Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Slowing down the Cougars

BYU photo
BYU quarterback Max Hall looks for an open receiver last week against UCLA.

By Richard Anderson
Wyoming Sports.org

The numbers are daunting, among the best in the nation.

So, how do you stop Brigham Young?

For the Wyoming defense, it’s not so much about how to stop the Cougars, but what you do to slow them down. The Cowboys feel like they have what it takes defensively to match up with the BYU offense.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re excited,” Wyoming freshman linebacker Gabe Knapton said. “They have some big guys, but we’re just going to play our best game and play to our full potential and hang in there or beat them, hopefully.”

The Cougars are 10th overall in the country offensively, averaging 519 yards a game and 14th in coring at 42.7 points a game. Led by quarterback Max Hall, receiver Dennis Pitta and tight end Austin Collie, BYU is ranked fifth in the country in passing.

“These are always the most fun games, to be able to go to a ranked team’s house. It’s always a challenge, but I think we’re ready for it,” Wyoming sophomore safety Chris Prosinski said. “Coach (Mike Breske) has done a great job, and our players are real focused. It should be real fun.”

Through three games, it’s likely that the Cougars opponents haven’t had a lot of fun. All eyes will be on the Wyoming secondary, but the Cowboy defense as a whole will have to step up. It all starts up front with pressure.

“They are a great team, they have some big guys up front,” Wyoming junior defensive tackle John Fletcher said. “We’re just going to have to work our butts off to try to get to the quarterback. Hopefully, our coverages will hold up against their passing game.”

The BYU offensive line is big and built to protect the quarterback. Hall has been outstanding this season, completing 91 of 117 passes (77.8 percent), for 1,095 yards and 12 touchdowns. Last week, Hall threaded UCLA for seven touchdown passes, including six in the first half.

Getting to Hall won’t be easy, Fletcher said, because of his quick release.

“He’s got a good clock in his head, he gets rid of the ball real fast,” Fletcher said. “It’s going to have to be quick moves up front and hopefully get free on a couple of plays.”

The Wyoming defense doesn’t necessarily have to get to Hall to be successful, but must at least get him out of his comfort zone.

“I think if we get him moving out of the pocket, it will screw him up a little bit because he is used to just sitting back there, patting the ball once or twice and getting rid of it,” Fletcher said. “Hopefully, we can get enough pressure to get him out of the pocket and create some pressure for him.”

Next in line, the Wyoming linebackers not only have to help out with the coverage and slow down the run game, but put pressure on the quarterback.

“These are the types of guys you can’t really bull rush or run over,” Knapton said. “There’s a lot of work with the hands to just get around them rather than go through them.”

The BYU receivers are also among the best in the nation and will give the Cowboys a handful to cover. Prosinski said they are big and fast.

“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Prosinski said. “We have a good game plan, I think, and we’re just going to go out there and give it all that we have and see what happens. I think if we execute our plays and take care of our responsibilities, we should be good.”

Pitta leads the Cougars with 26 catches for 408 yards and three touchdowns, with Collie catching 22 balls for 264 yards and three scores. Michael Reed also has 16 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns and running back Harvey Unga has 16 catches for 128 yards and three touchdowns.

“We’re going to have to definitely play lights out, play one of best games to slow it down,” Prosinski said. “They are passing the ball all over the place. Their tight end is one of the leading receivers in the nation. And they have a good core of wide receivers. Hopefully, we get a pass rush on them and we’ll sit back there and just cover our guys.”

Stopping the Cougars? Much of it is mental, Prosinski said, “knowing your job, knowing your responsibilities, getting your pre-snap read, just doing that kind of stuff. Physically, we think we have it and mentally, we just have to get it down.”

The Wyoming defense, rated in the Top 25 for much of last season, has played well again in the first three games of the season. The Cowboys are third in the conference and 37th in the country, giving up 292 yards a game. Wyoming is also 47th in the country in scoring defense at 18.7 points a game.

Knapton said the Cowboys will have to play to its full potential in Provo.

“If our D does that, we’re a pretty good defense,” Knapton said. “We’ve played good, but I don’t think we have played to our full potential. I hope we can do it Saturday.”

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