The BYU Cougars overcame several setbacks this regular season, including the losses of their starting quarterback, Taysom Hill, and running back, Jamaal Williams, to finish strong with a four game win streak. The season was punctuated by an offensive explosion with Hill's understudy, Christian Stewart, against a resurgent California Golden Bears team that gave them an 8-4 record, and some life headed into Monday's showdown with the Memphis Tigers at the Miami Beach bowl. The Cougars come into the game with something to prove, and the hopes that they can garner a bowl victory to provide a bit of validation for a team that needed to reinvent its identity following a spate of misfortune. Now that the Cougars have had extra time to prepare to deal with both their opponent and the heat, they should be dialed in and ready to go. Factor in a dissipation of the distraction for the team provided by the vacancy at Bronco Mendenhall's Alma Mater, Oregon State, and you have all the ingredients for the Cougars to come out firing on all cylinders on Monday morning.
BYU will likely allow Christian Stewart to continue to try to stretch the field and make plays in the passing game, but they are just as likely to lean on their running game to keep the defense honest, even though they come in facing a Memphis run defense that ranks 24th in rushing yards allowed. So, while the Cougars will likely have to make hay through the air against Memphis' fifth ranked scoring defense, they will need to be able to pound the rock with a balanced approach just enough to keep Memphis from pinning their ears back and coming after Stewart with all they've got. Thus, BYU's running backs have a tall order, and will need some lightning to go with the thunder of Paul Lasike and Algernon Brown.
During their late season resurgence, while speedy back Adam Hine was dealing with nagging injuries, the Cougars turned to junior Nate Carter, who has been able to carry the ball at a prodigious clip for BYU. Carter shows a speed and an elusiveness that is reminiscent of San Diego's Danny Woodhead. He is low to the ground, hard to see, and has great quickness, by the time teams find him, he's usually in the secondary. While he doesn't have the power to break a lot of tackles, he is more than quick enough to make carries both outside and inside the tackles count, and is a threat on screen passes and swing passes out of the backfield. Carter's elusive running style has been on full display during the final third of the season, where he's managed to amass 290 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 46 carries for a 6.3 yards per carry average.
There's nothing to stop Carter from continuing to provide a change of pace for BYU, giving them a four headed monster at the tailback position that should keep the Tigers off balance and respecting the run just enough for the offense to be able to make some big plays through the air and get some much needed points against this stingy defense. Look for Carter to make some big plays in the passing game as well, likely stretching some screens or check-downs into crucial first downs on scoring drives.
(Video Credit, Nicholas Redmon, Youtube)