30 September 2010

BYU at Utah State preview

This is an odd one. For the vast majority of my life, Utah State has been a blip on BYU's radar. It's nice of them to schedule the Cougars on the Friday before General Conference every year so as to avoid conflicts with meeting times, but I can't recall ever being even remotely worried the Aggies would win that game.

In looking back at the overall series, I do see the 2002 score was BYU 35, Utah State 34, but as I've mentioned before, I was out of the country during that season. The only wins the Aggies have had against BYU in my lifetime were 1.) 11 days after I was born and 2.) October 30, 1993. That was a long time ago.

So it's weird to come at this game feeling like it needs actual analysis. Like there's a real chance Utah State can win this game. And after a week one narrow loss to Oklahoma, the Aggies looked like a real threat.

And after a 38-17 thumping of the Idaho State Bengals (the closest college football team to me), they looked slightly more legit.

However, Fresno State beat them 41-24 and the San Diego State Aztecs ripped them 41-7.

So never mind.

The Aggies do have two running backs averaging over 4 yards per carry; Derrvin Speight and Michael Smith are not terrible, and anyone not terrible is going to move the sticks against this BYU defense.

Senior Diondre Borel is something of a running quarterback, and we know how well the Cougar linebackers can deal with that kind of talent (hint: not all that well).

I don't expect Utah State to go nuts tomorrow, but if they score less than 21 points I'll be stunned. And considering BYU is averaging 15 points per game this season, that means the offense needs to step it up if the Cougars want a win.

No dropped passes. No overthrown balls. Fewer fade routes and more stuff over the middle. Run the hurry up more often; Heaps has looked best when he's snapping the ball in under 10 seconds, for whatever reason. And more Quezada.

If these things happen, I see BYU breaking out and scoring 34 or more Friday.

If these things don't happen, look for another embarrassingly low point total and the Aggies' third win in 30 years against their rivals to the south. If you can call it a rivalry.

27 September 2010

Nevada at BYU analysis

BYU running back Josh Quezada (photo courtesy the Deseret News)

While my prediction of a fairly big Nevada win was correct, the way the Wolf Pack earned this W was a bit different than I expected.

The first half was all Nevada. They racked up huge yards on the ground and did well through the air. Halftime score: BYU 10, Nevada 24. While the score doesn't look unsurmountable, I admit I had no faith the Cougars could get a win.

In the second half, the Wolf Pack put it into grind-it-out mode and had two drives longer than eight minutes. Sure, some fans will point out Nevada only scored three points in the second half, but when you're giving up third-and-17 type plays with consistency, you are not playing well.

BYU's "bend but don't break" scheme kills me. A good, patient quarterback will hit those short passes on the sideline, and a decent running back can pick up yards when they need them. It's unsustainable.

And that was it. Jake Heaps missed on some big throws, certain receivers dropped some passes, and BYU's offense was unable to get into the endzone when it needed to.

Heaps will improve. He will look better against Utah State and SDSU than he did last Saturday.

Preview of the Aggies' best chance to beat the Cougars since 1993 will be posted Thursday.

24 September 2010

Looking back, looking forward

BYU football took a bigger step backward in 2010 than I anticipated. I knew the team was replacing Dennis Pitta, Harvey Unga and Max Hall. I knew they were replacing Scott Johnson and Jan Jorgenson. I just didn't know the players replacing these guys would be so woefully unprepared to take over.

1. The quarterback position has been mostly terrible. Junior Riley Nelson failed to produce and true freshman Jake Heaps has failed to produce much so far. I figured the reason for the shared time at quarterback was due to the fact that both players were great, but instead, apparently both players are bad. That's disappointing.

2. The wide receivers and tight ends have been consistently terrible. I can't find any official stats on this, but it feels like there have been more dropped passes in three games so far this season than there were for the entirety of 2009. What happened to the concept that BYU receivers might not be burners, but they catch everything thrown their way? These guys not only can't beat guys downfield, but they can't catch balls that hit them square in the hands. Tight ends and wide receivers both are failing spectacularly both in catching and getting open.

