1 Contain Riley Nelson. The senior BYU quarterback is known for his toughness and willingness to scramble out of the pocket when passing plays break down. WSU’s inexperienced front seven must make sure that quality coverage by the Cougars’ secondary isn’t canceled out by a series of first-down rushes by the mobile Nelson, who isn’t known for carving up defenses with his passing ability. He rushed for 392 yards last season, and would have had more if not for sack yardage.
2 Force more than – and commit fewer than – two turnovers. WSU’s biggest concerns are on defense, but the Cougars can cover for some deficiencies there if they create takeaways. This won’t be easy, since Nelson is reputed for his decision-making – he threw just seven interceptions last season. Most expect WSU to throw the ball effectively. The Cougars’ chances of succeeding increase more if quarterback Jeff Tuel takes care of the ball and doesn’t try to force passes into coverage.
3 Score early. BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium is one of the most difficult places to play in the country. It’s loud and it’s at high altitude. For a team as inexperienced in some areas as WSU, the noise could play a factor. But if WSU can get on the board early and immediately set the tone by quieting the crowd, players could feed off that momentum and use it to their advantage. Sustaining energy will be essential against a senior-laden BYU team.
4 Limit special-teams returns. This was a major downfall for WSU in 2011, and correcting some of the issues the Cougars had in kickoff and punt coverage was a major focus in spring and in preseason camp. New kickoff rules have moved the ball to the 35-yard line and touchbacks only come out to the 25 now. With a strong-legged kicker like Michael Bowlin, WSU should put the ball through the end zone and immediately upgrade its average drive-start position because of it. Limiting punt returns may prove more challenging.