Closer than Expected, but We’ll Take It.
Friday’s game was yet another “squeaker.” It featured two teams coming off of losses that both would rather forget. On paper, some could argue this should have been a blowout, but UCF’s hungry band of athletes seeking to prove themselves made it close. Their fans were sure wanting to take a piece out of us before the season started…
Part of it was BYU’s fatigue from having a very tough schedule so far, and part of it was UCF rising to the occasion and playing very well for close to three quarters. Part of it might have even been a few of last week’s bounces evening out. But the bottom line is that the Cougars pulled out a victory to even their record at 2-2.
The expected breakout performance from Jake Heaps didn’t happen, but there are some good reasons for that. When Brandon Doman was announced as the new offensive coordinator, he promised a return to old school BYU football. This, or course, means what LaVell Edwards did. This might sound easy, but is a bit of an adjustment.
Robert Anae’s reputation is that of a “spread guru.” He ran some plays out of the WCO playbook, but his orientation was that of a spread coach. When Doman took over, it was back to the LaVell Edwards original version of the WCO. As a former Cougar QB, Doman knows what can be accomplished, and given enough time to reinstate it, will do fine.
The main problem, though, is that moving from a spread consciousness to a WCO consciousness involves a lot of work on the part of the players. Even though Doman retained a lot of the terminology and said everything was going well, it’s obvious that the players are not adjusting as well to the new offense as easily or as quickly as Doman originally thought they would.
The spread creates mismatches by spreading the field. When receivers are open, they are really open. A spread offense that features a lot of passing can really make a defense look stupid when a 180-pound slot receiver who runs a 4.4 is in space with a 250-pound linebacker who runs a 4.7. Also, the blocking in the spread is a lot different.
The WCO, especially the Edwards version, has a lot of timing routes. It requires receivers and QB’s to be on the same page. It requires the QB to be a lot more accurate and to take more snaps under center. The drops and footwork are totally different. Basically, it is a lot easier for a QB in the shotgun to throw to a player who is open by five yards than it is to take a five-step drop and throw the ball to the outside shoulder of a receiver who is covered on the inside shoulder.
Both offenses work very well once they have been installed and have the right personnel. QB’s and receivers have to have a lot of chemistry for any offense to work, but it is much more crucial in the WCO. Usually, any time a team switches offensive philosophies from the spread to the WCO, it takes a good year for it to be effective. Notice the decline in production at Michigan this year, or University of South Florida and Texas Tech last year with similar switches.
The good news in all of this is if Doman is given two or three years to fully institute his system and import the correct personnel on the field, we should see a return to the old days when BYU QB’s’ put up great numbers and won a lot of games. At least he was back in the booth this week.
Game Ball for Cody Hoffman
Cody Hoffman deserves special mention for his 93-yard kickoff return, and we would like to award him a “game ball,” even though we don’t actually have one to award.
At any typical FBS football factory, Cody Hoffman wouldn’t be returning kicks. He wouldn’t be playing WR, either. At any football factory, any receiver coming in at 6-3 or 6-4 with a 4.63 40 would redshirt his freshman year to put on weight. By his true sophomore year, he would be a redshirt freshman learning how to play TE or OLB. He would have put on at least fifteen pounds in a weight regimen that encourages bulk, and his target weight would be about 250 if not higher.
Obviously, BYU is not a FBS football factory. The fact that the Cougars can even compete on a FBS level is amazing, when you think of how difficult it is to recruit a lot of four and five-star recruits. At BYU, when a kid wants to play WR, he is given a chance, even if he doesn’t have 4.4 speed.
Sometimes, as we see now, players who are “too slow” to compete for the WR position or return kickoffs at a standard BCS giant turn out to be very good at WR in Provo. They do it with persistence, discipline, and intellect. They do it by listening to the coaches and by precise execution. We have seen it time and again.
So far, Cody Hoffman signing with the Cougars has worked out very well for both Hoffman and BYU. Congratulations, Cody.