But that's not all! Oh no, we also have to account for blocking. You may have noticed BYU likes to run a play where they immediately get the ball to a wide receiver on the outside and let him run with it. This play is almost entirely dependent on other receivers blocking for the guy with the ball, and it's worked fairly well in the past. This season? Fail fail fail. The receiver catches the ball and he's tackled. The end. Replays sometimes show blocking receivers half-heartedly leaning towards a defender, but that's about it. It's somewhat infuriating. I'm just about ready to write off the entirety of the wide receiver and tight end corps.

3. The defense has been just embarrassing. Against Florida State, I lost count at 18 missed tackles by BYU linebackers and linemen. Failing to wrap up, failing to take good angles, failing to get good pressure on the quarterback. The only saving grace of the defense has been the play of cornerbacks Brandon Bradley and Brian Logan. While they haven't been spectacular, they've made some great plays in spots. How weird is it that the corners are the strength of BYU's defense? What is this, Bizzaro World?

4. The running back situation is not bad. DiLuigi has been playing extremely well, averaging 7 yards on 38 carries so far on the season. That's Luke Staley-esque. The problem is, he's definitely a "get to the edge" type runner, and not a "between the tackles" runner. I think maybe Quezada can be that guy, but so far he's gotten one carry on the year. Here's hoping he can grow into the role to complement J.J.

In college, more responsibility falls on the head coach than in any other sport at any other level. The head coach recruits his players, unlike in the NFL where players are drafted. So if a year comes along where the team takes a huge step backward, it's either the coach failed to draft the talent needed or the coach failed to adequately prepare his team for the upcoming season. Either way, bad news for him.

I like Bronco, I really do. I love that he rescued BYU from the depths of 2002-2004, but 2010 is more than just a hiccup, in my opinion. It shows a real lack of something... whether it's recruiting acumen or coaching ability, I don't know. But this team could definitely end the season under .500, and I don't think that's acceptable for a program like BYU.

Tomorrow's game is at home against Nevada. When I first saw the Wolf Pack on the schedule for this year, I mentally marked it as a win. I mean, shoot, Nevada is a WAC team. Now, I'm not so sure.

The Wolf Pack are 3-o on the season. Their three games so far: 49-24 win over Eastern Washington at home (not all that impressive), 51-6 win at home over Colorado State (getting my attention) and 52-31 win at home over Cal (okay now I'm scared). Sure, all three of their wins are at home, but they're putting up big point totals while holding up pretty well defensively.

The big worry? On the season, Nevada is ranked 5th nationally in rushing yards, at 302 per game. Considering how easily Air Force and Florida State racked up the yards on the ground against BYU, this will be a nightmare.

Will Heaps have any easier time passing against Nevada than he did Florida State? Most likely. Will he find it so easy that he passes for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns? Probably not.

I expect the score to be around 42-27 for the Wolf Pack. Another big loss and hopefully, another big step towards getting back to respectability for this BYU team.

23 September 2010

Man down!

Apparently Bronco's quarterback carousel problem has been solved for him. From the Deseret News:
Mendenhall said Nelson hurt his non-throwing shoulder during fall camp, but that injury wasn't discussed publicly. Early in the Florida State game, the injury worsened after Nelson absorbed a hard hit.

Team trainer Kevin Morris described it as "a severe injury to the shoulder" and that Nelson will undergo surgery as soon as possible. "We felt like it was necessary right now to get it done," he said.
Part of me feels bad for Riley. The kid plays hard at Utah State, loses a ton of games, and gets the chance to play for BYU. He comes in at what was probably the worst time possible for him; Heaps is breathing down his neck, the offense as a whole is worse than it's been since 2003 and the early schedule is brutal. Despite all of this, he went out there and played his best, giving everything he had to this team.

And now it's all over.

But the other part of me doesn't feel that bad. It's not as if Riley is a true Div-I FBS starting quarterback. He can't pass that well, he's not especially fast and his reads are subpar. He got more of a shot at glory than he should have, in my opinion, and he failed to make the most of it.

