Wednesday, September 23, 2015

No. 22 BYU/Michigan preview: Cougars look to bounce back after losing to the UCLA Bruins

Luck finally ran out on the No. 22 BYU Cougars last Saturday night as it came up short to the then-No. 10 UCLA Bruins 24-23.

The biggest concern for BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall coming out of the UCLA game was the rush defense allowing 296 yards on 38 carries, but remains optimistic going into Saturday's game at Michigan (2-1). 

"I think we have a good team that's on the verge possibly becoming a great team with some work, but still a ways to go," Mendenhall said in Monday's press conference.

Injuries in the running back position are another concern for BYU (2-1) as Francis Bernard (broken finger) will see playing time, while Algie Brown's status remains up in the air.

Mendenhall hopes everything will clear up with injuries as the week goes along.

"Not sure when we can get Francis fully up to speed and when we can get Algie back," Mendenhall said. 

"Hopefully, we can get both back this week. Francis was cleared for last week, but he had some rust in practice, so hopefully we'll get him back this week."

Mendenhall sees Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh's gameplan as a mirror image of his previous college stop at Stanford and knows it will be critical for BYU to match the physicality on the field.

"They are basically Stanford when Harbaugh was there," Mendenhall said.

"That’s no slight to either one. If I’m describing it, that’s what I see. They have a lot of big people, extra tight ends and big backs. They are just running and smashing it. We’ll need bigger people and healthier people. We’ll try and match it best we can."

BYU's huge early-season wins at Nebraska and at home against defending Mountain West champion Boise State have given the independent program a lot of national notoriety with games on ABC, ESPN2 and Fox Sports 1 so far.

"I think the attention is gratifying and believe we have respect at this point nationwide," Mendenhall said. 

"You have to keep earning it and play well. So far, we are an exciting team to watch and we keep things exciting up until the last minute."

BYU Players To Watch For- Quarterback Tanner Mangum:

Despite last Saturday's loss against UCLA, Tanner Mangum finished the game with a completion percentage of 62.8, the highest since Max Hall (67.2) in 2009.

Mangum completed a career-high 30 of 47 passes for 244 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the loss. 

Wide Receiver Mitch Mathews:

Forever etched as the player who caught the dramatic, game-winning 42-yard hail mary TD with no time left on the clock at Nebraska, Mitch Mathews has turned into a household name in college football.

Mathews put together another stellar effort at UCLA with nine receptions, 84 yards and a touchdown.

The lanky 6-foot-6 frame of Mathews could cause matchup problems as Michigan cornerbacks Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis are expected to take turns guarding the standout receiver.

Cornerback Kai Nacua:

Known more for playing a role in the infamous brawl at the Miami Beach Bowl last season against Memphis, Kai Nacua has let his play on the field do the talking thus far.

Nacua has recorded nine tackles, but the stat which stands out the most is four interceptions, including one returned for a TD against Boise State.

The scary part is the stats have been accumulated in two games due to sitting the Nebraska game out due to a suspension for his role in the brawl against Memphis.

Michigan's receivers could be in for a long day if Nacua continues at the rapid pace he has been on this season.

All-Time Series:

BYU won the only other meeting in the 1984 Holiday Bowl over Michigan 24-17 to win the consensus national championship.

Game Planner:

No. 22 BYU Cougars (2-1) at Michigan Wolverines (2-1)

Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI

Time: Saturday, Noon ET

TV/Online: ABC/WatchESPN

Line: Michigan (-4.5)

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @GenoSportsguy.