Defenses play a big role in Las Vegas Bowl

2009-12-17T23:00:00Z Defenses play a big role in Las Vegas BowlBy Cliff Kirkpatrick, Gazette-Times Reporter Corvallis Gazette Times

Much will be made of the potent offenses in the Las Vegas Bowl, but don't forget the defenses.

The outcome will likely be determined by them.

It's a given the No. 16-ranked Oregon State football team and No. 15 Brigham Young will move the ball and put up points.

However, the defense that can come up with the crucial stops will lead its team to victory on Tuesday night.

"It probably will be a shootout," BYU linebacker Shawn Doman said. "And it will be a close game, but I don't like close games. It's too stressful."

The Beavers (8-4) will be tested against the Cougars (10-2), a team with a stellar passing attack and productive running game.

Stopping the pass was the weakness early in the season but they improved. A pass rush emerged and the secondary tightened down the coverage.

"I'm looking forward to playing a team like them," OSU cornerback James Dockery said. "It's strength on strength. They do a lot of timing routes, and we like to disrupt timing routes. So it's going to be a good challenge for their receivers and us."

BYU will line up in the shotgun much of the time. It will appear four wide receivers are used, but the Cougars include a physical and athletic tight end in Dennis Pitta.

That means the Beavers' linebackers will be spread thin with more coverage responsibilities than usual, while they still must pay attention to the running game.

Running back Harvey Unga has run for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns, while five others have combined for 631 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"They are so versatile, and they are balanced," OSU coach Mike Riley said. "They have a good quarterback and a 1,000-yard rusher. You have to defend all that. And they know what they are doing, confidently."

Stopping the run is the team's strength on defense. The Beavers are 25th in the nation against the run, allowing 114.3 yards a game.

However, BYU's passing game spreads the linebackers out to open running lanes.

"I don't think it's going to be too difficult," OSU linebacker Dwight Roberson said. "We played a couple teams like that. I compare them to Cincinnati or UCLA. It's going to be more coverage (for the linebackers), but we still have to play the run. They are a draw team."

OSU's balance has the Cougars worried, and the Rodgers brothers have them on edge. Both are rushing and receiving threats.

Jacquizz Rodgers averages 114.4 rushing yards a game, and James Rodgers averages 184.4 all-purpose yards a game.

"They are explosive," BYU linebacker Andrew Rich said. "The two Rodgers brothers, they are the best players in the country in creating plays. The quarterback is accurate and good in the pocket. Any combination of that is a challenge for the defense."

BYU holds its own on defense, allowing 21.7 points, 112 yards on the ground and 219.1 passing yards a game.

The Cougars haven't faced anyone similar to the Beavers, Rich said. The closest team on their schedule that compares is Mountain West Conference champion TCU.

However, quarterback Sean Canfield, an accomplished pocket passer, is an old-school concern. The Cougars faced mobile quarterbacks, or conventional passers that aren't of Canfield's caliber.

Their best preparation has been the limited times during bowl practice the defense has gone against its own offense since quarterback Max Hall is similar to Canfield.

"It's always hard to stop a good route and a good throw," Rich said. "We need to pressure him."

While both teams pass well, the defenses expect to see the running game as a way to control the game.

The defenses say they try to stop the run first, but they know the outcome will come down to stopping the pass.

"I wouldn't say it's a worry," OSU safety Lance Mitchell said. "Stopping the passing game is the combination of the pass rush and coverage. Our defense as whole will get ready for that. And it's always fun to play against a passing team. I love to cover."

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