So now we enter the Jake Heaps years. Against Florida State he showed flashes of brilliance while making a ton of mistakes. This is to be expected from an 18-year-old true freshman playing against an ACC defense that is pretty good. He'll learn to step up in the pocket. He'll develop a sense for when a blindside hit is coming and protect the ball. And his timing on crossing routes will improve.

Now, I don't know how high he'll actually go. Is his ceiling Ty Detmer? John Beck? Max Hall? Brandon Doman? There have been far more talented players who have failed in college; for him to be unable to adjust to the speed of the game wouldn't be surprising.

But from that hurry-up touchdown drive he led near the end of the first half, I saw a lot of good things. His touchdown throw to Cody Hoffman with 14 seconds left in the second quarter was beautiful; anytime the quarterback looks off the safety and drills a pass to a crossing receiver I'm impressed.

So I expect a lot of bumps over the next few games, and I expect Heaps to improve every week. Will BYU win? Probably not a lot. BYU's defense is too poor to keep the Cougars in games. But the offense will score more points than they have recently and I'll be happy.

Go Cougars. Tomorrow I'll preview the Nevada game and discuss my many concerns with this team as a whole.

04 September 2010

Washington at BYU prediction

It's tough to predict what will happen in the first game of the season. There are new starters at many positions, and even if you return your quarterback, running back and tight ends (as BYU did last year), things can be very different than you expected.

And this year? When BYU has not one, but two new starting quarterbacks? New tight ends? New running backs and linebackers? Good grief; I have no idea what this team will look like today.

The one thing I'm reasonably sure of is that if BYU's defense can contain Locker and force him to be a pocket passer, I like the Cougars' chances. In last year's game, the final drive for Washington was essentially Locker running all over BYU's defense and making one or two passes. It reminded me of Vince Young against USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl... Vince Young would beat every Trojan defender and pick up 10-15 yards whenever he wanted.

From my untrained eye, it didn't appear either BYU or USC devoted a linebacker to spy on Locker or Young, but maybe they did and the running quarterbacks were just that good.

Regardless, I'd like to see BYU's Jordan Pendleton or freshman Kyle Van Noy waiting for Locker every time he tries to scramble.

Do that, and I predict BYU wins 24-17.

If Locker runs at will, I predict Washington wins 31-21.

Go Cougars!

03 September 2010

What better game to get BYU fans excited?

Exactly one hour until BYU faces off against Washington in Provo in the 2010 season opener. It's almost time.

2006: a year that began as a disappointment for Cougar fans and turned into one of the most memorable seasons ever.

After close losses at Arizona and at Boston College, BYU was 1-2 and looking shaken. Thankfully, the fourth game of the season was a nice and easy 38-0 win over the hapless Aggies of Utah State, and quarterback John Beck and company were able to be fully rested and ready to play TCU in Forth Worth in game 5. A 31-17 win over the Horned Frogs thanks to one of the all-time great performances by a BYU quarterback gave the Cougars a lot of national attention.

They continued their season, steamrolling everyone who got in their way. SDSD: 47-17. UNLV: 52-7. Air Force: 33-14. Colorado State: 24-3. Wyoming 55-7. New Mexico: 42-17.

Going into Rivalry Week, BYU was 9-2 and poised to win a MWC championship for the first time since 2001.

Standing in the way, however, was Utah. Utah, a team that had beaten BYU four years straight, including a 52-21 beatdown in 2004 and frustrating 41-34 overtime loss in Provo in 2005.

Utah wasn't exactly spectacular in 2006, but the team was 7-4 coming into the Holy War. And regardless of how bad the Utes look in any given season, they always give BYU a fight. While the Utes weren't competing for the conference championship themselves, playing spoiler for BYU is always fine with them.

The stage was set, and the result was nothing less than epic.

Here's the highlight:

That radio call from Greg Wrubell gives me the chills every single time.

With one pass, John Beck cemented himself as one of the greats in BYU quarterbacking history and the Cougars were back on top as conference champions. A 38-8 win over Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl gave the team 11 wins and put it in the same company with the 1996 and 2001 squads.

All thanks to one play.

