The Huskies are coming to Provo to complete the “and home” portion of the home and home series with BYU that started in Seattle in 2008. They’re bringing with them the stinging memories of that last-minute loss to the Cougars, where a blocked PAT rendered the final score 28-27. Here is what I’m watching for in this exciting rematch.
The QB Battle: Jake vs. Jake, and Riley?
Jake Locker, the Washington senior, comes into this game touted as the likely #1 pick in next year’s NFL draft. He will feel pressure to perform well, as he was responsible for the penalty that facilitated the blocked PAT in 2008; look for Him to do all he can to make up for that mistake. Jake Heaps is an incoming freshman to BYU, who was touted by scout.com as the best QB in his class. He was also heavily recruited by Washington, he being from that state. BYU was expected to name a starting quarterback last week, but in lieu of that, Bronco Mendenhall has decided to play a two-quarterback system, which most surmise will end up with Heaps as the main QB, with Riley Nelson (junior) to be brought in for running plays. It’s likely that whichever team wins this quarterback battle will win the game.
Replacing BYU’s key offensive positions: QB, RB, TE
Questions abound at the beginning of a season. The biggest question for BYU is, is this a rebuilding year, or a reloading year? Coach Mendenhall has stressed time and again that “the system” is in place, and players will simply step into the roles they need to, and it all comes down to performance and execution. I will be looking to see how well the Cougars have been able to replace Max Hall (the winningest QB in BYU history), Harvey Unga (RB with most yards in BYU history), and Dennis Pitta (BYU’s All American – and all time leader in receiving yards and receptions at TE).
BYU lost all but two of its front seven in its 3-4 defensive scheme, with Jordan Pendleton as the only returning linebacker. The secondary is perhaps as well off as any the Cougars have had of late, as it returns most of its members from a squad that finished 4th in the MWC last year in total defense. I would look to see the DL struggle in this first game, but the leadership from the secondary should be quite helpful to them.
The offensive line this year is healthy, and full of mostly returning starters from last year, so I think they will be the strength of an offense that has a lot of new faces. The OL will be key to the success of BYU’s new starting quarterbacks.
Coach Sark on the other side of the field
Steve Sarkisian played QB for BYU. This is his first visit to Lavell Edwards Stadium as head coach of the Huskies. He wasn’t there for the loss to the Cougars in 2008, but he’ll want to have his team well prepared to play at his Alma Mater. Another note, all of BYU’s all-American quarterbacks are in town for the game. There is a special presentation at half time. Sark says he’ll participate, if the Huskies lead by 21 at the half. He won’t be participating.
Cougars looking to 1-up the Pac-10.
Perhaps a non-football item, but BYU is still stinging from the invitation of Utah to the Pac-10 earlier this summer. BYU has a favorable record against Pac-10 opponents in recent years, including a 44-20 thrashing of Oregon St. at the Las Vegas Bowl last December. Look for the Cougars to see this as another opportunity to show the Pac-10 just what they missed out on when they decided to pass-up the Cougars this summer.
Update: Since declaration of independence, BYU no longer stinging. However, they still want to take it to a Pac-10 team.
Jake Locker is going to play well; BYU is going to play better. The Cougars win a close one. The call, from my season preview: BYU 24, Washington 17