This week the Bulldogs head to Provo, Utah for a Friday Night Special against BYU for the first time since 2000. So, to get some special insight on the Cougars I had a quick Q&A with Jake Welch from Vanquish the Foe, BYU’s SB Nation affiliate. Here’s how it went down:
1) Give our readers a look into what it's like week in and week out being a fan of an Independent football school.
Now that BYU is in their sixth year of independence there is a lot more to look forward to than when BYU was in the Mountain West. In the first few years on independence the schedule featured two-thee quality opponents with the rest filled out by middle of the road P5 teams. Now we get a legitimate test just about every single week against quality programs. In one respect it’s frustrating not being able to compete for a conference title but I think the BYU fans love having a lot of variety in the schedule that sees them play in fun football atmospheres all across the country.
2) Which BYU players should Bulldog fans be most concerned about on offense? Defense?
On offense the obvious answer is running back Jamaal Williams. He’s an absolute menace when he runs the ball and I can only imagine how maddening it is to watch him break through arm tackles and shed opposing defenders. He’s a complete back who can handle 25-30 carries per game and break open the game with a big run. Only one team has been able to completely contain Jamaal this season so it’s not impossible to stop him but will take a disciplined defense to make it happen.
If Butch Pau’u is health he is one of the more impressive players on BYU’s defense. He has amazing instincts and hits harder than just about anyone in the West. He suffered a knee injury against West Virginia and has been out the last two weeks so who knows if he’ll make an appearance. It would be a huge boost to BYU’s defense if he can suit up. If not, I’d say be on the lookout for BYU’s safety Kai Nacua. He does a good job in run support but excels in pass defense where he’s already collected four interceptions on the year.
3) MSU's football team, for the first time in a while, is lacking a true identity. What is BYU's football identity this season?
With the new coaching staff, BYU has changed their identity on offense from a spread attack at a frantic pace to a power running game. Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, who is famous at BYU for winning a Heisman trophy with his record-setting passing numbers, has built an offense that is built around our work horse Jamaal Williams who is second in the nation in rushing yards. Taysom Hill used to be a dangerous talent at quarterback before a string of injuries. He’s now settling into a role where he doesn’t rely on his explosiveness and speed to make plays but rather his strength (which has only increased). Last week’s game against Michigan State was the perfect example of what the BYU offense wants to do.
On defense, the formations and alignments have changed (from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense) but the identity of the defense is the same. They’re a hard hitting bunch that will work to stuff the run but can be torched through the air at times. Both of BYU worst defensive performances came against West Virginia and Toledo, teams that ran a spread passing attack. Part of that deficiency on pass defense is due to a string of injuries, most notably to stud linebacker Butch Pau’u and freshman cornerback Troy Warner.
4) BYU has seen a lot of close game this season with 5 of their 6 games being decided by 3 points or less. Do you think this has helped the team mature and will it give them an edge in a close game vs. MSU?
I think that any team would prefer that the win games in a decided fashion but I definitely do think that all of the close wins (and losses) have helped the players. They definitely have a mentality that they’re never out of any game and that they need to play all four quarters in order to get a win. Since all three of the losses came by less than three points I think the team looks at the game as a whole and understand that a missed opportunity in the first half will have major implications later in the game.
5) Prediction time: how do you see the game playing out on Friday?
I don’t expect to see a whole lot of offense from either team as BYU’s defense starts to hit their stride and the MSU defense providing more of a physical challenge. I think that BYU takes the lead the second half as Jamaal Williams is able to wear down the defense. MSU might be able to break open a few big plays but BYU holds on for a 21-14 win.
Bonus: I saw that recently, BYU held a Milktoberfest to counter the traditional Oktoberfest. In that spirit, what is your preferred type of milk?
Oh man this is going to get me in some hot water in SEC country but I’m going to have to go with almond milk. I live In Los Angeles so it’s only fitting that I go with the hipster version of milk. I used to stay away from the stuff on principle but now I’m a huge fan. I know Jim Harbaugh is disappointed but that’s OK with me.