So, Why Should We be so Happy?
Almost all of the tougher teams in the FBS schedule three cupcakes and one competitive game for their non-conference schedule. That means that a lot of bigger schools start out 3-1 or 4-0. Some even schedule four cupcakes and guarantee a 4-0 start.
The Cougars, on the other hand, scheduled three of their five toughest games as the first three games of the season. While we would have really liked a 3-1 or 4-0 start, 2-2 is not bad, and is not a hole that is too deep to dig out of. Next week is another rivalry game: the Old Wagon Wheel matchup against Utah State. Until last year, USU hadn’t beaten the Cougars since 1993, but pulled off the 31-16 victory last year in Logan. This year, the game is back in Provo, and I think it is safe to say that USU will have the Cougars’ full attention this year.
The schedule is starting to set up a lot easier than the first four games. Also, the emergence of an actual running game in the second half against UCF is very, very encouraging. The old cliché is right; it is a lot easier to pass if the defense has to defend against the run.
There are only two teams left with the collection of athletes that BYU has faced the first four weeks. In other words, the worst is over. For Cougar fans, this season is just getting started.
With BYU’s win against UCF last night, we’re better prepared emotionally to laugh about last week’s wrenching loss to the University of Utah. Although we are devout Cougar fans on this site and we love our team, the game against Utah was SO BAD that we’ll have to take in in stride as a fluke, laugh about it with our friends that root for the U, and get on with the season.
So instead of a highlight video full of fumbles, this video will be our ‘highlight’ video for that game.
And…we would rather throw ourselves in a deep dark pit than root for the University of Utah…
The toughest segment of the schedule is over (except probably TCU). We all hoped to see the Cougars go 3-0, or at least 2-1, but they are 1-2. We all knew the first three games would be a very difficult start, but we also knew that after those three games, the Cougars would be ready to have a breakout performance. When you start the season out the way the Cougars did, the rest of the schedule starts to look a lot easier.
The loss against the Utes was downright humiliating; there is no doubt about it. Worst of all, the score got out of hand. That is something that happens to all football teams at least once. When things start to go wrong, sometimes the snowball effect is in full force. Sometimes, the snowball turns into an avalanche.
Basically, that’s what Saturday’s game was: an avalanche of Cougar errors. The Cougars temporarily became the Pastry Chefs, serving turnovers to hungry Utes, who probably still have apple and blueberry stains on their uniforms. The worst aspect of the loss is that nobody gets more mileage out of one victory than the Utes. They will be cyber-slobbering about this game for the next twenty years.
Ultimately, though, a loss is just that: a loss. It is one game in the loss column. Whether you lose by 1 point by a last-second field goal, or lose the way the Cougars did on Saturday, it’s still just one loss. Although it does give Ute fans a shiny new meme to overuse (and overuse and overuse) in forums and chats, the bottom line is that it is still just one loss.
If there is one “silver lining” about what happened Saturday, it’s that the Cougars won’t take this week’s game against UCF lightly. BYU has played three teams with a lot of athletes over the last three weeks. While UCF also has plenty of good players, their talent level is not close to the SEC, Big 12, or Pac 12. If it was, they would be in one of those conferences instead of CUSA.
UCF managed to lose to Florida International University last week. They will also enter Friday night’s game with a bad taste in their mouths, and coach George O’Leary will have them playing their best. We don’t think it will be good enough, since we expect the Cougs to be incapable of losing two straight at home. What the Cougars have done the first three games is like weight training, and going from playing those teams to playing UCF will be like bench pressing 200 pounds after bench pressing 300 pounds for three weeks.
While the Cougars have played Ole Miss, Texas, and a bitter rivalry game, UCF has played Charleston Southern, Boston College, and FIU. The Cougars are playing their easiest opponent so far, while UCF is playing their toughest opponent so far.
