Imagine that it’s only September 20, but it feels like your year is dangerously close to being over, almost before it started. Inexplicably, when you wake up and go into your living room, there’s a Christmas tree with a pile of gifts under it. Somehow, instinctively, you know that these aren’t gifts you have to wait until Christmas to open, but gifts that can be opened right now.
You walk across your blue carpet to the tree, and notice that the labels all say, “To: BSU Broncos. From: BYU Cougars. You begin to unwrap the first gift. Your curiosity turns to boyish delight when you open the box and it has two gifts, one inside another. The first is wrapped in black and white stripes, and it says “Illegal block: 15 yards.” You unwrap the inside gift and it says, “Interception, courtesy of Riley Nelson.”
You are excited now, because you know that one gift like this from the Cougars usually means more are coming in short order. Sure enough, the next gift says, “Fumble, courtesy of Riley Nelson.” Then, the next present says, “Interception, from your old pal Riley Nelson.” Just as you are about to get bored, or wonder why Riley Nelson is being so nice and everybody else on the Cougars isn’t quite in the spirit, you open another gift: “Fumble, from your new friend, Michael Alisa.” Then, you see another gift: “Hi, it’s me again, Riley Nelson. Please accept this interception as a token of my friendship.”
You are starting to feel like something isn’t quite right, like maybe these gifts aren’t really as valuable as you think they are. Then, you see the most valuable gift of all, hidden directly behind the tree. It’s in a small jewelry case, as if it contained a fine diamond. You open the case, and it says, “From one Bronco to another, please accept this failed two-point conversion attempt.”
Your face is now the picture of every child’s dream Christmas. The new bike, the red wagon: all pale in comparison to the plethora of valuable gifts you received on this, your finest Christmas ever. Tired from your unexpected glee, you start to doze off. Your last thought before you go to sleep is, “How did Santa Claus and those nice people from BYU know we needed these gifts so badly?”
That, in a nutshell, is what happened on Thursday night. The only silver lining here was the defense, which did a great job of holding Boise State to seven points. Riley Stephenson was also great, punting the ball six times for 282 yards, an average of 47 yards per kick, and a net of 46.3 yards per kick.
Consequently, we are going to give only two stars for the game. The first goes to the defense, and the second goes to Stephenson.
So, what is going on with the Cougars? Why is an offense with a lot of returning starters coming up so flat in important games? Coach Mendenhall and OC Brandon Doman certainly have to shoulder some of the blame here. The last two games, it looked like opponents knew what the Cougars were running before they ran it on far too many occasions.
Too many times, it has looked like the other team knew exactly where the ball was going and when it was going there. The Cougars can get away with this against teams with lesser talent, but it simply doesn’t work against teams with equal or better talent, or even against teams at a slight disadvantage.
Pure and simple, the Cougars have been out-coached the last two games. Coach Mendenhall said all the right things after the game, and congratulated BSU for playing hard and doing things right, but he has to know that he has just let another great opportunity slip through his fingers. The Cougars had the personnel and the schedule to make it to a BCS bowl this year. Now, they have to run the table to have a prayer at it. That won’t be easy, either, with games against USU, Oregon State, Notre Dame, and Georgia Tech coming up in October.
Notre Dame looked like they would continue to be Team Turmoil before the season started, but have pulled it together nicely, and look like a bona fide top ten team after their performances the last two weeks. A victory over ND as an exclamation point to a 10-2 season might be enough, but there is no way the Cougars can play like this and beat Notre Dame.
Oregon State also looks better than they were projected to be this year. Georgia Tech is always tough, and their triple option offense is extremely difficult to defend when they get it going.
The Cougars are contracted to play in the Poinsettia Bowl against a team from the Mountain West Conference if they don’t make it to a BCS bowl. The only way this season could possibly end well is if the Cougars either run the table or beat the Broncos, who are in their last season in the MWC, in a rematch at the Poinsettia Bowl.
Either way, there is a lot of work to do. Our suggestion is that the coaching staff meets with Riley Nelson and asks him to tell them what he thinks could be done to improve this year’s model of the offense. Nelson is the guy taking the pounding out there, and he is the guy who is apparently throwing the ball into spaces that should have open receivers, only to find opposing DB’s there instead.
Nelson will never be mistaken for having a rifle arm, but his commitment, savvy, and toughness are self-evident, and he would be a great resource for the coaching staff to pump for information. If it takes Mendenhall, Doman, and Nelson going over tape of every offensive play over and over, until they find something, than they need to get it done.
If things continue as they are going, the Cougars may have to win their bowl game to finish over .500 for the season. This is OK for many programs, but would be a huge disappointment considering how many players the Cougars returned this year.
This year can still turn out to be a very good year for the Cougars, but it won’t happen if the only place the offense appears is on the side of a milk carton.
After 2 disappointing losses by a total difference of a mere 4 points, it should be expected that Cougar Nation is in melt down mode. BYU put forth probably their most pathetic Offensive display since the Crowton era on Friday night. a Late decision to go for 2 was thwarted, and that was the game.
The Sports boards are currently lit up with plenty of Blame for coach Bronco Mendenhall after this game. Blame for choice of quarterbacks. Blame for choice of plays. Blame for choice of coaches. Not all this blame is undeserved. But I would like to focus on what we really should blame Bronco for.
On choice of Quarterbacks, it has always been popular with fans to call for the backup when the starter struggles. I remember sitting in LES and listening to members of the crowd calling for the coaches to put in Royce Bybee for Jim Mcmahon after a loss to New Mexico. It has been obvious the past few weeks that Riley is more injured than we have been told. Just to see the lack of spit and fire in him lets you know all you need to know. Riley is not Riley, but in place of Riley, you have James Lark who has years in the program, but no big game experience, and you have Hill who will be the future QB, but as a freshman, has even less program experience than Lark. Hard to argue with trying to go with Riley, who though injured, has played with a toughness and grit worthy of any Cougar QB. That decision may have limited what Doman felt he could do with the offense. Add to that, our poor field position for most of the game did not help us. And let’s not forget to credit a great defensive effort from BSU as well.
