Miner fans, our old friend Jeremy Mauss over at the excellent Mountain West Connection, was nice enough to take some time out of his day and give us the skinny on the BYU Cougars football team. Of course, UTEP takes on BYU this Saturday in the New Mexico Bowl. What better way to kick off bowl week than by talking to the Mountain West Connection?
Miner Rush: Many reports out of Provo and Salt Lake have dealt with BYU's motivation for the New Mexico Bowl? Are the Cougars and/or their fans disappointed to be going to Albuquerque? Is the matchup what is disappointing?
Jeremy Mauss: I think it has to do more of the bowl then the opponent, but part of that could be the fact there was a lot of talk from the BYU play-by-play guy who keep saying that BYU was heading to the Armed Forces Bowl to play a C-USA team. However, had that guy done his research he would have realized that Army had a spot with the Mountain West to go against a C-USA team. When fans finally caught on they were somewhat disappointed. Also, with BYU streaking at the end of the season there was talk that if they won they would have gone back to the Las Vegas Bowl and then to lose on a controversial fumble that allowed Utah to go on and score a touchdown, and then they had a blocked field goal that sealed their fate against Utah. I think motivation will be there because BYU started off so bad and had to put together a string of games to just make the bowl game. Plus, BYU is a young team and being their first bowl game it will be a big deal.
Fans may be disappointed just because it is Albuquerque and not Las Vegas which is a cheap flight or a decent six hour drive and they can drive up and hang out in Vegas for three days and have some fun.
MR: How do running backs Brian Kariya and JJ DiLuigi complement each other? What are your impressions of BYU's running backs?
JM: Looking at Jake Heaps numbers, he seems to be playing his best football late in the season. Is he exceeding expectations for a freshman signal caller? What do BYU fans think of him?
Part of the reason he is playing so well is that he is the guy at quarterback. During spring, fall camp and the first month of the season he was splitting time with Rile Nelson. The coaches had no idea who to go with so they played both, and luckily the coaches were bailed out by Riley Nelson suffering a season ending injury which forced their hand. He has been improving by getting all the first team reps, but it also helps to be playing New Mexico, Wyoming, UNLV and Colorado State. The play calling has opened up some by offensive coordinator Robert Anare to see what Heaps can do and there have been glimpses of greatness on some of his throws. Expectations are very high at BYU, especially at the quarterback position. Their history is chalk full of all-american quarterbacks from Gifford Nelson, Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Heisman Troph winner Ty Detmer and then a bunch of well above average quarterbacks in John Beck, Brandon Doman, Max Hall, Steve Sarkisan and I know I am missing a lot. Fans felt Heaps would walk in and produce like Max Hall did a few years back, Hall also had no division one experience. However, the difference was that Hall spent a year at Arizona State before he came to BYU where he had a spring as well under his belt and just tore it up from day one. Fans are more excited of his play of late and Heaps does look to be in the mold of prior BYU quarterbacks, but I caution those who are all over the Heaps bandwagon that they have played some really bad teams of late.
MR: Statistically, BYU's defense is the best unit in the New Mexico Bowl (33rd ranked total defense). What can you tell me about their defense? Does Bronco Mendenhall blitz a lot? What kind of scheme does BYU run?
The defense was just horrible earlier in the year, but ever since Jaime Hill was fired mid season the defense has shown a spark and has improved drastically ever since then. Mendenhall is a defensive guy and is calling the defensive plays and he is more aggressive then Hill was. They will almost always bring pressure on obvious passing downs, plus the occasional run blitz to mix things up and they also do occasionally use the corner blitz. BYU is not overly athletic in the secondary but they have always had a good scheme to be able to be counter teams with a good passing game. The interior defense they run a 4-3 scheme loaded with a bunch of big bodies up front to try to stop the run game, but they give a bunch of different looks to try to confuse the quarterback by showing looks that may rotate between a 4-3 or a 3-4.
MR: Do you have a prediction for the New Mexico Bowl?