Washington State (0-0) at BYU (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, August 30th, 10:15 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,470) -- Provo, Utah. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Washington State 0-0, BYU 0-0 Away Record: Washington State 0-0, BYU 0-0. Neutral Record: Washington State 0-0, BYU 0-0. Conference Record: Washington State 0-0, BYU 0-0. Series Record: BYU leads 2-1-0.
GAME NOTES: Mike Leach finally returns to the sidelines as a head coach when he leads his Washington State Cougars against the BYU Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Thursday Night.
Leach brings his radical offensive strategy and oddly unique personality and coaching style to a Washington State program that has grown stale over the last decade. The Cougars have had only one .500 or better record in the last eight seasons, including a 4-8 mark last year. The Cougars fared well in non- conference play going 3-1 tom start the season but a 1-7 finish derailed any positives.
BYU was markedly better last season, finishing 10-3 for its fifth 10-win season in the last six years. Last season the Cougars played as an Independent after 12 seasons in the Mountain West Conference. BYU capped off its season with a 24-21 win over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl.
These teams have not met since 1990 when Ty Detmer threw for 448 yards to lead BYU to a 50-36 shootout win. BYU holds a 2-1 edge in the three all-time meetings.
The 'Air' Raid' offensive scheme was brought to prominence during Leach's time with Texas Tech, and the former Red Raider head coach will be bringing that same scheme to Washington State. Leach's offense shouldn't change drastically from a team that ranked ninth in the nation in passing (322.3 ypg) last season.
Jeff Tuel returns for his senior season with an array of weapons and the right offensive scheme to excel. Tuel is coming off a 2011 campaign which was racked with injuries. In 2010, when he was last the starter, Tuel completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns along with 12 interceptions.
The real star of this offense is wide receiver Marquess Wilson. The 6-foot-4 junior is coming of a stellar 2011 in which he caught 82 passes, for 1,388 yards and 12 scores. Wilson is on the short list for the Biletnikoff Award coming into the season and is among the best receivers in the Pac-12, which is filled with talented pass-catchers. Big things are also expected of freshmen Gabriel Marks and Dominique Williams.
The Cougars also benefit from the return of leading rusher Rickey Galvin, who ran for 602 yards and five scores last season. The sophomore will need to be able to make plays in the passing game, something he seemed perfectly capable of last season, when he caught 28 passes for 242 yards.
Center Matt Goetz is returning from injury as is left guard Wade Jacobson on an offensive line that returns three starters.
The offense seems well on its way, but the defense is less of a certainty. Mike Breske was brought in from Montana to improve a unit that allowed 31.8 points per game last season. Breske will instill a 3-4 defensive scheme with the Cougars,
Depth at linebacker is absent though, especially after Leach dismissed former starters C.J. Mizell and Sekopi Kaufsi during spring drills. Travis Long (42 total tackles, 12.0 TFL) is the only returning starter at the position.
Long will also be needed to help a regrouping defensive line create pressure. Defensive tackles Anthony Laurenzi and Lenard Williams both saw plenty of game action last season but will need to excel in a brand new scheme in which they will be asked to shift to defensive end at times.
While the Cougars retool on the front seven, the secondary should be a strength. Both starting cornerbacks and safeties return from last season, led by safety Deone Bucannon, who was third on the team with 60 total tackles. Damante Horton also put in a stellar campaign with a team-leading four interceptions.
For BYU, the offense should look largely the same as the one that ended the season. After inserting Riley Nelson at quarterback, the Cougars went 7-1 down the stretch last year.
Nelson threw for 1,717 yards while completing 57.4 percent of his passes. He also tossed 19 touchdowns after replacing Jake Heaps who began the year as the starter. Nelson will have the advantage of having his favorite receiver returning in Cody Hoffman. The junior had team-highs in receptions (61), yards (943) and touchdowns (10) last season. Ross Apo will be the other starter after a breakout freshmen season when he set a freshmen record with nine touchdown receptions.
The rest of the personnel at the skill positions is largely new including Michael Alisa at running back. Right tackle Braden Brown is the only returning starter on the offensive line.
While the offense started slow and came on strong last season, BYU's defense was at top form from start to finish. The Cougars ranked 13th in total defense last season and allowed only 20.4 points per game.
Seven starters return from that unit including Romney Fiuga and Eathyn Manumaleuna on the defensive line. Manumaleuna has started 34 games at left end and was the leading tackler among defensive linemen last season (34).
Brandon Ogletree is the real anchor of the defense. The senior inside linebacker had a team-high 76 tackles last season. He will be leading a deep linebacking unit that includes returning starters Kyle Van Noy and USC transfer Uona Kaveinga.
Senior Preston Hadley is a talented cornerback who ranked ninth in the nation in pass breakups (14) last season. He is paired with talented sophomore Jordan Johnson, who had two interceptions in 2011. Safety Daniel Sorensen returns to his starting role.
All eyes will be on the Washington State sideline and the offense in this matchup. Leach will get an excellent barometer of how far the offense has come over the summer, as BYU will test it defensively.
Hadley versus Wilson should prove to be a very intriguing one-on-one matchup and could tip the scales for either side. If the BYU defense slows Washington State, the host Cougars have the offensive punch to capitalize. In the end that balance, and the benefit of playing at home, will be enough for BYU.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: BYU 30, Washington State 24
08/29 10:38:16 ET