On the 2 point conversion, we could debate the merits all day. When Gary Crowton started regularly going for it on 4th downs and converting, we all hailed him as a genius. When it stopped working, he was stupid. BYU had the momentum, and has had less than stellar place kicking. Coach made the call, and we know the result. Had he kicked the extra point and we lost in overtime, there would be many saying we should have gone for 2.
Friday Night, BYU’s defense held a Boise State offense, on their home turf, to 0 points. A Boise State team that has only lost at home like 3 times in a whole bunch of games. A Boise State program that is tough Offensive football, as BYU of the 80′s and 90′s used to be. That had to be one of the very best BYU defensive efforts I have ever witnessed.
Bronco has been the architect of that incredible defensive team. Let’s make sure in all the blame, that we blame him from that. For working with a Kyle Van Noy on personal issues and helping him to be more than just a great football player. For bringing in a Ziggy Ansah and developing him into what looks to be an NFL talent.
There is plenty of blame to spread around after a game like this. We have an offense that needs serious help, both in play selection and o-line play. Those issues need addressing and pronto. But while the wild blame flies around, let’s also not forget to place the blame for the defensive outing, squarely where it belongs!
Incoming search terms:
- ncaa BYU
All day, the media talked about the return of “The Pirate,” Mike Leach, to Provo as if it were the only relevant fact of the entire game. Even though he never did anything with the football program except watch the games, and hasn’t really ever said much about his time in Provo, the story was treated as though it was a triumphant homecoming. ESPN, who televise BYU games and are being sued by Leach, were the worst offenders.
We know that everyone in the BYU locker room has too much class to say anything about it, but it had to irritate the Cougars that they were an afterthought. As often happens, the “afterthought” found a way to spoil the party, and they made Leach look quite ineffective while doing it.
The numbers from this “Cougars vs Cougars” game are brutal. Leach’s offense only managed to get past the 50-yard line six times, and got past the 20 once. For only the third time in ten years, a Mike Leach team failed to score a touchdown. WSU gained a total of 224 yards for the whole game, which was 202 less than BYU.
WSU was 30-45 passing, for 2 interceptions and 229 yards. If that seems like it’s more than their total offense, it’s because it is more than their total offense. BYU held WSU to a minus 5 yards in 16 rushes. But that’s enough about WSU’s version of the Cougars.
BYU had 426 yards of total offense: 41 rushes for 123 yards and an average of 3 YPC, and went 26 of 37 passing for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Individually, Riley Nelson was 25 of 36 for 285 yards and two touchdowns, while Taysom Hill, who appears to have the inside track on “quarterback of the future” for the Cougars, threw for an 18-yard touchdown on his first and only pass.
Kaneakua Friel caught 6 passes for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns, bringing welcome production at tight end. Cody Hoffman was off to a good start with 3 catches for 46 yards, but left in the first quarter with a quad contusion. Skyler Ridley helped pick up the slack with 6 receptions for 54 yards and 1 touchdown. Michael Alisa led the rushing attack with 13 carries for 54 yards, while seven players got carries, including both quarterbacks.
On defense, Sophomore CB Jordan Johnson returned an interception 64 yards in his first start. Less flashy but more important, though, was an interception by Uona Kaveniga to spoil WSU’s first drive. After that, WSU never got into the red zone again.
Kyle Van Noy picked up where he left off from last year. He “only” had four total tackles, but he had two tackles for loss (TFL) for a total of 13 yards, and was his usual disruptive presence. Brandon Ogletree had 8 total tackles, 4 solo and 1 TFL for 1 yard. Kaveinga had 5 total tackles with 3 solos, and Spencer Hadley, Jordan Johnson, and Joe Sampson all had 4 tackles.
Some of the play was sloppy, but the officiating was far worse. If it wasn’t for penalties at crucial times, this game could have been over after the first half. WSU’s first field goal happened because of two consecutive personal foul penalties, one on Jordan Johnson and one on Joe Sampson, put WSU in field goal position. As often happens, the penalties seemed to even themselves out after BYU got far enough ahead that it was obvious WSU wasn’t going to make a comeback, but BYU still had 10 penalties for 112 yards, while WSU had 8 for 73 yards.
All in all, though, it was a great evening in Provo. This year, instead of giving out mythical game balls, we are going to take a page from hockey’s book and name three stars for the game. The only difference is that we are only going to focus on one team, BYU.
The first star is Riley Nelson. The quarterback who “doesn’t have a strong arm” managed to go 25-36, and showed the usual great leadership skills that everyone in Provo has come to expect. His skill set probably doesn’t translate to the NFL, but it’s safe to say that Riley Nelson is going to be a leader, wherever he goes after his playing days are over.
The second star goes to Kaneakua Friel. Friel, pretty much overlooked in the “race” for playing time at TE, became the TE the Cougars have been looking for. We hope he can do it every week now, but this week was a great way for him to announce his presence to the world.
The third star goes to the entire defense. We were tempted to give it to Kyle Van Noy, but this was a great and balanced performance by a bunch of guys who didn’t seem to ever lose contain on anyone the entire night, and basically made life miserable for the vaunted Mike Leach offense.
In our preview, we predicted that this team would be one that showed maturity, balance, and discipline. We said that there weren’t going to be a lot of flashy players, but that this year’s model could be a very, very good Cougar team. That is exactly what we got last Thursday.
