This week we had a chance to trade questions with the BYU sports blog Academically Ineligible. You can find my answers to their questions here. Here are their responses to our questions.
From The Rumble Seat: How is BYU handling the tough loss to ND? Is there a risk of overlooking this game and suffering from a "hangover"?
Academically Ineligible: I don’t get a sense that BYU is suffering from any letdown or hangover. It hasn’t really been a trait for the team this season and they’ve had plenty of opportunity to suffer from one all season. Looking at the rest of our schedule, this is the only real game left of the final four (Idaho, SJSU, and NMSU remain) and despite head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s insistent that Georgia Tech will be "just another game" I don’t think the team will feel that way.
FTRS: BYU is 4-4 so far, but has played the 10th toughest schedule to date according to Football Outsiders. How are the fans re-acting to .500 record, even if BYU has been playing well?
AI: Without living in the past, BYU really should be 7-1. Two turnovers for scores and some bonehead missed opportunities have cost BYU a chance at a real special season. I think most fans understand the difficulty of this season’s schedule and had we seen something improve, we’d be more understanding of the record. However, our four losses are all on Riley Nelson and Mendenhall’s insistent to play his "gritty" quarterback. Losing with Taysom Hill who was hurt on the last play of Utah State or even 5th year senior James Lark would be understandable, but Riley’s meltdowns at the end of games this season have placed an exclamation point on a season that fans expected so much from.
FTRS: BYU's defense seems to be carrying the team this year. What about their play makes them so good?
AI: They're fast on front 7. In most games, they've been able to dominate the line of scrimmage. Kyle Van Noy, Ziggy Ansah, Uona Kaveinga, and Brandon Ogletree have patrolled opposing lines of scrimmage and kept the defense in front of them. They are a solid defense top to bottom when they know the risk of being thrown on is low and they can force the run which is their bread and butter this season. Opposing offenses have been forced to scheme for Van Noy and Ansah as the season has progressed but Brandon Ogletree has been the most consistent player all season. He’s the defensive captain and the team goes as he goes.
FTRS: With ND's move to a semi-ACC member, what do you see in the future for BYU in terms of independence?
AI: That’s the million dollar question right now in Cougar Nation. Many are content with independence and many others panic at every hint of conference realignment. BYU has such a unique position in college football in that it really doesn’t need a conference if it doesn’t have the perfect fit. As long as BYU is not afforded to keep its ESPN contract and more importantly, exclusive rights to use BYUtv as it wants to, don’t expect to see BYU move into a conference anytime soon. And in spite of Notre Dame’s semi-alignment, BYU officials aren’t panicking. If anything, I think it solidifies that BYU will remain independent because Notre Dame made their move and it wasn’t into a full football alignment with any conference. Teams are recognizing that the new CFB Playoff that starts in 2014 will require out of conference games that are quality and with BYU’s flexibility and national recognition, they will be an attractive option for many Big 6 conference teams (even if their rival Utah thinks they can’t make it work every year.)
FTRS: Does BYU have any experience defending the option offense?
AI: BYU spent decades in the same conference with the Air Force Academy, a team that has specialized very well in the triple option. They don’t attract the same sort of athlete as GT will but in Mendenhall’s coaching career, he has always fared well against option teams. Defensively, BYU plays a very assignment-sound style of football and with our outside linebackers who can move from sideline to sideline with speed, they should be able to make plays and get stops against Georgia Tech on Saturday.
FTRS: What can we expect from BYU's offense on Saturday?
AI: The easy answer is "I don’t know." This has been the worst case of Jekyll and Hyde I’ve ever seen. Against Washington State and Weber State, we saw an offense that would be good enough with this defense to win every game. Utah and Boise State showed us the ugly side of our offense. If I had to guess, BYU will show much of what you saw them run against Notre Dame. Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman is only in his second year being an OC and he’s very vanilla and predictable. BYU will pound it with Jamaal Williams and try to keep Riley Nelson close to home by throwing quick outs. You’ll see a lot of the shovel pass to Williams that they have fallen in love with these past few weeks. Nelson injured his back in the second game of the season and since he returned from that injury, he isn’t as quick to run. If you want a not-so-secret way to beat this offense, force Nelson into "hero" mode and watch him collapse into your hands.
BYU: Finally, what is your prediction for the game?
AI: I think BYU is going to come out focused and determined to make a statement. This defense is tired of carrying this team only to finally lose and ultimately look like under achievers. Offensively, BYU will make some plays and Nelson will find a way to grit it out and get BYU into the end zone. In the end, I expect BYU to win 21-13.