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The Only Questions: Q&A with BYU

A closer look at this weekends game against the Cougars of Brigham Young

Toledo v BYU Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartans are coming off back to back losses and are desperately looking for a win one way or another. They are taking a break from conference play this weekend, BYU is going to be traveling to East Lansing to face the Spartans this coming Saturday.

BYU is coming off a huge win, which they accomplished last Friday on September 30th where they managed to beat The Toledo Rockets 55-53. This was a game where Star running back Jaamal Williams looked especially impressive racking up 286 yards and cashing in for 5 touchdowns. The Michigan State defense just might have it’s hands full come October 8th.

Today we welcome Jake Welch from Vanquish The Foe , SB Nation’s destination for everything BYU, to the site. Jake was good enough to play along and answer some questions for us.

This BYU team is not that different from the Spartans team they are about to face, each team has had a very up and down type season, MSU just suffered back to back losses and the Cougars had lost three games in a row before a close win against The Toledo Rockets this past Friday. What do you feel the teams mindset is as they get ready to walk into East Lansing this Saturday?

Since BYU isn’t playing for a conference title (or a major bowl berth since they are locked into the Poinsettia Bowl) they see each week as an opportunity to prove to everyone that they deserve to be grouped in with any Power Five program. They don’t schedule these games against top quality opponents just so they can serve as a nice visiting doormat. Each week is a chance for this team to prove they belong.

They had a wild shootout of a game on Friday night and I think they want to get back to playing defense the way they did the first three games of the season. The offense will want to build off of the success they had last week and continue to pound it on the ground and limit turnovers.

BYU's football program moved into a new era this season, as your longtime Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall left for the Virginia Cavaliers after last seasons Las Vegas Bowl. With new Head Coach Kalani Sitake stepping in to his first season how have the players taken to him? And has the culture and mindset shifted at all since his arrival this season?

There is no question that the players have the utmost respect for Coach Sitake. You can sense that the players appreciate his style / approach but more than anything he has brought a lot of fire and emotion to the sidelines that was definitely not present under Bronco Mendenhall. In the second game of the season against Utah, safety Kai Nacua was ejected on an objectively questionable targeting call. Following the confirmation of the call Sitake went ballistic on the officiating crew and drew a 15-yard penalty of his own. After the game players talked about how much they appreciated their coach fighting for them.

While there doesn’t seem to be the same militant-style intensity that existed under Bronco the team (specifically the defense) still plays a very physical brand of football. The culture seems to be much more relaxed as well.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jamaal Williams. I am certain that name carries some sufficient weight on campus for the last four seasons he has been on the team. The kid is an absolute workhorse on and off the field, his numbers and talents speak for themselves. In 2013 he had career highs of 217 carries and 1,233 yards on the year. Already in 2016 he has 109 carries and 703 yards. What do you expect from him personally the rest of the season and particularly against the Spartans this weekend? Are we looking at another breakout year for Williams?

It goes without saying that Jamaal is the focus of this offense, which is somewhat a departure from the passing attack that BYU has employed in the past. The game on Saturday is an opportunity for Jamaal to show what he can do against a quality defensive opponent and prove that he’s not just racking up yards against lesser opponents. The key for his success this weekend will depend on the rest of the offense and their ability to spread the field through the air. We saw earlier this season that UCLA was able to neutralize Jamaal by stacking the box and forcing BYU QB Taysom Hill to beat them through the air. Since the passing attack isn’t anything to be scared of (Hill struggles with his accuracy and the WR’s can’t hang onto the ball) I expect Michigan State to employ the same strategy.

This Saturday will be another must win for both teams. Granted after the Spartans lost to Indiana this past weekend they are no longer ranked in the Top 25 but this could be the biggest game and potential win for BYU this season. What do you feel is the key matchup fans should be looking for in this game?

I know that Spartan fans don’t want to hear their team being compared to Michigan, but this game has a lot of similarities as it pertains to BYU’s matchup with the Wolverines last season. In that game, BYU was clearly outmatched physically and didn’t score a single point. Since MSU plays a similar Big 10 brand of football, I could see the same result. That being the case I think the key matchup will be in the trenches with BYU’s offensive line. If BYU has any chance at winning this game the offensive line will need to work on opening up running lanes for Williams and protect Hill when he drops back to pass. The Cougars don’t have wide receivers that scare anyone so if BYU hopes to throw the ball, the offensive line will need to protect Hill until the receivers are able to work their way open.

On defense, BYU might be without their best player in middle linebacker Butch Pau’u. He was the Cougars leading tackler and enforcer on the defense before being sidelined with a knee injury after the West Virginia game. Sure enough while Butch was out against Toledo, the Cougar defense gave up an astronomical number of points and yards. If he’s unable to play, the load will be on the rest of BYU’s linebacker core (specifically Fred Warner and Francis Bernard) to get the job done.

Toledo v BYU Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Lastly, these Cougars have played tough all season, the players give it 100 percent on every down. All of their wins and losses have been decided by 3 points or less, how do you see this game against Michigan State shaping up? Should fans on both sides be getting ready for another tight game?

There is a very small part of me that is incredibly pessimistic and says that because BYU has played five quality opponents this season this could be a game where they come out flat and lay an egg. We saw that same thing happen last year against Michigan and there is a chance it could happen again.

Aside from that pessimism, logic says that this will once again be a game that goes down to the wire. Both of these teams are still trying to find their identity and have suffered some key setbacks. I don’t see the BYU offense putting up record numbers like they did last week and I doubt the defense will get gashed again. I can see this one coming down to the wire and being decided in the fourth quarter.

Thanks again to Jake Welch and all the guys over at Vanquish the Foe.