This team looks like it could be one of “those” Cougar teams that we talk about for a long time. We expected this team to have a lot more trouble with Pac 12 athletes than they did. The fact that the Cougars physically dominated a Pac 12 team, even one that is probably a bit challenged, is very encouraging.
Weber State is up next, and should be a great chance to get ready for Utah. Bronco Mendenhall won’t let the Cougars look ahead, but the reality is that the Cougars are probably hoping to put this one away early and keep everyone healthy for the two games after Weber State.
That would be fine with us.
Finally, after an off-season that was marred by scandals or impending scandals at four major programs, it’s time for the games to be played on the field, where they belong.
Lately, it’s difficult to tell who’s on probation without a scorecard, so here’s the short version. Ohio State, North Carolina, and Penn State are not eligible to go to a bowl this season. USC is now eligible again after serving two years of probation. Miami is still waiting for the NCAA hammer to come down, and Oregon is under the microscope. 2011 foe UCF is also ineligible for a bowl, but that’s something like telling a 5-11 point guard that he is “ineligible” to play center in the NBA.
This weekend, the Cougars will have the 8:15 Thursday (10:15 in the east, where most of the major media outlets are headquartered) time slot all to themselves, and will share the spotlight with only three or four really competitive or important games this weekend. Michigan vs Alabama will be the showcase game this weekend, followed by Michigan State vs Boise State, and SEC contender South Carolina vs Vanderbilt. Notre Dame vs Navy will be grossly over-hyped, because it is Notre Dame, and they are in Ireland, but it won’t be much of a game.
Luckily, due to the drama around Washington State coach Mike Leach, the Cougars vs Cougars game will get the publicity it deserves, instead of being relegated to second-tier status. It will be a great chance for the BYU Cougars to spoil the Mike Leach Comeback Party, and show what should be a decent national audience just what they are capable of doing. We wish Leach well the other eleven games, but would like to see him start out with a resounding “thud” on Thursday.
The big news of the week is the release of the depth chart for the WSU game. Though it’s short on surprises, the dearth of information coming out of Fort Mendenhall has made it an object of great anticipation. There are plenty of experienced, familiar faces at most positions, and there really don’t appear to be many holes in this team.
On offense, senior Riley Nelson gets the nod at QB, as if there was any doubt. He will be backed up by senior James Lark. Junior Michael Alisa will start at RB, with senior David Foote and sophomore Iona Pritchard backing him up. The depth chart didn’t include FB, but it’s probably safe to pencil senior Zed Mendenhall in, with Pritchard backing him up.
The passing game will go on as expected, with junior JD Falslev in the slot, backed up by Foote, with junior Cody Hoffman and sophomore Ross Apo at the WR positions, with juniors Skyler Ridley and Dallin Cutler at backup. There is a mild surprise at TE, with junior Kaneakua Friel starting and junior Austin Holt backing up.
On the interior line, we have freshman Ryker Mathews at LT, backed up by sophomore Michael Yeck. Junior Houston Reynolds will start at LG or C; with sophomore Famika Anae at LG or sophomore Blair Tushaus at C, depending on where Reynolds is playing. On the right side of the line, it’s more traditional, with senior Braden Hansen at RG, backed up by sophomore Brock Stringham, and senior Braden Brown at RT, backed up by junior Manaaki Vaitai.
On defense, it starts with the DL, and this year’s model looks good. Senior Romney Fuga starts at NT, backed up by senior Simote Vea. At RDE, senior Russell Tialavea starts, backed up by Ezekiel Ansah, while senior Eathyn Manumaleuna starts at LDE, with junior Mike Muehlmann at backup.
It’s no secret that the Cougars are extremely strong at LB this year. At Strongside Linebacker (SLB), junior Spencer Hadley starts, backed up by sophomore Alani Fua. Senior Uona Kaveinga gets the nod at “Mike” Linebacker (MLB), backed up by sophomore Zac Stout. At Buck Linebacker (BLB), senior Brandon Ogletree starts, with freshman Manoa Pikula at backup. All-everything junior Kyle Van Noy returns at Weakside Linebacker (WLB), backed up by freshman Jherremya Leuta-Douyere.
If there’s any area for concern, it’s the secondary, but they could surprise a lot of people this year. Sophomore Jordan Johnson beat out senior Robbie Buckner and freshman Micah Hannemann at field corner (FC). Senior Preston Hadley gets the nod at boundary corner (BC), backed up by junior Kkye Po Vey. Junior Daniel Sorenson starts at KAT safety, while sophomore Craig Bills backs him up. At free safety (FS), senior Joe Sampson gets the nod, with senior Mike Hague backing him up.
On special teams, Hoffman and Falslev will return kicks, while Falslev will return punts. Junior Justin Sorenson returns as kicker, and senior Riley Stephenson returns as the punter. Senior Reed Hourning will be the long snapper, and Falslev is the holder on kicks.
So, what does it mean to us as Cougar fans? We see a mature team that will represent the church, school, and program well. There aren’t a lot of flashy individual players on this team, and Kyle Van Noy is probably going to be the only Cougar who gets a lot of publicity this year, but this is a very solid team, filled with experienced players.
A great example of this is the DL, which has five seniors and one junior in six depth chart spots. A total of seven seniors start on defense, with two (and a half) on offense. This year, the onus will be on the defense to provide most of the senior leadership for the team.
That’s fine with us. The Cougars are going to be a team nobody wants to play this year. They are chronically underrated, which gives them a great “intangible” advantage against most teams. They aren’t flashy, but are solid. They won’t do anything spectacular, but they will make opposing offenses look bad. Riley Nelson might not be a prototypical QB, but he is one of the best leaders the Cougars have ever had.
A lot of teams that lose to the Cougars this year will blame themselves for “self-destructing on offense,” or “giving the game away on defense,” but we will know what really happened. If the Cougars can keep Riley Nelson healthy, they can win ten or more games this year. After that, it’s up to bowl politics.
