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Know your Opponent: Previewing the Cougars offense

The Bears defense will face their second out-of-conference test

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

As many of you know, the football program of the BYU Cougars had a very consistent formula for most of the last decade. Lean on a great defense and rack up yards through the air. That formula came by the way of coach Bronco Mendenhall, who was a staple with the BYU program before jettisoning to Virginia in 2015. Since the Mendenhall departure, Kalani Sitake has tried his best to implement a run-first system and last year all but abandoned the pass. The early results? Not great. BYU wrapped up last season ranking 121 in Off. S&P+. That is a Sonny Dykes level of bad, with the exception being it is on the opposite side of the ball.

Yet 2018 is here so we can basically kiss last year’s data goodbye, right? What we saw Saturday from BYU wasn’t all that dissimilar to what we saw from our offense against the North Carolina Tar Heels. That could speak volumes about our own concerns regarding our 2018 offense or speak to BYU’s improvement with another year of experience under their belt. They dominated possession 36:23 and used a run-first attack to beat an Arizona team still trying to find its way under new coach in Kevin Sumlin.

What does this all mean for the California Golden Bears? It definitely means the team won’t have a hard time replicating the BYU offense in practice this week; the Bears have plenty of familiarity with an offense that can run the ball. It also means that we have another test for a defensive line who didn’t necessarily dominate last Saturday, but did well enough to give their linebackers the opportunity to disrupt in the backfield. All things point to this being a fun measure for a Cal defense looking to cement its place as a top unit in the Pac-12 conference.

2017 Season in Review

There wasn’t much to write home about in the 2017 season for BYU. Most Cal fans had this game circled as a win back in July and a lot of that had to do with the abysmal performance the Cougars saw on offense. The Cougars stumbled to a 4–9 record and flat out failed in their out-of-conference match-ups. The Cougars beat Portland State in a tougher game than most expected and then proceeded to get walloped in their next three match-ups. Against LSU, Utah and Wisconsin, BYU was outscored 86–19.

Things didn’t get much better until later in the year with the big exception being they lost starting quarterback Tanner Mangum to a ruptured achilles. They somewhat salvaged the year with a late win against Hawaii, but the end result wasn’t pretty.

BYU vs Arizona

The BYU offense took a game plan into Arizona that leaned heavily into their rush attack, but had enough balance to keep the Wildcats honest. Their success through the run game opened up the play-action pass, which was the exact play call that resulted in a touchdown by Matt Bushman in the third quarter. Notably, the Cougars dominated in the trenches, giving up zero sacks and leaving Tanner Mangum plenty of time to pass when they went to their aerial attack.

The Cougars also played a near mistake-free game. Their 10 penalties were not ideal, but they didn’t have a single turnover against Arizona. Ultimately, they executed a gameplan that allowed them to dominate time of possession, won the turnover margin, and played conservative football down the stretch that made the end result closer than it probably should have been. Sound familiar?

What to Expect Come Saturday

The game plan probably won’t look all that different on Saturday with Cal’s defense being a slightly tougher test than Arizona. If there is any matchup to watch, the BYU offensive line versus the Cal defensive line is where all my attention will be. Expect a lot of running the football and for Squally Canada to be a focal point for the Cal defense.

Conversely, BYU will find themselves with a much tougher match-up in the passing game than they found last week. The Cougar receivers are all a year more experienced than their disappointing year last season, but none exactly jump off the page statistically. The Cal secondary should be able to contain a passing attack that has been nothing close to spectacular for the better part of the last year.

Saturday’s game will be another important data point in informing all Cal fans just how far this defense has progressed over last year. Even if you look at last year’s data, you’d still have to give the advantage to the Bears simply because BYU’s offense was that underwhelming in 2017. However, with a better start to 2018 already under their belt, the Bears cannot underestimate the Cougars—particularly on the road.


How many points will BYU score against Cal?

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  • 6%
    (66 votes)
  • 32%
    (360 votes)
  • 52%
    (575 votes)
  • 4%
    (49 votes)
  • 4%
    50 or more
    (45 votes)
1095 votes total Vote Now