20 November 2013

BYU at Notre Dame, part 2

(Mike McGinnis/Getty Images North America)

It seems weird to be playing at Notre Dame for the second consecutive season, and this will be the third time in a row since 2005. Notre Dame was originally supposed to come to Provo in 2014, but they pulled out and now there's not one scheduled. I hope Notre Dame didn't trick BYU into giving them a 2 for 0 for nothing, but it sure looks like it right now.

But anyway, back to the game at hand. Highlights from last year's matchup: Riley Nelson missing a wide-open Cody Hoffman in the fourth quarter for what could have been a game-winning touchdown. The Fighting Irish passing a total of THREE times in the second half, as they ran all day on BYU's defense. Jamaal Williams averaging 4.6 yards per carry, but only getting 16 touches.

And in the end, a three-point loss.

This year, BYU has upgraded from Riley Nelson to Taysom Hill, who is better in every way from his predecessor. Faster, better arm strength, better accuracy, you name it, Hill is better at it.

That said, he's had a couple bad games in a row. He's got four interceptions to four touchdowns in his last two games, and one of those was Idaho State. I hope this is just a minor setback and not a more permanent regression, and this game will be a good indicator of which is the truth.

Vegas has set this game at pick 'em, which means neither team is better than the other. Though if you factor in the 3-point home-field advantage, Vegas is actually saying they think BYU is three points better than Notre Dame on a neutral field, which is sort of interesting.

I hate to be a broken record here, but I see this as a repeat of the Wisconsin game. Top-25 opponent, on the road, against a tough run offense. If Taysom can get it done through the air, I like BYU's chances. If he cannot, the Cougars will lose, and have gone 1-3 against Boise, Utah, Wisconsin and Notre Dame on the year. Honestly, that would be a disappointment.

But we'll have to wait and see what happens on Friday. I believe!

13 November 2013

Wisconsin thoughts and the story of a lost sheep returning

The Wisconsin game went how I thought it would for BYU's defense. The Badgers ran hard and ran effectively. They didn't break as many long runs as I expected, but they got he job done on the ground. Wisconsin's quarterback, Stave, had a pretty good outing, completing 70% of his passes for 200 yards and a touchdown. BYU's blitzes just could not get through his protection, giving him upwards of six or seven seconds to find open guys, and BYU's secondary is nowhere good enough to handle that.

What disappointed me was the offense. Taysom struggled to find guys when he had time, and he had more time than I expected he would. Without being able to see the entire field, I can only go with what ESPN showed me on Saturday, and what they showed me was Taysom having time to find receivers. Greg Wrubell, BYU play-by-play guy extraordinaire, has stated that the Cougar receivers could not get any separation from the Badger secondary. Either way, I am disappointed. If Taysom had open guys and just didn't find them, it's sad. If this BYU receiving corp was unable to get open, that's sad. Just an offensive fail all the way around.

In other news, 4-star forward from Arizona Payton Dastrup changed his commitment from Ohio State to BYU today. It was less than a week ago that he made his initial choice to join the Buckeye program, and it's weird he had such an about face.

Anyway, he's 6'9" and 230 and pretty coveted across the country for his big man skills. Let's have a look.


From this video, Mr. Dastrup looks incredibly earthbound and slow. He has decent passing instincts, and a decent shot, but man, that turnaround will get blocked out of the gym in college.

Dastrup is going on a mission before ever suiting up for the Cougars, however, so don't expect to see him until 2016, at the earliest. Such is the life of a BYU fan.

06 November 2013

It's Taysom Time

M.P. KING — Wisconsin State Journal archives

How about that Boise State game, huh? BYU's offense looked nigh unstoppable in the first half, and then sort of fell apart in the third and fourth quarter. This is a pattern that's becoming a concern. I'd like to see an uptick in production after halftime, but maybe that's asking too much.

