30 November 2009

We have a winner (and other game thoughts)

First things first: for the second year in a row, Matt Gibb of LaPaube has won the BYU-Utah prediction contest. He guessed a score of BYU 27, Utah 24, only two total points off the final score of 26-23, BYU. Amy of Amy's Thoughts on Life was close with a guess of 24-21, but her prediction was four total points off the correct answer. Better luck next year, Amy!

Mr. Gibb appears to have the benefit of dark powers in making sporting predictions. I hope he is using them for good and not for evil.

In other news, BYU won on Saturday. I was at the game, and I can only say that it reminds me of the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl against UCLA. Yeah, the Ugly Choke Job Salvaged by Miracle game. Max Hall was flat bad for much of the night, though at least he threw passes away instead of forcing them into coverage. I mean, I guess that's a positive. I'd have preferred he complete more than a third of his passes, but Hall is what he is. A good quarterback with an average skill set, and a quarterback who was clearly owned by Utah, two victories against them notwithstanding.

Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn will be a good one, and for a while, it looked like he'd be unstoppable, completing eight straight passes to start the game. Then he got rocked by BYU linebacker Jordan Pendleton and he was never the same. If he completes just one of those long passes to Ute receivers wide open down the sideline, it's a completely different game. Thank goodness he went 0-fer on those.

The BYU defense played as well as could be expected, however. Very few missed tackles, good coverage on screen passes and throws into the flat. I don't blame them for the Utah drive that gave them a field goal to tie it up at the end of regulation; the offense was completely unable to get a first down for their last several drives, and eventually, something had to give.

And in overtime, they held Utah to a field goal. Again, as much as I expected from them. In the end, Hall found Andrew George over the middle, two Utah defenders bounced off each other (see above) and the rest is history.

I'll take it. Especially against Utah.

I am glad George got his moment in the spotlight. I am convinced that at most other schools, he'd be the featured tight end and get a lot of recognition for his good hands and good size. But at BYU, he had to play under Dennis Pitta's shadow the vast majority of the time, and he never complained about it. I hope he gets drafted this summer and has a chance to prove himself in the NFL. Just a great guy and I'm glad he's a Cougar.

Now on to a fifth-straight Vegas Bowl trip against a middling PAC-10 opponent that the Y will struggle against. Woohoo!

26 November 2009

Turkey and three days to liftoff

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you enjoy your day of turkey and family and friends... and maybe some smack talk with said family and friends if they happen to be on the other side of the BYU-Utah rivalry.

Unlike last year, there aren't BCS implications for either team this time around. That said, both the Utes and the Cougars are 9-2 and coming off big wins against conference opponents. BYU handled Air Force pretty easily last Saturday and the Utes destroyed San Diego State. TCU is clearly the cream of the MWC for 2009, but the second tier isn't that bad.

One thing that continues to strike me about this rivalry is how ridiculously close the final scores have been over the last 13 years. In fact, the margin of victory for the winner has been seven points or less 10 times over that time span: one BYU blowout (1996) and two Utah blowouts in 2004 and 2008. All three of those teams were among the elite in college football at the time.

Bottom line, unless one team is transcendentally great, this is a dogfight. And in 2009, neither team is transcendentally great. Get out your heart meds, because this one is going to be a nail-biter once again.

Last year the game was lost by Max Hall's complete and utter meltdown. The defense played about as well as could be expected, but every time they got a big stop, Hall threw a pick. It was amazing.

I'm not convinced things are all that different this year. Max Hall has had some great games as a senior, but I don't see him making the throws he should as a third-year starter. Utah should be able to sit on the throws he can make and dare him to try and squeeze the ball into areas he's not comfortable with.

BYU's defense is pretty good against the run and terrible against the pass. Can Utah's Jordan Wynn find open receivers often enough to keep the safeties in the secondary and away from run support? It's apparent that unless they are facing terrible, terrible passers in the vein of Air Force last week, BYU's secondary will give up big pass yards. And even though Wynn is a freshman and doesn't have that much experience, that doesn't seem to matter all that much. See: Brett Ratliff in 2005.

Utah might even use Terrance Cain for his running ability as a way to mix it up against BYU's slow defense. Eddie Wide is a typical Utah back: strong, pretty fast and a hard hitter. He'll get his yards if the passing game is moving the ball at all.

The one difference for BYU on offense this year is Dennis Pitta. He was injured last season, and only caught two balls for 33 yards against Utah. This yeah he's a Mackey finalist and seems to catch everything thrown anywhere near him. If he can find space underneath the safeties, expect Hall to find him and have a big day. Harvey Unga is reportedly injured and limping around right now, but he looked great against Air Force last week, so I expect he'll be able to handle 15 to 20 carries on Saturday.

Can Utah get to Hall? Will BYU's defense be able to make stops when they need to? These are the factors that matter most, in my opinion. I expect a high-scoring game with BYU coming out on top in a squeaker.

BYU 42
Utah 38

Just like last year, I'm holding a prediction contest. Post your final score prediction in the comments section, along with how many yards and touchdowns Max Hall will throw for Saturday. The winner gets a $10 Amazon.com gift card.

Go Cougars!

24 November 2009

Holy War Retrospective

Analysis and commentary for this year's game coming soon.

17 November 2009

An apology

Turns out I unfairly maligned a member of the Jazz in my last NBA post.

This team can't win more than half its games without [Deron], as no one else can run the offense or even create their own shot.

Eric Maynor, I am sorry.