02 September 2010

Game of the day - UCLA at BYU 2008

An unexciting GotD for Thursday. September 13, 2008, and the UCLA Bruins are coming to town. Interestingly enough, BYU had played UCLA twice in 2007, the first time being a 27-17 win for the Bruins in Pasadena. BYU had gotten its revenge in the Las Vegas Bowl later that year, in what I dubbed the "Ugly choke job salvaged by a miracle" game.

I was definitely worried for the third game against UCLA in a little more than one year. After a loss and a less-than-impressive bowl win, I could only really hope BYU didn't embarrass itself at home.

Let's just say I was way off.

Hall threw for 271 yards on 27-of-35 passing and seven touchdowns.

Austin Collie caught 10 balls for 110 yards and two touchdowns.

Dennis Pitta had five receptions for 47 yards and two touchdowns.

And as incredibly on-target as the offense was, the defense might have been better.

Besides pitching a complete shutout, the defense forced four fumbles and recovered three. They also recorded one interception.

It was utter domination.

Here's the highlight, from FuriousMonkey.

Sometimes blowouts can get boring, but when it comes to beating down a team from a BCS conference, I can watch all day.

Could we see a similar result on Saturday? After the controversial way in which BYU won at Washington last season, I'm worried about a loss. But maybe the team will surprise me with one of its all-time great performances.

01 September 2010

More details and game of the day

We've been getting more and more information on BYU's decision to become an independent in football and move its other sports to the West Coast Conference. One of the more important bits is ESPN's new relationship with the Y. From the Seattle Times:
BYU and ESPN have reached an eight-year deal for the network or one of its affiliates broadcast the Cougars' home games, which at the moment are a lot of open dates.

(BYU athletic director Tom) Holmoe said scheduling as one of just four independents in major college football was an obvious risk that BYU considered, but felt the Cougars still have enough name recognition and a large fan base that should make building a schedule without eight conference games at least a little easier.
As scheduling is the biggest concern of any BYU fan when it comes to independence, it's good to see ESPN is assisting in this effort. Teams that may have been reluctant to play the Cougars in the past may be more open to the idea if the game will be broadcast on ESPN.
One of the future opponents will likely be Notre Dame, which Holmoe said is working with BYU to iron out the details on a six-game deal through 2020. Another is archrival Utah, which is also leaving the Mountain West after getting an invitation to join the Pac-10 next year.

Holmoe said he has been talking with Utah athletic director Chris Hill about ways to keep the annual clash going while no longer in the same conference.

"We both are in agreement in that it's an important game to continue," Holmoe said.
A series with Notre Dame is always good, and I am definitely in favor of continuing the rivalry with Utah. Good news all around. And it gets better.

Salt Lake Tribune writer Michael C. Lewis reports:
Not only will [the deal] vastly expand the potential audience for Cougar games — every home game will be televised nationally, on either an ESPN channel or the school’s BYU-TV network — but it also will help the Cougs fill their annual 12-game schedule by enlisting ESPN as a partner to help arrange match-ups.
Every home game televised nationally and distribution over BYUTV? Great news for fans who can't get the mtn thanks to HOA arrangements or other circumstances, and in addition, it exposes BYU football to NCAAF fans everywhere who might not have ventured into the 600's.

On to the game of the day!

It's August 25, 2001. LaVell Edwards' era at BYU is over, and new hire at head coach Gary Crowton's first game is against Tulane in Provo. I watched this game at my uncle's house a few blocks from the stadium, and the anticipation of seeing a brand-new coach and what he could do was palpable.

Tulane struck first on a 75-yard touchdown run from running back Mewelde Moore, and three rushing touchdowns from Cougar back Luke Staley in the first quarter later, the score was 21-21.

BYU scored 49 more points to Tulane's 14 over the next three quarters, and if there's one thing fans knew, it was that Crowton's offense was going to be pretty good. We also knew Luke Staley was special, and 21 more touchdowns later, he won the Doak Walker award.

Here's the highlight. Thanks to Cougarboard.com member Garn.

BYU averaged 46.8 points per game that season, the highest a Cougar team has averaged in school history. Of course, after Staley broke his ankle against Mississippi State later that season, the team was never the same under Crowton.

But for one hot day in August, it seemed the sky was the limit.