We like this team a lot, and we like the Cougars’ chances of being THE surprise team in college football this year. Check back next week to see if we still feel this way.
The finishing portion of the schedule continues on November 17 with a road trip to San Jose State. The Spartans finished 5-7 overall last year, and went 3-4 in the WAC. Their pre season ranking is somewhere around 95th, depending on whose rankings you are reading. In other words, one wouldn’t think that the Spartans shouldn’t give the Cougars very much trouble.
We have been honest here when saying that some teams are tough and that some don’t belong on the same field as the Cougars. On the surface, this looks like another walkover, but there is a chance that the Spartans are being severely underrated by many observers. While they could very well be as bad as projected, they have some compelling intangibles going for them that may indicate they are ready to have a good year, especially in a mediocre WAC.
So, what are those “intangibles?”
First of all, coach Mike MacIntyre is in his third year, and his program could very well be on the way up. SJSU only won one game in his first year, and five last year. Of their seven losses last year, one was by one point and the last three were by a total of fourteen points. They lost their first two games against Stanford and UCLA, and won their last two against Fresno State and Navy. In other words, they ended the year better than they finished.
Another good sign for the Spartans was that they played tough to the end in all of their games. They are developing a reputation as a well-coached team that doesn’t give up. They finished with 24.5 points for and 30.3 points against, for a differential of a negative 5.8 points per game. For a team with a losing record, especially one that hired itself out as a well-paid tomato can to UCLA and Stanford, it shows that the players are buying into the system and listening to the coaches.
As always, though, intangibles can only take a team so far; some talent is necessary, especially in skill positions. On offense, there are question marks. SJSU lost their starting quarterback and starting running back. Returning backup QB, junior Dasmen Stewart, is the Spartans’ leading returning rusher and passer, but he might not ever get the starting job.
Stewart’s arm is questionable, and with a completion rate of 40 percent for 2.8 yards per attempt, including sacks, he will definitely be pushed for the starting job. Juco transfer David Fales, freshman Joe Gray, and sophomore Blake Jurich will provide the competition. Fales is reported to be in the lead after spring practice, but the situation appears to be quite competitive.
If SJSU finds a QB who can throw, they have a trio of receivers who should help him produce. Junior WR’s Noel Grigsby and Chandler Jones return a total of 150 receptions and four TD’s between them, while senior TE Ryan Otten returns 52 receptions and five TD’s.
The bad news at running back is that last year’s starter is gone. The good news is that he only rushed for 903 yards, even with a passing attack that should have opened up the running game. Instead, the running game was so bad that it allowed opposing defenses to blitz early and often against the passing game last year. Washington transfer David Freeman, sophomore Tyler Ervin, and Minnesota transfer DeLeon Eskridge will compete for playing time this fall. Coach MacIntyre is reportedly thinking about running back by committee this season.
Unfortunately, the OL returns second-team All-WAC tackle David Quessenberry, but not much else on the line, except depth players.
On defense, SJSU plays conservatively; they stay in their gaps and don’t try to force anything. There aren’t really many compelling players on the defense for SJSU, except CB Tyler Ervin, who should also return kicks and may get some snaps on offense.
Ultimately, the Spartans’ defense is a bunch of solid guys who play good team ball. While that doesn’t sound imposing, it reminds me a lot of the Cougars. They might not have a lot of talent on that side of the ball, but they are very well-coached, and would fit into Cougars’ way of doing things quite well.
Look for the Spartans to keep contain and funnel plays into the middle, where they will be solid.
All in all, the Spartans could surprise a lot of people next year. They should improve record-wise just by the WAC losing Nevada and Hawaii, while Texas State and Texas San Antonio, who are both in their first year in the FBS. If a QB and an RB emerge from all of the competitors, the Spartans should ride an easier schedule and deeper roster to a a record which makes them bowl-eligible.
We see their floor at six wins, and their ceiling at nine wins. We don’t, however, see the Cougars as one of those wins. Our guess is that the Spartans will play tough ball through the middle of the third quarter, when the Cougars’ personnel advantage takes over. The Spartans will beat a few teams that have better personnel than them, but a mature, disciplined team like the Cougars won’t be one of them. Right now, it looks like another workmanlike Cougars victory, somewhere in the 35-17 range.
It is looking like a competitive training camp. We won’t have any idea of who is winning positional battles, though, because head coach Bronco Mendenhall said that he won’t reveal the depth chart until game week. It was announced that JD Falslev and Cody Hoffman will be the kick returners this season, though.
Practices have been referred to as “chippy” lately, and coach Mendenhall invited two players to take early showers for not following the protocols in practice.
Kyle Van Noy has been pronounced ready to fully participate in practices by the medical staff. He will probably have limited reps in practice to save him for the season.
All in all, it’s a typical camp so far: business as usual with no earth-shattering revelations on the positive or negative side of the ledger. This year, we see that as a plus.
After a bye week to recover from playing three tough games in a row, the Cougars return home on October 11th to play the Idaho Vandals. The Cougars could be undefeated by then, or could have as many as four losses, but the last part of the schedule will provide an opportunity to finish strong.
Last season, the Vandals went 2-10, including a 42-7 loss to the Cougars. Idaho fans took solace in their 1-4 record in one-possession games, but the bottom line here is that the Vandals just aren’t going to be very good. Luckily for them, Fresno State, Hawaii, and Nevada have all left the WAC, and they should have a better record than last year, even if they don’t have a better team.
For the Vandals, there is bad news and good news on offense. The bad news is that they only scored 29 points three times, and scored 15 or less six times. Out of 120 FBS teams, Idaho was 88th in passing yards, 102nd in rushing hards, and 107th in points. The good news is that they “only” return five of the starters who were responsible for last year.
