This season’s opening match-up is one of many debuts. BYU alumn, Washington State head coach, Mike Leach, returns to Provo in his first game as the Cougars head coach. Leach hasn’t coached since 2009 after a drama filled close to his career in Lubbock as the Texas Tech Red Raiders’ head coach.
Coach Leach lauds a prominent passing attack and will look to bring excitement back to the folks in Pullman. His first test begins in Provo.
BYU not only will be debuting their new score/video boards and LED ribbons, but it’s the first time they have a senior quarterback starting since Max Hall in 2009. It is Riley Nelson’s first opportunity to begin a season as the starting signal caller. He started the 2009 season opener against Washington, but wasn’t officially named the starter as he and true freshman Jake Heaps swapped in every other series.
What to Look For
Wazzu: Leach already has talented receivers, which is something required of a passing juggernaut style offense. Jeff Tuel seems to have all the tools necessary to be the gun slinger. Although a senior, Tuel doesn’t have as much experience as most seniors. He became the starter last season due to an injury to current sophomore Connor Holliday. Holliday spent most of the summer and fall recuperating from the lacerated liver he suffered against Utah last season.
The Cougars only return 4 starters, and will be instigating a brand new offense. Stud wide receiver Marquess Wilson will be the play maker as the scheme will definitely benefit his talents. But after Wilson, there are a lot of question marks as to what to expect from this offensive unit. They will throw the ball a lot, with only one proven ball catcher. Expect to see a bit of rustiness and perhaps some stagnance as they get into the swing of things.
This Wazzu defense allowed 409.6 yards per game last season, and their entire secondary returns, with a whole lot of youth everywhere else on the defensive unit. Leach also changed the scheme from a 4-3, to a 3-4. A young, barren defense changing the way they play football will likely take some time. Beginning that experiment in a place like Provo to kickoff the season may not be the best way to work out the kinks. BYU hasn’t lost a season opening game since 2006.
BYU: Head coach Bronco Mendenhall just completed his 5th ten-win season in his seven years at BYU. Though some were quick to criticize last years strength of schedule and write 2011 as a true ten win team. Regardless, the Cougars finished the season with their third consecutive bowl victory (first time in BYU history) and at the tail end of the top-25 rankings.
BYU finally has a senior quarterback as their starter, and traditionally, the Cougars fare very well with a senior signal caller. Brandon Doman is entering his second year as the offensive coordinator, and will look to start off on a positive note, as last year’s offense was stagnant. Riley Nelson has a talented offensive line protecting him and NFL caliber wide receivers in Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo to throw to. With those weapons, the Cougar offense will have plenty of opportunities to keep their opposing defenses guessing.
Coach Mendenhall’s defense has the fans intrigued. Kyle Van Noy features this defensive unit that is loaded with talent and experience in the front seven. This is also arguably the deepest secondary coach Mendenhall has had as well. Look for guys like Joe Sampson and Preston Hadley to be enforcers who will impact the way opposing offenses throw the ball. With an inexperienced, new offense coming to LaVell Edwards Stadium, the BYU defense should be able to make plays that impact the end result.
I expect BYU to win this game. Coach Leach is a fantastic coach, and a perfect technician of a passing offense, but in his first game, on the road, against an exceptional defense, I could see this being difficult for Washington State. BYU has so many weapons to pressure the football, and the Cougars from Pullman will be seen caught in their tracks on a few plays. There will be a learning curve, and perhaps the following two games against Eastern Washington and UNLV will be prime opportunities for Wazzu to work out some holes, but not in Provo.
The Wazzu defense has more holes than the offense does and although BYU’s running game may be in question, look for their offense to be comfortable moving the football. Riley Nelson is a play maker and will have plenty of opportunities to spread the field, make big plays and get more than just Apo and Hoffman involved in the passing game. The only way this one remains close, is if the Wazzu O can capitalize on turnovers from errant passes from Nelson. That is also if the BYU defense doesn’t match the turn over ratio.
BYU will win their sixth straight season opener. BYU 33 Washington State 17