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BYU’s defense to be challenged by Mountaineers’ ball-hogging offense

West Virginia coach Neal Brown, far left, watches his team as play Central Florida on Oct. 28, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. The Mountaineers like to control the ball and get creative in the run game, something the Cougars will contend with Saturday in Morgantown.

West Virginia’s offense and BYU’s defense are on a collision course Saturday.

It’s a “prove it” kind of deal.

When Neal Brown saw the media’s preseason poll that had his West Virginia team finishing last he said, nope, not gonna happen.

Cougars on the air

BYU (2-3, 5-3)
at West Virginia (3-2, 5-3)
Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT
Milan Puskar Stadium
(Capacity: 67,215)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

He’s used that snub very effectively, rising to the middle of the Big 12 standings heading into a home clash with league newcomer BYU on Saturday in Morgantown. His Mountaineers are favored by 10 points.

Fresh off a slapdown at Texas, BYU is looking for a win — any win — because the next “W” puts the Cougars in a bowl game.

Will it come in Morgantown?

Not if Brown has his way.

In Brown, the Cougars will face an offensive guru who believes in the trickiest aspect of the run game. Kind of like that sneaky Air Force program, his offense tries to isolate defenders and confuse them, which could lead to big runs. His triggerman, QB Garrett Greene, is averaging 5.6 yards per tote.

Brown’s background comes from being a head coach at Troy and offensive coordinator at both Kentucky and Texas Tech.

He likes to stretch out a defense, stress it, then throw the bomb. Devin Carter is averaging 17.9 yards per catch.

Brown versus BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill is going to be worth watching.

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Hill’s defense faced a trio of outstanding running backs at Kansas, Texas Tech and Texas. All were held under their averages.

“I think they are for sure one of the best O-lines we faced this year, if not the best O-line that we faced,” said Hill earlier this week. “This scheme is creative. It’s complicated. It causes you issues in matching up and you have to be very assignment sound.”

Hill knows his defense will need to be on task, make few mistakes, tackle effectively and control gaps come Saturday,

“There’s a reason why they run the ball well, and why they lead the league in possessions right now. So we’ve got to do a great job of being assignment sound, matching up what they do and not losing our eyes in the run game,” said Hill.

Brown does have an impressive lineup on the line to run his offense.

Ever since Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen, there has been an emphasis that West Virginia football would be known for tough offensive linemen.

In a win over Pitt, center Zach Frazier had 14 knockdowns and right guard Doug Nester had nine, according to Brown’s report to the media after the Back Yard Brawl game.

“We won the football game because we strained, we were physical and I thought we out-toughed those guys,” offensive coordinator Chad Scott said.

“There’s nothing better than being able to run the ball even though they know you are going to run the ball,” Nester told the media. “That’s the best feeling in the world when they are loading the box and we are still able to produce yardage.”

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This is the attitude and delivery BYU has been looking for in its struggle to run the football.

Defensively, however, Hill will have his hands full.

In many ways, the Mountaineers’ offense will present a myriad of challenges the Cougars have not seen this year because of Greene’s effectiveness in running the option and RPOs, keeping the ball himself and gaining yards.

BYU received a backhanded compliment from Jordan Pinto of SB Nation, writing his game preview for “The Smoking Musket.”

“I hate to say it, but this (BYU team) might just be the most fraudulent 5-3 team I’ve come across this year. These dudes are getting outscored and outgained on average this season and postgame win probability numbers put them at 2.9 wins.” — Jordan Pinto of SB Nation

“I hate to say it, but this (BYU team) might just be the most fraudulent 5-3 team I’ve come across this year. These dudes are getting outscored and outgained on average this season and postgame win probability numbers put them at 2.9 wins. And yet, here they are at 5. There’s something to that, I suppose, but there’s no way it’s sustainable,” wrote Pinto.

“We are playing better defense,” Hill proclaimed, citing efforts against Texas and Texas Tech.

“Against Texas Tech we faced one of the best running backs in the country (Tahj Brooks) and we held him pretty good and then last week we faced one of the top guys in the country (Jonathon Brooks) and held him under 100 yards. There are a lot of things improving each week. I think the run defense is one of those things that’s getting better. We’re still not where we need to be. There are opportunities for us to be more assignment-sound in certain areas. We’ve taken a lot of steps and there’s room where we need to always pick (it) up.”

Hill believes BYU’s defense is settling in and learning and he can gauge the success in what’s been accomplished of late.

“We just held Texas to 100 less than what Alabama held them and we held them almost 200 yards less than what Oklahoma held them. That is a really talented and phenomenal offense, so we’re heading in the right direction.”

So, yes, this is a showdown between two emerging forces in the Big 12 — WV’s offense and BYU’s defense.

West Virginia quarterback Garrett Greene (6) hands off to wide receiver Rodney Gallagher during a game, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. Saturday the Mountaineers host BYU in a Big 12 showdown. | Kevin Kolczynski, Associated Press
West Virginia quarterback Garrett Greene (6) hands off to wide receiver Rodney Gallagher during a game, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. Saturday the Mountaineers host BYU in a Big 12 showdown. | Kevin Kolczynski, Associated Press