If it all starts at quarterback, the Vandals are already in trouble. Last year’s starter is gone, and backup Taylor Davis passed for 234 yards with a 45.2 percent completion rate, a 1 to 4 TD to INT ratio, and a 10.1 percent sack ratio. The other choices are juco transfer Doiminique Blackman, who started out at Washington and weighs 275 pounds, or incoming freshman Austin DeCloud.
It doesn’t get any better for 32 year-old, incoming Offensive Coordinator Jason Gesser at other positions, either. Their top returning RB, Arizona State transfer Ryan Bass, gained 175 yards last season. WR Mike Scott gained 691 yards last year, but there really isn’t a whole lot to work with here.
TE Michael LeGrone will help, and return specialist Justin Veltung will get plenty of chances to step up and produce some numbers. Juco transfer James Baker should get some carries, and may push Bass for playing time. Even if they find a few good players at the skill positions, though, the line could end up being a detriment.
It doesn’t look rosy for the Vandals on defense, either. LB Conrad Schiedt, who had a third-best 93 tackles last year, is possibly their best returning player. Robert Siavii and Homer Mauga will round out what will probably be the best positional unit on defense for the Vandals.
Their line will be decent, but probably susceptible to being pushed around by the Cougars OL. Benson Mayowa is a good penetrator, while QuayShawne Buckley plays well against the run, but there isn’t anyone who could start for the Cougars on the DL. Besides Schiedt, the only positional players on the team who could crack the first or second team on the Cougars’ depth chart are free safety Gary Walker and CB Aaron Grymes.
The best news for the Vandals is that both their kicker and punter are on award lists. Punter Bobby Cowan averaged 46.4 yards per punt and was a Ray Guy semifinalist in 2011. Kicker Trey Farquhar is on the Lou Groza watch list, and has six FG’s over fifty yards in his career.
There is no way to sugarcoat it: these “Vandals” are more like “Graffiti Artists.” If the Cougars come back from Atlanta with a win, this game could be about like last year’s 42-7 game. However, if the Cougars lose to Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, or both, and come back with a chip on their shoulder, this game could approach 60 points by the end of the third quarter.
Finally: Practice Begins
For many college football fans, the last few months of summer are agony. After the last bowl games are played, basketball helps a little. National signing day is a lot of fun, and sometimes the NFL draft provides some entertainment, as long as you “have a dog in the hunt.” The summer months, though, consist mostly of speculation and recruits playing in 7-on-7 camps.
This off-season, in particular, has been nothing but bad news about other teams. The mess at Penn State has dominated football, and the Miami soap opera, though overshadowed by PSU, probably will end up putting everything that is wrong with the current college football landscape on display for all to see. This year has also seen what seems like more arrests of college athletes than ever before.
Luckily, that sort of thing just isn’t done in Provo. The honor code weeds out most of the players who have the potential to get in trouble, and positive role modeling takes care of the rest. Still, though, the first day of fall practice is always met with a feeling of relief. When the pads start to crack, all of the summer’s distractions fade away into insignificance. Finally, it’s time for some football.
There is a bit of negative news concerning the Cougars so far. WR Cody Hoffman and S Joe Sampson were given a few days off for “disciplinary reasons;” there is no word on when they will be back. TE Devin Mahina has a broken bone in his right hand. Kicker Justin Sorenson is bothered by a sore back, and is having an MRI done.
The players got a bit chippy, especially on defense, on Tuesday morning. LB Brandon Ogletree and S Daniel Sorenson were the culprits, and were “excused” from practice by head coach Bronco Mendenhall. Mendenhall decided to end practice and make it what he called a “teachable moment” by setting up a drill that was described as both a “gauntlet” and an “obstacle course.”
All in all, though, things are going well. It is a lot easier to coach a defense and a team that comes in too aggressive than it is to coach one that is complacent or lax in any area. This year’s BYU Cougars look like they are ready to “bring it” right now. That can only bode well for the season.
After Notre Dame, the Cougars won’t have much time to celebrate or commiserate, because a trip to Atlanta to face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets is next. Whenever a team plays Georgia Tech, the main story is the flexbone offense. Coach Paul Johnson runs the triple option out of it, making him and Georgia Tech pretty much the only practitioners of it. This causes huge problems for opposing defenses, because they only see this offense from a team with FBS personnel once a year.
The Flexbone is usually a running attack, but it can be easily tweaked for Run and Shoot, WCO, or I-formation plays. Last year, Johnson finally had a quarterback, Tevin Washington, who was at least an adequate passer, and it opened up the offense considerably.
Most people remember the Triple Option as run by teams such as Oklahoma and Nebraska, who assembled extremely talented rosters and used the offense to keep running around and over teams until it wore them down. The way they practiced it, the Triple Option attack began to become too predictable, and defenses eventually caught up with it.
In Johnson’s version, though, the play-calling is more diverse, and the misdirection causes a lot of matchup problems. Since almost nobody runs it anymore, teams don’t see it in practice anymore. His version, even though it still stresses running, is much more successful when he has a quarterback who can pass well and a receiver who is a bona fide deep threat to keep the defense honest.
The Yellow Jackets return seven starters on offense. QB Tevin Washington returns for his senior year, and his second as a starter. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have a single wide receiver coming back who has ever caught a pass in college. Alabama transfer, senior Chris Jackson, who has had a checkered past, including being dropped from the team for the nebulous “violation of team rules,” returns for one last chance at redemption. Sophomores Darren Waller and Jeff Greene are also in the mix.
David Sims returns, along with his 5.2 yards per carry, at B-back, and senior Orwin Smith, returning from injuries and toe surgery, is the incumbent at A-back. Smith will face competition from sophomores BJ Bostick and Tony Zenon. The OL, though injured often last year, returns 82 career starts, and plenty of depth. They are led by senior right guard Omoregie Uzzi, who has garnered two first-team All-ACC selections.