We see this game playing out as Jake Heaps’ breakout game for this year. Heaps has done what elite, mature quarterbacks do this week: put responsibility for the Utah loss squarely on his own shoulders. He is demonstrating leadership that one usually sees from an upperclassman. He appears to be as focused as he could possibly be for Friday night’s game. Also, the receivers will find it a bit easier to get open against the UCF secondary than the ones they have faced so far. When you throw it all in the blender, it should come out as a great-tasting smoothie for BYU fans.
We see two aspects that need to be fixed for the Cougars to continue to improve to a level where a National Championship can become reality. First of all, we need an OC in the press box like everybody else’s OC.
We know Brandon Doman was a very good QB here, and we know he likes to watch the game from field level, because that’s how he played it. We know he likes to be on the field where the action is. We also think it would be great if he just tried it in the press box once to see how it worked out.
There are things you can see from above the field that you just can’t see at field level. Even someone with a quarterback’s field vision can’t see as much from the field as he can from the press box. We would never tell someone how to coach, but surely there is a reason that so many successful offensive coordinators coach from the booth.
The other thing that needs to be addressed in recruiting is the lack of a solid running game. Running backs come in different shapes and sizes, and different speeds. In JJ Di Luigi, the Cougars have a player who is reminiscent of longtime Miami Dolphins running back Jim “Crash” Jensen, albeit a smaller version. He could end up in the NFL as a special teams player and third down back if he gets the right opportunity because of his versatility.
The problem is that the Cougars need more speed and better strength at the running back position. Sometimes, when you are known as a passing school, it is tough to get physically elite running backs to sign on the dotted line. Consequently, you end up with guys like Di Luigi, who do everything right and squeeze every last drop of performance they can out of their talent.
Every great team needs a back like Di Luigi, but they also need a “burner” for a change of pace, like the Cougs recently had in Harvey Unga. There isn’t a go-to guy/get-four-yards guy in the backfield. Hopefully, they can either find some help in the backfield, or one of the current players will step up.
Everything about Saturday goes in the ugly category. The worst, though, was the constant trash-talking and grandstanding by the Utes, even as the score reached blowout status. Most rivalry games are hard-fought, but the teams show some respect for their rivals. Utah, for the most part, acted like they hadn’t ever won a football game before. Great game, guys: now try showing the class of a winner. (I know, I know, that’s asking way too much from Ute fans…)
The ugliest aspect of all, though: one solid year of Ute bragging. And bragging. And bragging…
The Cougars made a national statement on Saturday. It wasn’t quite the one we all wanted to see, but they showed that they belong on the same field as the “big boys” of the BCS. Once again, like last week, it was a matchup with a ton of four and five-star athletes on one side of the field, and a bunch of two and three-star athletes on the other side.
For a half, it looked as though the Cougars were going to pull off another road victory against a top-level team. Texas, though, had other ideas. As one of the Texas blogs accurately predicted, third-string quarterback David Ash replaced Garrett Gilbert, and changed the dynamic of the game. Case McCoy saw a lot of action in the second half, too.
Most of all, though, Texas just had more athletes to rotate and eventually wore down the Cougars. Texas, California, and Florida are football-mad states that have the most athletes. Texas gets almost anyone they want in Texas. They skim the cream off the top of the recruiting pot, and everyone else gets what’s left. They had a bad year last year, but the odds of that happening two years in a row are pretty slim.
Anyway, it is no disgrace to lose at Texas, and a lot of the national audience will remember that the Cougars gave them all they could handle. So, what can the Cougars learn from this? A lot. This experience will make the rest of the schedule seem easier. It will also help the Cougars pick up a few more recruits down the road.
So, what did the Cougars learn? First, Jake Heaps got valuable experience. This is the fastest secondary he will face all year. TCU is fast, but Texas is faster. This will make some of the secondaries he faces later look like high school teams in comparison. This will make the game “slow down” for him easier, especially against teams with less speed.
