PROVO — It's a game within a game.
It's called the lock down. Every defense wants lock-down cornerbacks.
It's what defensive backs hope to do to receivers. It's a macho deal — man on man.
Mississippi likes to mix up zone and man coverage like many teams. But like so many defenses in SEC territory, the Rebels take a lot of pride in man coverage, bellying up to receivers and locking them up at the line of scrimmage.
It's a game where one side believes its man is superior in speed, athletic ability and strength and that it can dictate what a receiver will do in the early seconds of a play.
It is expected Ole Miss will try to do a lot of that to BYU receivers come Saturday in Oxford, Miss. It's a technique of meeting receivers in press man coverage close to the line. The DBs give them a bump, tug or pull, trying to disrupt the timing of Jake Heaps with his targets and give Mississippi's front seven pass rushers a little extra time to put Heaps on his backside.
Are BYU receivers prepared to battle Mississippi's man coverage? Get "locked up" on the line? A few years ago, I saw one of BYU's receivers get locked up on the line and driven clear out of bounds. He was manhandled like a rag doll. The defender was in intimidation mode, as if in a fight; the BYU receiver was trying to make pretty and simply failed.
I asked Heaps on Monday if BYU's receivers were prepared to meet SEC corners man on man — with a real manly statement on the line after each snap.
Heaps gave the texbook answer you'd expect a QB to deliver in response.
"Particularly, if you are a good offense and you have good receivers, your receivers better be licking their chops that they're getting man-on-man coverage.
"We have to have the mentality that 'if this guy is going to play me man (coverage), give me the football, give me the ball.' If we have guys like that, we're going to be successful."
Heaps said man coverage has caused BYU problems in the past, but when an offense gets man coverage, it has been a situation that will produce big plays.
"We've struggled with that in the past, but this group of receivers are extremely talented and as a group they've worked extremely hard in the off-season to get better and improve." A big chunk of that improvement will be tested with bigger receivers now that freshman Ross Apo (6-foot-3) has joined Cody Hoffman (6-5) in the rotation. BYU does have some athletes at the receiver position, several as big as the Cougars have ever had on the field.
The Ole Miss depth chart released on Monday showed starting corners Marcus Temple (5-10, 190) and Wesley Pendleton (5-11, 180), a junior college transfer. The safeties will be 6-0, 180-pound Frank Crawford and 5-11, 175-pound Charles Sawyer.
People talk about physical play — receivers against cornerbacks can get pretty physical, and SEC corners take a lot of pride in their work.
"It's a matter of 'want to,' and that's the beauty of man coverage, it's one-on-one, mano-a-mano (hand-to-hand combat), who wants it more during that football game. It will be very interesting to see who wants it more during that football game," Heaps said.
"It will be a very good test to see where our receivers are at. I know they are looking forward to the challenge. I know Ole Miss has great athleticism and very good corners out on the edge, and they will give us a great first look for the season to come," he added.
The Cougars will also try to find mismatches by getting a quicker receiver going against a bigger and hopefully not as quick linebacker or safety. At times, Heaps said BYU will go to less physically imposing but very quick and capable receivers like McKay Jacobson, J.D. Falslev, Dallin Cutler and Rhen Brown.
"I have no problem going to the other guys (Cutler and Brown) when they are in there," said Heaps. "They are going to step in, I'm not sure how much they'll play in the game, but I feel confident if they do that they will get open and create separation."
Heaps said it has been a while since BYU has had depth in its receiving corps and so many choices of who to put in and perform at a high level. Of Falslev, Cutler and Brown, Heaps said, "These guys aren't the biggest or the fastest but they are great technicians and route runners, and they just get the job done."
Come Saturday's opener in Oxford, that will be a fun matchup to watch — Mississippi's defensive backs against the Cougars' supposedly improved wide receivers.