Daily Blog • December 20th
BYU vs San Diego St
BYU (7-5) 127
8:00 pm • ESPN • Qualcomm Stadium • San Diego, CA

BYU HC Mendenhall has now led the Cougars to a bowl in each of his 8 years with the program (5-2). BYU was 2-4 vs bowl eligible squads this year, being outscored by the slightest of margins (17.7-17.5) but did outgain those foes 340-311. This is BYU’s first Poinsettia Bowl appearance although they are familiar with both SDSt and this stadium having played the Aztecs every year from ‘98-’10 going 11-2 as previous conference members. After opening at 2-3, the Aztecs finished with a 7 game win streak to go bowling for the 3rd consecutive year. SDSt went 3-3 vs bowl eligible squads also being outscored by a slight margin (29.5-29.0) and being outgained 417-340. This is SDSt’s 2nd Poinsettia Bowl in the past 3 years (beat Navy 35-14 in ‘10) and HC Rocky Long’s 7th bowl overall (2-4) after earning MW Coach of the Year.

BYU has had 3 different starters at QB this year. While Riley Nelson has started the majority of the games (10) for my #56 offense, he was injured for the finale, giving way to Sr Lark, who threw for 384 yards (68%) with a 6-0 ratio in his 1st career start! After rushing for 155 yards on just 15 carries vs Hawaii, 17 year old RB Williams took over as the starter in week 6 vs Utah St and has avg’d 79 ypg over his last 8 games. Against the vaunted Notre Dame defense, Williams rushed for 68 yards which doesn’t seem like much, but that total was the 4th most rushing yards the Irish allowed all season to an opposing RB! WR Hoffman has 3 straight games of 100+ yards and became BYU’s first 1,000 yard receiver since ‘08. The OL (6’5’’ 306) is led by Outland and Lombardi Watch List honoree Braden Hansen, who shifted from LG to C at midseason. While the Cougars rush numbers are up slightly (160 ypg last year to 162 ypg this year) their ypc (4.2 last year to 4.1) and sack % (3.7 last year to 6.2 this year) have slipped. Defense is the calling card for this BYU team as they are among the NCAA leaders in rushing defense (#3, 84 ypg), total defense (#3, 266 ypg) and points allowed (#6, 14.7) finishing with my #10 ranking. On the season they have held five opponents to their season low in total yards! Compared to last season, their rush ypg improved from allowing 112 ypg (3.7) last year to 84 ypg (2.7) this year and their pass ypg improved from allowing 201 ypg (57.9%) last year to 182 ypg (57.9%) this year (my #31 rated pass eff def). BYU has my #49 ranked ST’s unit with DE Russell Tialavea having blocked 3 kicks this year.

Lose your starting QB and not miss a beat? That is exactly what happened when Katz went down vs Nevada, and the Dingwell era subsequently began after he led the comeback win. He then led the Aztecs to the win at #19 Boise as SDSt became the 1st team to win at Nevada and Boise in the same season since they were FCS teams. The Aztecs have my #68 offense avg 408 ypg and 35 ppg. SDSt has the #16 rush offense led by the Thunder and Lightning combo of Muema (#17 FBS) and Kazee but Kazee will miss this game. Five WR’s have over 15 grabs but the top guy is Mackey semifinalist Escobar. The OL is led by 3 Sr’s paving the way for 229 ypg (5.1) with 30 sacks (9.3%) and avg a towering 6’5” 298. The Aztec 3-3-5 defense struggled early in the year and after allowing a season high 655 yards and 52 points to Fresno, allowed just 334 ypg and 19 ppg on their 7 game win streak. SDSt has my #64 ranked D allowing 25 ppg and 375 ypg. The young DL has been a concern with just 6 of the team’s 32 sacks (19%) while allowing 140 ypg (3.7) on the ground. The heart and soul of D is LB Fely who leads the team in sacks. The Aztecs have my #97 pass eff D allowing 235 ypg (63%) with a 23-11 ratio. SDSt has my #16 ST’s ranking despite Long having a lot of fans up in arms early when he failed to find a K in fall, deciding on a “go-for-it” mentality that may have cost him in the opener. K Marden is 8-12 (L/46) and P McMorrow avg’s 41.9. The true star is KR Lockett (26.7) who had 2 KR td’s.

These two were both MW members and BYU won the last 2 times here (‘07 and ‘09). The Cougars’ D has been phenomenal allowing just 14.7 ppg and has kept every non-BCS team to 20 points or less. BYU has already proven they are a very capable road team as they beat GT and lost at Utah, Boise St and Notre Dame by a combined 7 points. The Cougars D has held 5 opponents to season lows, are great travelers and will send the Aztecs home disappointed.

PHIL’S FORECAST: BYU 26 San Diego St 20