On defense, the Yellow Jackets return six players. They run a 3-4, and return one defensive lineman, senior DE Izaan Cross. Linebackers Quayshawn Nealy and Jeremiah Attaochu return, and they can expect to be busy. The bright spot for the Yellow Jackets is that they return 3 out of four in their base formation secondary: senior CB Rod Sweeting, junior CB Louis Young, and junior FS Isaiah Johnson. The GT secondary was 28th in pass defense in 2011, and it will probably be their main strength this year.
So, what should we expect from the Yellow Jackets? Another tough game. The Cougars will be coming off of the Notre Dame game, and will then have to fly across the country to Atlanta. GT will be coming off of a game with Boston College, which hasn’t been the same since they changed head coaches.
Georgia Tech is favored to win this game in many preseason projections, but they may not be favored by game time. They will have played Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Miami by then, and could come into the game with three losses. So could the Cougars, but it isn’t likely.
Like the two preceding games, the Cougars will be facing a team full major conference recruits. Once again, the main test will be to see if the Cougars can beat superior athletes with maturity and teamwork.
We think the main advantage will be the Cougars OL against the Ga Tech DL. There is a good chance that the Cougars will be able to get a great push against the relatively inexperienced DL of Ga Tech, especially in the second half. This could be made to order for the Cougars to play steady, grinding football, leaving the flashy plays to Ga Tech.
We also think that there will be one “hinge” issue for Ga Tech: whether or not they will be able to find anyone to catch the ball from Tevin Washington. Last season, he had main “go to” receiver Stephen Hill. Hill left a year early as a junior, and will battle for the number two position on the Jets as a rookie.
Passing isn’t exactly Washington’s forte, and it will be crucial for him to develop chemistry with one or more of his wide receivers for this year. We’d like to say that we know whether or not he will, but there is simply not enough of a body of work to make a projection.
Last year, Washington completed 49.3 percent of his passes for 1,652 yards, 11 touchdowns, and eight interceptions, for a rating of 91.3. Meanwhile, Bronco Mendenhall is on record of having said that he is impressed with the athleticism of his secondary and that they will “surprise people.” If they are as good as Mendenhall projects, they might “surprise” Tevin Washington a few times with interceptions.
The one thing you can always expect from a BYU team is that players will know the schemes very well, and won’t often “lose contain” on defense. If the DL and LB’s can stay in their gaps, and generally make life miserable for Washington, we can see him getting frustrated and making bad decisions.
Because of the unfamiliar offense, Ga Tech tends to start out fast, jump out to a lead, and often try to hang on as defenses adjust to them during the game. We feel that the Cougars’ defense should be able to figure out the Yellow Jackets, and that the offensive line should be able to push the Ga Tech defensive line up and down the field.
The main question about the Cougars is whether or not they will have any energy left after giving every last ounce of energy the week before against Notre Dame. We think they will, but barely.
Next on the schedule for the Cougars in our ‘Totally Biased’ / ‘Way Too Early’ Previews for 2012 will be Utah State. While this is still a “rivalry game” for “The Old Wagon Wheel,” it really hasn’t been much of a rivalry since the 1970′s. Since 1983, the Aggies have won twice. To put it another way, in the last 23 games, the Cougars are 21-2 against USU.
USU led the series from its beginning in 1922 until the Cougars tied it in 1991 at 32-32-3, but it has been all Cougars since then. Since the Aggies tied it back up at 33-33-3 in 1993, they have beaten the Cougars once, in 2010. Consequently, the Cougars now lead the series, 44-34-3, and it doesn’t look like the trend is going to change anytime soon.
So, what are we looking at this year from USU? We would like to say that they are the “up and coming” team they think they are. Ultimately, though, they are a team that lost to Ohio University in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. They had to win their last five teams to finish the regular season 7-5, but they won all of them by a touchdown or less.
While teams love to point to this as evidence of their “toughness,” statistics indicate that teams who win a lot of close games one year usually have a worse record the next as “luck evens out.” So, can USU use last season as a springboard to better things, or are they still a team that is not quite ready for prime time?
Continuing their tradition of being accepted for conferences shortly after the Cougars leave, USU will be joining the MWC in 2013. This year, though, they get to play in what is left of the WAC. Playing in a weak conference helped the Aggies run for 282.7 yards per game in 2011. They return QB Chuckie Keeton, and juco transfer Adam Kennedy. Both have starting experience. They lose two of their top three rushers, with only Kerwynn Williams returning from their three-pronged rushing attack of 2011.
USU does return four of their top five receivers, though. Matt Austin, Stanley Morrison, Travis Van Leeuwen, and Eric Moats combined for 95 receptions and 1,310 yards last year, out of 186 and 2,270. It should also be noted that the returning Kerwynn Williams and the two quarterbacks combined for 1,074 yards rushing last year, out of 3,675.
They also lose three starters on the OL, but they return 75 total career starts. They have a new offensive coordinator in Matt Wells, who was last year’s QB coach. Our guess is that there won’t be much of a transition, and that this year’s USU will look a lot like last year’s USU schematically.
On defense, they will be in the second year of their change from the 4-3 to the 3-4. If a team is going to take a “quantum leap” after changing schemes on defense, the second year is often the year it happens. They lose both inside LB’s from 2012: Bobby Wagner, who averaged 102 tackles his last two seasons, and Kyle Gallagher, who had 72.5 tackles.
They will be moving a few players around, but they should be improved from last year. They return CB’s Jumanne Robertson and Nevin Lawson, and SS McKade Bradley. They made plenty of mistakes last year during the adjustment period, but should improve this year.