We learned that Ross Apo is the only receiver on the team right now who can match the speed of an elite secondary. Texas pretty much kept the Cougars bottled up, especially in the second half. They also got a lot tougher when the Cougars got in the red zone. McKay Jacobson runs great routes, and is a reliable possession receiver. Sadly, though, the Cougars just didn’t get enough guys open, especially in the second half.
Austin Holt showed potential at TE, too. TE’s usually are covered by linebackers, and are often overlooked. We might see him used more often, especially if he continues to play well.
The ground game is going to have to be addressed. JJ DiLuigi gained only 44 yards on 14 carries for an average of 2.8 yards, while the team gained 58 yards in 23 attempts for an average of 1.9. That is not enough to win in the BCS. Coach Mendenhall was concerned about this, but sees the Cougars as a “work in progress,” but isn’t going to push the panic button after a one-point loss in one of the toughest places in the country to win.
The offensive line played well in the first half, but were worn down by the Texas rotation in the second half. The big guys feel the heat more than anyone else on the field, and are more susceptible to being worn down. Also, the blocking schemes have changed a bit from last year. If there is any time a team that has changed coordinators is going to make mistakes, it is when they are tired.
On defense, the front seven got pushed around in the second half. Not only did Texas rotate linemen and backs, but they also rotated three quarterbacks. The brief period where they rotated all three in the third quarter was just enough to confuse the Cougars and tip the field in Texas’ favor.
When a team is on the cusp of fatigue, momentum shifts can be the deciding factor. Texas just had too many people and too much speed for BYU in the second half.
On the good side for the defense, Spencer Hadley, Travis Uale, Daniel Sorenson, and Kyle Van Noy looked good. Van Noy, in particular, looked a lot better than his stat line. By the time he is a senior, Van Noy might be near the top of the NFL draft chart for his position.
So, what is the bottom line? As coach Mendenhall said, “We still have good players, with good ability, that are still optimistic and working hard.” It is not a disgrace to lose by one point in Austin. Texas has the second-most victories in college football, second only to Michigan and ahead of Notre Dame by over ten games now. They didn’t get that way by losing a lot of home games.
If you had asked any Cougar fan in August whether they would have been satisfied to see BYU sitting at 1-1 after the first two games, most people would have answered, “yes.” In our preview, we felt that the key to the entire season would be getting out of the first four games at 2-2 or 3-1. 3-1 is very possible now, and they should be at least 2-2 after four.
The rivalry game this week will be an all-out war, as it always is. You never know which way it is going to go. Both teams are coming off of losses. If it is any consolation, the Cougars looked better in their loss to Texas than the Utes did in their loss to USC.
Rivalry games are impossible to predict, and you can never count on a win. The most important game may be the trap game the following week against UCF. UCF will be fired up, while the Cougars will be drained following their rivalry game. The Cougars and the Utes will give every last ounce of energy they have to give on Saturday; such is the nature of rivalry games. Once again, there will be no prediction. This one is just too close to call. We strongly suspect, however, that the Cougars are going to find a way to pull this one out, being a little extra-motivated after last year’s controversial game.
They have a lot to worry about in Austin right now. The Texas A&M fallout followed by the revelation that four teams might be ready to bolt from their conference are causing a bit of distraction.
First: what those bloggers think of the Cougars?
The offense is led by a second-year QB who is talented but can be rattled. They are most worried about Ross Apo (a former Longhorn commit) and Cody Hoffman.
They are extremely concerned about the DL and LB’s, but see the secondary as a weak spot which can be exploited by spreading the field and protecting QB Garrett Gilbert. They are concerned about their ability to run on the Cougars’ front seven.
What to look for on offense:
Garrett Gilbert may have been irreparably damaged when he relieved an injured Colt McCoy in the BCS title game against Alabama in January 2010. He sputtered to a 5-7 record last season, bringing down the wrath of the sizable Texas alumni and fanbase.
