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How BYU Defeats the Longhorns in Austin

4 September 2014 Brett Richins
BYU travels to Texas on Sept. 7. The Cougars lead the overall series 3-1.

BYU travels to Texas on Sept. 6. The Cougars lead the overall series 3-1.

Folks down in Austin–and throughout the Lone Star State–have been waiting for this Saturday for a year now.

Actually, 364 days to be exact.

The Texas Longhorns will have payback on their minds when BYU takes the field at Memorial Stadium for a rematch of last season’s game that was dominated by the Cougars 40-21.

Fans of both schools well remember the record 550 rushing yards that the BYU offense rolled up that night on a hapless UT defense. It was the kind of night that causes heads to roll for the loser.

BYU didn’t just defeat Texas, they flat out embarrassed one of the most proud and successful programs in all of college football.

It’s with that intriguing backdrop that the Cougars will to go in to Austin and try come away with a victory that could launch their playoff hopes in 2014. Defeat what will be a highly-motivated, yet vastly-depleated, Longhorn squad and Bronco Mendenhall’s team just might be set up to run the table.

An onslaught of injuries and suspensions means that Texas will enter Saturday night’s contest without starting quarterback David Ash, starting center Dominic Espinosa, both starting tackles in Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle, explosive wide receiver Daje Johnson and a key safety in Josh Turner.

Head coach Charlie Strong also dismissed a number of players from the program before the season even got started.

BYU, meanwhile, should be at full strength after five players return after sitting out during last week’s 35-10 win at UConn due to disciplinary action. The Cougars get back the services of starting running back Jamaal Williams, cornerbacks Jordan Johnson and Daniel Robertson, nose tackle Marques Johnson and wide receiver Devon Blackmon.

Everything appears to be setting up nicely for BYU to go into Austin and get what would be a huge win. However, it still figures that the Cougars to have to bring their “A” game against the Longhorns on their home field.

Here are four keys for BYU to get the victory and thereby begin to place itself in the conversation nationally:

1. Weather the Initial Storm

The Cougars have to expect and anticipate that this game will be very emotional for Texas and its 102,000 fans packing the stadium. This is a revenge game of epic proportions for these folks. Mendenhall’s players need to weather the initial storm of emotion and stay focused.

If they can avoid getting down by a substantial margin during the first quarter they should be in good shape. Teams are rarely able to sustain a high level of emotion for a full 60 minutes of play. If BYU doesn’t get rattled and lose its confidence early on, momentum could easily slide to the Cougars’ favor in this one.

With Texas missing so many of its key players, the Cougars may eventually begin to gain control as the game wears on and as depth becomes a factor.

2. Limit Penalties

BYU was hit with a mind-blowing 15 penalties for 150 yards in its season opener at UConn. While they were good enough to defeat the Huskies with so many miscues, it would be folly for the Cougars to believe that they could do so against Texas, even with a number of key players missing from its line up.

The Cougars will have to play intelligent, relatively mistake-free football if they want to take advantage of the opportunity given them.¬† Mendenhall’s research has shown that penalties are not an important factor in determining success or failure on the field of play. However, his offense last season was regularly stymied by dumb penalties.

The Texas defense is going to be out to redeem itself from last year’s game and the BYU offense doesn’t need to make it any easier for the Horns by marching itself backwards with a bunch of penalties. If the Cougars limit the laundry on the field they’ll put themselves in a solid position to win this game.

3. Force Swoopes to Beat You

When the Longhorns take the field on Saturday night, they’ll do so with a very inexperienced offensive line. The suspension of their starting tackles and an ankle injury to Espinosa in the middle means that no player on the offensive line has more than two starts under their belts.

That should allow the Cougar defense to control the line of scrimmage and limit the Texas running game. Running backs Malcolm Brown and Jonathon Gray are among the nation’s most talented duos in the country, but they still need someone to block for them and open some holes.

The focus for BYU defensively should be to take advantage of the inexperience of the Longhorns up front, contain Brown and Gray and force sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to beat  with his arm. Swoopes is no where near being a polished passer at this point in his development, and with the return of corners Johnson and Daniel, BYU could afford to play more man coverages on the outside in order to get more players into the box to stuff the run.

As a freshman last year, Swoopes completed 5 of 13 passes (38.5 percent) for just 26 yards.

On obvious passing downs, Mendenhall and defensive coordinator Nick Howell could call some exotic blitzes in order to confuse the young signal caller. When they do bring pressure, they’ll need to keep containment on Swoopes. He’s a big, athletic player who has the ability to make plays with his feet if he can escape the pocket.

4. Stretch the Texas Defense Vertically

Given what happened to them last year, you can bet that the Horns will be loaded up to stop the BYU running game. Cougar QB Taysom Hill alone ran for 259 yards and three touchdowns.

Strong is a no-nonsense, blue-collar kind of coach with a defensive mind set. He’s been reminding his players just how bad they were in this game last season. He’s shown them the low-lights over and over again to drive the message home.

BYU can bet that Texas won’t miss tackles like they did in 2013 and that the UT defense will be much more disciplined and assignment sound. They will be ready for the read option and will be focused on making Hill prove to them that he is indeed a better passer.

Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae promised to throw the ball down the field much more this season. However, in game one against UConn, Hill rarely looked deep. With the addition of the speedy Blackmon this week, the Cougars may be better prepared to make good on Anae’s promise.

Hill has to be able to force Texas from routinely putting eight and nine guys in the box or the Cougars are likely to find the going on the ground much more difficult than last year. If BYU’s quarterback use his arm to force the secondary and linebackers to back off the line of scrimmage, things should open up for both him and Williams on the ground.

Given the problems the Longhorns are likely to face on offense, BYU shouldn’t need to score a ton of points in order to win. By making the Texas defense play honest, the Cougars may well be able to score enough to get out of Texas with another big victory and push their overall series record against the Longhorns to 4-1.

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