USU will run what coach Gary Andersen calls a “power spread.” It features a lot of running and high percentage passing. Both quarterbacks are able to run and pass effectively out of the offense, and they should put up some very nice stats this year. They did manage to put up a total offense of 5,945 yards last year. The problem, though, was that they were 7-6.
We like what USU is doing. We think that, with continued improvement, they can be a top 50 team someday. They might even win the WAC this year. But we don’t see them beating the legitimate teams on their schedule. They are not going to beat Utah, they are not going to beat Wisconsin, and they are not going to beat the Cougars.
Colorado State, which has USU’s OC from last year, might end up being a pivotal game for the Aggies. They could even go 9-3 if things go really, really right for them. They could also go 6-6 if things go terribly wrong. We are guessing that 8-4 sounds about right, with a loss to the Cougars.
The problem with USU is that they just don’t have the horses to get the job done against bigger teams. The spread offense is a great equalizer, but as more teams are using it, defenses are making better adjustments to it. Ultimately, it still comes down to being able to dominate the line of scrimmage, and we see the Cougars dominating both sides against the Aggies.
Because of the rivalry, we expect the first half to be close. USU always plays one of their best games against the Cougars, and we expect this to be no exception. We don’t believe in “110 percent” here, but the Aggies will definitely get the maximum output from their team in the first half.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, emotion and effort can only take a team so far before fatigue and talent take over. The Aggies are looking at superior personnel on both sides of the ball, and their scheme isn’t going to fool the Cougars. We expect USU to get a lot of yards outside of the red zone. The sticking poing for the Aggies, though, is that the field compresses in the red zone, and often negates much of the advantage of the spread. When that happens, it all comes back to personnel.
We see this game being close for most of the first half, with the Cougars starting to rip some holes down the middle toward the end of the half, taking advantage of the DL and the inexperienced ILB’s. We see the Cougars taking control of the game by scoring the last touchdown of the first half and the first touchdown of the second half, before pulling away to win by at least seventeen points.
The last six years have been great for Boise State. Their upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2006 season is still replayed countless times every football season. Their head coach, Chris Petersen, is one of the first two or three coaches mentioned for every high-profile opening, but he chooses to stay in Boise.
Through their constant posturing, BSU has leveraged themselves as the “poster program” for “everything that is wrong with the current system.” They have become the “poor little team that beats everyone on their schedule, but never gets a chance to play for the National Championship because of politics.”
In their defense, they were probably the most-cited example for those who were in favor of ditching the BCS. In other words, BSU is probably one of the reasons that we will now have a four-team playoff instead of a two-team beauty contest at the end of the year. For now, though, it isn’t going to do them much good.
Boise State has amassed a record of 50-3 over the last four years. They have done it with a great coach, a great quarterback, very good play at the “skill positions,” and solid play on both lines. They have also benefited from a schedule that usually has two or three big games, and nine tomato cans. This has allowed them to spend a lot of time getting ready for the two or three tough games, and guarantees a flood of victories. Let’s look at their performance against ranked teams in those four years.
2008: 1-1 (W Oregon, L TCU)
2009: 2-0 (Oregon, TCU)
2010: 2-0 (Va Tech, Utah) Lost to unranked Nevada.
2011: 1-1 (W Georgia, L TCU)
This comes out to 6-2 for a very respectable .750, but extrapolates to at least two losses a year against an elite schedule if everything else was the same. However, it isn’t the same. When a team plays more ranked teams, it sustains more fatigue and injuries over the course of the year. Depth comes into play, and is essential for teams playing better schedules.
When a team has to play good teams, rivalry games, or both, week in and week out, they tend to lose a lot more. The biggest gap in BSU’s schedule is that there are almost none of the top fifty teams that populate major conferences. If BSU played in a major conference, they would more than likely be a 9-3 team, even with the great confluence of personnel they have had the last four years.
The bottom line here is that BSU has been a solid top-25 team for the last four years, but certainly not good enough to be considered a top ten team over that period. Their record was inflated by playing too many tomato cans and not enough tough teams. So, while they are worthy of respect for being a solid team, they are not worthy of the hype they have gotten for their gaudy record the last four years.
So, what does that mean for this year’s BSU Broncos? First of all, it means this is a very beatable team. Between a very imaginative scheme by coach Petersen, and a “spike” in the quality of their personnel for the last four years, they have had a nice little run. However, they don’t have the personnel to “reload” like elite teams do, and they are going to have to rebuild.
On offense, BSU loses all-everything QB Kellen Moore. They also lose first round pick Doug Martin at RB, WR Tyler Shoemaker, TE Kyle Efaw, and all-conference linemen Thomas Byrd and Nate Potter.
On defense, they lost first round draft pick Shea McClellin, third round pick Tyrone Crawford, and sixth round pick Billy Winn, and a total of five of their top six in the rotation. They also lost leading tackler, MLB Byron Hout, and their top four tacklers in the secondary. They even lost their punter, Brad Elkin, who really didn’t get used a lot anyway.
Junior Joe Southwick is currently the leader to replace Moore at QB, but he might get some pressure from sophomore Grant Hedrick, who is more mobile, and redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea. Another possibility is freshman Nick Patti, who enrolled early this year.
The job should go to Southwick, though, who had a 14 for 19 performance in the spring game, driving the first-team offense to the first touchdown of the game, and the second-team offense to the “winning” touchdown with 54 seconds left. Patti threw one touchdown pass for 35 yards, and finished 4 for eight with one touchdown, but will probably redshirt unless he is a significant upgrade to Southwick or Southwick gets injured.
Sixth-year RB D. J. Harper, who has averaged 5.1 yards per carry, will get the nod at RB if he can finally stay healthy. Receivers Gabe Linehan and Matt Miller combined with Harper for 8.2 yards per catch, but you never know how a player is going to perform when he has to do it all of the time against the first string.