As the son of former NFL QB Gale Gilbert, he is seen as having a lot of potential, and has been groomed to be a QB since he was a youngster. So far, though, he has had a lot of trouble at Texas. Last week, in Texas’ victory over Rice, which can only be described as a tomato can, Gilbert went 13 of 23 for 229 yards and 1 touchdown. It isn’t much by BYU standards, but is his best game so far.
RB is by committee. Fozzy Whitaker caught four passes for 51 yards and one touchdown. Malcolm Brown ran 16 times for 86 yards, “big” back Joe Bergeron ran six times for 26 yards, and Donald Junior Monroe ran five times for 41 yards.
The WR’s look good. Mike Davis had three catches for 115 yards. That is not a typo. Jaxon Shipley is both quick and fast, but tends to lose concentration. John Harris, Dominique Jones, and Darius White will also see time.
The OL doesn’t have any star power, but the Longhorns did get 505 yards of total offense against Rice.
On defense, they have checked their egos in at the door and play very well as a unit. They have three preseason all-Big 12 players: DL Kheeston Randall, MLB Keenan Robinson, and SS Blake Gideon. Suffice to say that the Texas Defense is the best collection of players the Cougars will face all year. If they can pressure Jake Heaps into mistakes, and their DB’s can keep the Cougars’ receivers in check, it could be a long game.
This game is too close to call, but we will find out a lot about where the Cougars are on the football food chain this Saturday.
We knew ahead of time that Ole Miss, even though they might not have a lot of great skill players, had a lot of athletes. The football-mad south produces more athletes than you can imagine. The South was the last place the NFL expanded to, and the last place integration happened. This meant a lot of interest in high school football, and a lot of tradition was born then. We still see the results of that tradition today in the numerous recruits that come out of the South.
It took awhile for the Cougars to adjust to the speed they saw on Saturday. If speed was the only factor that counted, the Cougars would have been in trouble. Luckily for BYU, strength, coaching, and maturity also count. And that maturity finally came into play in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars were down 13-0. They had driven the ball a lot, but just couldn’t find a way to score. To me, it just looked like another Holiday Bowl opportunity. The Cougars have a tradition of wild comebacks, and they were “only” thirteen points down.
A lot of times, in a noisy stadium on the road, down by thirteen midway through the fourth quarter, teams hang their heads. As we all know, it takes a lot more than thirteen points to make a team with this tradition hang their heads. We all know the rest. Jake Heaps finally got the team into the end zone, and Kyle Van Noy would make the play of the game on Mississippi’s ensuing posssession.
The crowd, which had been raucous and was having a great time at the Cougars’ expense, was suddenly quiet. And the Cougars would leave with an opening victory over the Rebels.
Despite receivers having trouble getting open, Jake Heaps kept his poise and was able to will the team into the end zone. He ended up completing 24 of 38 for 225 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Kyle Van Noy made the play of the game when he picked up Zack Stoudt’s fumble and took it in for the winning score, but the defense played very well all day, limiting Ole Miss to 208 yards in the air and 64 on the ground.
Ross Apo finally showed some of the speed and elusiveness that helped him get into the lineup with a touchdown catch for BYU’s first score.
Too little speed. The receivers had problems getting open against a second-division SEC team. The difference between a team like Ole Miss and a Southern team like Texas is the skill level. Ole Miss has a lot of athletes that are “projects.” Texas has a lot of players who “project” to the NFL. The Cougars will have to recruit more speed in the coming years to beat teams that have both speed and skill, such as Texas, or any top division SEC team, on a regular basis.
Sealing the deal. The Cougars left 10 points on the field in the second half, and wasted drives of 36, 24, and 30 yards in the first half. They got away with it this time, but it won’t work against upper-echelon competition.
The Ugly: Absolutely nothing. A win is a win, especially on the road against the SEC. We’ll call the first three quarters a learning experience, and the fourth quarter a masterpiece.
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