After a disappointing overtime loss to the UCF Knights last Thursday, the BYU Cougars look to right the ship and snap their two game skid on Saturday, at home in Provo, against the Nevada Wolf Pack. The Cougars have some young players who are stepping up big and are candidates to have big games against the Wolf pack in front of the home crowd. Unfortunately, the reason that some of these young guys are getting their shot is because BYU starters have been lost to injuries. However, next man up is a good philosophy to live by, and one that the Cougars are currently seeing in action. This brings us to our game-changing candidate for this week, freshman linebacker Sione Takitaki. BYU has been looking for someone to replace the edge rush and hard-nosed physicality of outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, whom the Cougars lost to graduation and the second round of the NFL draft.
Attempting to replace Van Noy has been a tall order this year, and the Cougars have tried to use both Bronson Kaufusi and Alani Fua, at different times, this season in an effort to replicate the outside pressure on opposing quarterbacks and make life much easier for their defensive backfield. Unfortunately, both Kaufusi and Fua have been sidelined by injuries, forcing BYU to turn to Takitaki and fellow freshman Fred Warner at the linebacker position. Both players acquitted themselves well in the game against UCF, but Takitaki, with two sacks, one a strip sack with a recovered fumble, seems to be in a better position to break out as BYU's edge rusher of the future.
Takitaki is great off of the edge and inside, he has good strength and is quick enough to get by an offensive lineman and cause that clock in the quarterback's head to speed up. This will definitely help the decimated defensive backfield of the Cougars as well, particularly against Nevada's Cody Fajardo, who has six interceptions on the year. Putting Fajardo under duress, should help the defensive backs take advantage of possible bad decisions due to quarterback pressures. I expect Takitaki to have a big game and he should get at least one sack. Possibly more important will be the hurries that he will cause. This should benefit the Cougar secondary, forcing some off target throws that hopefully end up in BYU's hands.
For more on Takitaki here is his recruit video: