most important thing for these two is to play smart pass defense in the short to intermediate routes. On passing downs, Bronco will usually send one of the outside backers while the other drops into coverage. If the backer who goes into coverage can stay on his man or cover his zone, then the blitzer will have more time to get to Jordan Wynn. I suspect that Bronco will dial up the blitz early and often on Saturday, putting pressure on Wynn to beat them downfield.
So will the front seven be the big name playmakers in Saturday’s game? No — and they don’t need to be. If they play consistent, smart football then they will put BYU in a position to win.
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