BYU beat UTEP 52-24 in the New Mexico Bowl (see the pregame below
), and it was a very informative game to watch from the Oregon St. point of view. The Cougars have only 1 senior lineman on offense that will be graduating off their starting unit. Further, there are only 4 seniors on their starting defense, and just two in their front seven, so the BYU squad that will come to Corvallis next season will be very similar to the one we saw in Albuquerque.
Watching the game was strikingly similar to watching last year's Las Vegas Bowl. The Cougars jumped to a big early lead on the Miners, and used a balanced offense to dominate the game.
Freshman Jake Heaps completed 25 of 34 passes for 4 touchdowns, and the Cougars rolled up 514 yards, including 295 in the air. This despite running 50 rushing on 50 plays. The result was a balanced offense that held the ball for 16 ½ minutes more than UTEP had the ball.
This should be especially worrisome to Oregon St. fans, not to mention the coaching staff, as UTEP's defense is similar to Oregon St.'s, as far as scheme goes. At least to the extent any defense is. Limited blitzing, with safeties centric on the field. Leaving wide receivers often isolated outside the numbers. Looked like Oregon St. on many occasions, right down to the part where Heaps threw multiple touchdowns to open receivers over over-matched corners who had no help inside or over the top.
Whether Heaps was standing in the pocket or moving it, he was able to dictate play.
When BYU ran the ball, which they did to both inside and the outside, they were very effective. Freshman Josh Quezada ran for 101 yards, and JJ Di Luigi just missed the 100 yard mark, with 98. Both had touchdown runs. Di Luigi did most of the heavy work for the Cougars, and while smaller than Harvey Unga, whom Oregon St. struggled so much with, is a very strong, tough back to deal with.
In other words, Bronco Mendenhall's group, which will be bigger, stronger, faster, and more experienced when they play Oregon St. in October, will present all the challenges Mark Banker's defense couldn't cope with the last time.
Since Mendenhall took over defensive play calling at midseason, which coincided with the Cougars' season turnaround, the Cougars have become solid against the run, and use a variety of blitz packages. Slow developing plays won't work against a BYU defense that gets upfield by design, yet still controls the run. UTEP to -12 yards rushing. 43 yards of sack losses by Miners quarterback Trevor Vittatoe, who was playing on a severely damaged ankle, with 4 torn ligaments that will require surgery, accounted for a lot of that, but that means the Miners still managed only 31 yards exclusive of Vittatoe.
At least there will be no reason for any of this to be a surprise, as it seemed to be in the Las Vegas Bowl.
It's not all bad news though, as UTEP coach Mike Price was able to expose a weakness in the BYU defense. Vittatoe threw for 245 yards, including three touchdowns to Kris Adams, who bears more resemblances to Oregon State's Marcus Wheaton than just wearing jersey #2.
The scores covered 67, 37, and 49 yards, and the way UTEP got Adams open will adapt well to the Oregon St. receiving corp. On each of the scoring plays, as well as several other plays that got receivers open, UTEP used another wide out to drive fairly deep, and then break inside or out, with another deep receiver on the other side. This not only occupied one safety, it prevented the other from releasing to the deep route in time to be a factor.
This is something James Rodgers and Jordan Bishop can do, with Wheaton using his size and speed to out-distance a not particularly big or fast BYU secondary. And Ryan Katz has the arm to get the ball deep. This won't work with shallow crossing routes, as linebackers can pick up coverage. The plays must get behind the linebackers to force the safeties to commit, or they can continue to be deep enough to be effective.
The other things BYU demonstrated though, was that they continue to take their opponents seriously, even when they aren't really a good matchup, such as in today's case, and that the Cougars take even a New Mexico Bowl appearance seriously. The Cougars, in their fifth consecutive Las Vegas Bowl still demonstrated that the game was important to the whole institution much more so than Oregon St. did, and that same organizational energy was apparent in what many consider an inconsequential bowl, in a game to determine whether they or their opponent would finish one game over .500.
After a year when Oregon St. faced seven bowl teams, and really nine, as far as on-field records go (ASU would have been bowl eligible had San Jose St. not bailed out on them after it was too late to do anything FBS about it, and USC was clearly a bowl quality team on the field), plus a Cal team that missed by one game, it was losses against the two weakest teams on the schedule, not the tough ten that they managed a spilt against, that kept the Beavers home for the holidays. A dose of urgency by the program such as BYU demonstrated the last two post seasons would do Oregon St. some good.