On defense, it looks worse for BSU. The Cougars should be able to exploit what is shaping up to be weak on the line, vulnerable in the middle, and overly-reliant on a scheme that is basically a perpetual nickel defense. The most important factor here is that the Cougars will be able to pound the ball up the middle against the Broncos.
Boise State is only playing three teams in the top 60 for this entire season, at least until their bowl game. We see them losing to all three, with the strong possibility of being upset by a team not currently projected in the top 60.
Starting with a game in East Lansing, the Broncos are about to experience the harsh reality that their recent performance has been an aberration, and that most programs, theirs included, tend toward the mean.
The good news for them is that they play a lot of nobodies after the Cougars, and may not have a serious challenge until they play Nevada in December. Somehow, though, we expect them to lose to at least one “inferior” team this year.
The bottom line: this is not the Broncos of the last six years. BSU will be 1-1 before they play the Cougars, and 1-2 afterward. 35-17 sounds about right.
One of the obstacles that the Cougars often have to put up with is that other schools often detest them just for being BYU. BYU is one of those schools that a lot of teams see as a “rivalry game,” even though they have no reason to. Sometimes, this puts the Cougars at a slight disadvantage, because it seems like they get every team’s best showing of the year, while the Cougars can mathematically only have one “best showing” per year.
Against Utah, though, there will be no debit in the “intangibles” column. Everyone remembers what happened last year, (UGH) when the myth of Jake Heaps began to unravel before our eyes. Everyone remembers how the game quickly got out of hand. Most of all, though, everyone remembers the classless behavior of pretty much everyone associated with the Utes, from players and coaches to a bunch of their obnoxious fans (although some fans were able to enjoy the victory with class).
For a year now, everyone on the team has had to live with the taunts of Utah fans, (UGH) who get more mileage out of one victory than most fans get out of a perfect season. Those Utah fans conveniently “forget” that while the Cougars were going 10-3, their Utes were being introduced to the harsh reality of Pac 12 football, to the tune of a 4-5 conference record, on the way to an 8-5 season, even including their win over the Cougars.
One of the fundamental tenets of football is that when you get a team down, you eventually “call off the dogs” so as not to run up the score. When teams play against tomato cans, this doesn’t often work, because the second and even third-string team can usually walk over them. When playing teams that are “rivalry games,” or somewhat equal, though, it is obvious when a team is trying to run up the score and when they aren’t. The Utes not only ran up the score, but celebrated as if they had won the BCS Championship on a last-minute, 99-yard drive.
And now, fast forward to 2012. You can rest assured that every player in the locker room at Brigham Young University remembers the late hits and the celebrations. Every player in the locker room is going to remember the final score. And a very tough senior quarterback with some clutch football under his belt is going lead the Cougars onto the field against the Utes. In other words, the “intangibles” are going to be in favor of the Cougars. No matter how much Utah wants to win against BYU in 2012, the Cougars are going to want it more.
So, what do the Utes look like for 2012? As always with college football, there are losses that appear to be tough. They graduated OT’s John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom, but return most of their offense, including QB Jordan Wynn. They return seven starters on defense, with losses including linebackers Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker, cornerback Conroy Black, and DE Derrick Shelby.
Wynn is expected to be the starting QB, but he could face stiff competition from freshman Travis Wilson, who had a very good spring game. Adding to the intrigue is that Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow left for Hawaii after one year, and the Utes are playing for their third coordinator in three years.
A new offensive coordinator decreases the advantage that an incumbent QB has, because everyone is “starting over” on offense. So, the incumbent QB doesn’t have the advantage in familiarity with the offense that he would have in a standard situation.
New OC Brian Johnson, who Cougar fans remember well, was the quarterback coach on last year’s staff, and is only 25 years old. He is an old tormentor of the Cougars, and his last memory on the field against the Cougars was a 48-24 victory in which he threw for 303 yards and four touchdowns, for a 2-1 record against the Cougars.
He says that his offense is “not going to be that much different than what we’ve done,” but there will still be some adjustments. He plans on using a hybrid of the spread and pro set offenses, to a point where he doesn’t like to label his offense as either. The main question here is whether his experience and recent transition from the field to the OC position can provide enough continuity to mitigate the change in coordinators.
So, on offense, the Utes return Wynn, a decent crop of receivers including DeVonte Christopher, and a very good running back in John White IV. They return three-fifths of a decent offensive line, and replace the graduates with two guys who are over 315 pounds.
On defense, they return seven starters under a head coach whose “bread and butter” is defense. All-Pac 12 DT Star Lotulelei leads a DL that looks to be very tough again. He is joined at the other DT position by Dave Kruger, who is also seen as an all-conference candidate. Trevor Reilly, who forced four fumbles last year, returns at LB, and the secondary looks solid at CB, but very good at both safety positions, with Eric Rowe at free safety and Brian Blechan at strong safety. Rowe played last year as a true freshman, and made four freshman All-American teams.
The Utes return their kicker, holder, and punter, and have a bevy of experienced options for returning both kicks and punts. Their special teams will be very solid, and we don’t expect to see many mistakes from them.
All in all, we expect the Utes to probably be a bit tentative on offense, but very strong, especially up the middle on defense. This should be another hard-fought rivalry game. The positives for the Cougars are the aforementioned “intangibles” and the fact that an experienced and solid Riley Nelson will be leading the Cougars.
Last year, the Cougars self-destructed and gave the game to the Utes. This year, the Utes are going to have to work hard for every inch they gain on the field. These two teams are probably fairly even in talent, but the Utes put the hammer down too hard last year, and “partied too heartily,” both on the sidelines and after the game.
Ultimately, it is going to come down to intangibles. And every intangible in this game is in favor of the Cougars. Intangibles don’t win games, but they sure can help.
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