"Who is Eric Maynor?" you may ask, as my brother who is in France did on Monday. After being the Jazz's first-round pick in the 2009 draft, Maynor spent a lot of time on Utah's bench, playing under five minutes per game and even recording two DNP - Coach's Decision's early in the 2009-2010 season.

I figured if he wasn't good enough to beat out Ronnie Price for the backup point guard spot, then the bench was where Maynor belonged.

And I was wrong.

After Deron left a road trip last week to be with his sick daughter, Jerry handed the keys to the rookie and said, "Play on, son."

Okay, so maybe those weren't his exact words, but Maynor played 35 and 40 minutes against Philadelphia and then Cleveland, both on the road in back-to-back games.

How did he respond to this sudden chance to prove himself?

Pretty darn well, in my opinion.

Against the 76ers, he shot 6-14 from the field, dished out 11 assists, recorded one steal and hit a 3-pointer, all while turning the ball over only twice.

The next night, against King James and the Cavs, he scored 24 points on 9-16 shooting, including 6-7 from the free-throw line, handed out four assists and grabbed three rebounds in a tight loss.

This kid is for real. His first step is quick enough he can get by most point guards in the league, and once he's in the lane, he has a real nice floater (a la Chris Paul), can use the glass to score and is pretty decent at finding the open man.

And today, that's all a point guard really needs to do to succeed.

Against Cleveland, he hit two clutch free throws with two minutes left in the game to bring the Jazz within one point (95-96), then made a tough tear drop runner over LeBron with 14 seconds left to bring the Jazz within two points. If Andrei hadn't launched that abomination of a 3-point attempt just before that, the game might have ended differently, but I can't blame the rookie point guard for the loss.

So there you have it. Maynor may be skinny (6' 3" and 170 pounds), but he's quick, can dish and knows how to use the glass. He may be a good one for years to come.

16 November 2009


I am tired of reading how I should be 100% pleased with everything BYU football is in 2009 because Max is the winningest QB in school history and Bronco has an awesome winning percentage since he became the head coach. "10-win seasons abound, so shut your yapper!" is the message I get.

I just fail to see how anyone who experienced 2007 can feel great about this 2009 team. In 2007 BYU won 11 games with young skill players. The future was bright. How good could these guys be one or two years down the road?

The answer? Not all that much better.

These same players are now seniors (okay, Harvey is a junior) and we've seen little to no offensive improvement. BYU's defense is going to be suspect more often than not, but with this amount of experience at the helm of the offense in 2009, and considering the successes of 2007 and 2008, was it entirely unreasonable to expect BYU could score enough to hang with anyone they played?

The dissatisfaction comes from the complete inability of the offense to keep up with Florida State or TCU. If these were shootout type games, and BYU lost after scoring 40 or 50 points, then so be it. BYU fans are used to that type of thing. But to turn the ball over and fail to convert third downs time and time again is unexpected.

After taking a closer look at that 2007 team, all of the big wins can be credited to the defense.

BYU beat TCU after the defense held the Frogs to 22 points. They beat Utah after the defense held them to 10 points. And then a win over UCLA in the Vegas Bowl where the Bruins scored only 16 points.

This year the defense can't come anywhere near that level, and as a result, these games are losses.

In short, these offensive skill players are not elite. Not the best we've ever seen. I reserve the right to be dissatisfied with this season. And if the wheels come off against Utah again this year, you'd better believe I'll be complaining.

13 November 2009

Time to start tanking it, the Jazz

The payroll for the 2009-2010 version of the Utah Jazz is $85,111,807.

That is almost $30 million over the league salary cap of $57 million.

The only team with a higher payroll this season is the Los Angeles Lakers.

The difference between the two teams? One is coming off a championship season and is currently 7-1.

The other is 3-5 and in danger of not even making the playoffs this season.

Know what this means? Time to throw in the towel, Utah. You already own the Knicks' first-round pick next summer, and as New York is sitting at a pretty 1-8 at the moment, an excellent lottery pick is all but assured.

But you know what's better than one excellent lottery pick? Two excellent lottery picks.

There is nothing to be gained by winning just enough games to squeak into the playoffs and get steamrolled by the Lakers (again). There is everything to be gained by getting great draft picks next summer. Next summer Boozer (and his contract) are gone. Korver and Harpring's salaries come off the books. 2010 is the last year of Andrei and Okur's contracts.

Here's what I propose: tank. Tank hard. You took a good step today by having Deron sit out for tonight's game due to "personal reasons." Now shelve him. Say his back trouble is keeping him out and don't let him near the court. And to be honest, that's all we need to make the lottery. This team can't win more than half its games without him, as no one else can run the offense or even create their own shot.

Next summer, take a talented big man who can fill the lane, adjust shots, rebound and score about 15 a game. He doesn't have to be the next Tim Duncan, but that would be nice. Then take a guard who can hit 3-pointers and penetrate, like the Clippers' Eric Gordon. These are the pieces the Jazz need.

Then, and this is important, let the kids start and play a lot during the 2010-2011 season. Who cares if they make mistakes? Let them learn from them. After Andrei's contract comes off the books in the summer of 2011, the Jazz will have a lot of cap space to work with (hopefully this can be used to lure a good free agent or two to Utah), a good, young nucleus of players and a veteran point guard in Deron Williams. I like that scenario.

Even if one of the picks from the 2010 draft is a major bust, hopefully the other will pan out, and that cap space in 2011 can be used to compensate for the player that didn't work out.

But knowing Utah, they'll let Deron run ragged on an injured back for the season, barely squeak into the playoffs and get rolled by LA in the first round. Then they'll sign Okur to a ridiculous contract extension and give Korver way more money than he's worth. This would be bad.

We'll see.

11 November 2009