Anyway, Taysom further showed that he can consistently hit people in stride downfield, a skill BYU has been missing in its quarterbacks for far too long. The offensive line even looked fairly competent, giving him upwards of four seconds to throw sometimes. Amazing.

In the end, it was a convincing win over a pretty good team. Nice work, guys.

Next up, the Wisconsin Badgers. A perennially good, never championship-level team. Their finishes over the last five years have been between 8-5 and 11-2. This year they are 6-2, and have already lost to Arizona State (on a controversial call) and Ohio State. These are not losses to be ashamed of, but they show this Badger team can be beat.

Wisconsin relies heavily on their massive offensive line and two star running backs. The O-line average over 6'4 and 300 pounds across the board, and back Melvin Gordon is averging 8.7 yards per carry on 124 touches. That's insane. That's Luke Staley-level running insane. And to add to that, Badger James White is averaging 6.3 yards a carry on his 127 attempts. Just thinking about this, combined with memories of BYU at Notre Dame 2012, gives me nightmares. The Irish racked up almost 300 yards on the ground at over 6 yards per carry, and passed the ball three times in the second half.

If Wisconsin gets a lead on Saturday, I fear BYU will get a steady diet of run, run, run, and suddenly the game will be over. BYU needs Taysom to open the game up early. They need him to find Matthews or Hoffman or Apo on a few deep balls, score quickly in the first quarter, and then score quickly again. If they can force Wisconsin to panic a bit, to come away from the power run game, I like the Cougars' chances.

But if the offense comes out sluggish after the bye, and stalls early and often, it's going to be rough to get the ball back often.

That said, I believe in Taysom. I know I was really down on him after the Utah game, but in fairness, he was historically, epically bad through three games this year. Then a miracle happened, and he figured out how to put touch on the football. I can't explain it. No one can. I'm just happy it happened.

But back to the Wisconsin game. Taysom will be rushed and hurried and have two seconds to find an open guy and get rid of the ball. But with how he showed his ability to use the tight ends against Boise, he's going to be really unpredictable to defenses from now one. He can go deep, middle, dump it short to Jamaal, find crossing routes and fades. And if you worry too much about his arm, he'll take off and pick up 20 yards on the ground. An absolute nightmare to handle.

I'm more worried about being on the road against a decent BCS team. BYU just historically does not win those games. And Wisconsin is 43-4 at home since 2004, a ridiculous number that really makes you pause.

That said, games are not won on the backs of history. BYU can go into Camp Randall and win. Wisconsin can lose a home game in November. Taysom can get the biggest win a sophomore BYU quarterback has ever had.

I believe!

BYU 34, Wisconsin 24

23 October 2013

Bronco Bustin'

BYU has never beat Boise State in football.

That seems crazy to me, but there it is, on Cougarstats.com:

9/20/2012 Boise State 7 BYU 6
9/24/2004 Boise State 28 BYU 27
10/30/2003 Boise State 50 BYU 12

It's just odd that two mid-major teams within 400 miles of each other have only played three times, but I guess they've never been in the same conference, so that helps.

The last two losses were both heartbreakers, as Matt Payne missed an easy chip shot at the end of the game to give Boise the win in 2004, and Riley Nelson supplied the Broncos with their only points on a pick-six to secure the loss for BYU in 2012.

This time around, Boise State is playing the gritty, run-first, doesn't really have an arm quarterback. Taysom Hill is on a roll, having increased his passer rating every game this season, and settling on an impressive 161.88 against Houston.

The BSU starting quarterback, Grant Hedrick, did put up okay passing numbers against Nevada last week.  Completing 18 of 21 passes is nice, but he threw zero touchdowns and did have a pick. His eight rushes for 123 yards is more impressive, until you take into account Nevada's 114 ranking in team defense for the NCAA.

And let's be honest: BYU's defense can corral running quarterbacks. I'm much, much more worried about a quarterback passing for 400 yards than I am a quarterback rushing for 200.

I expect an easy win for BYU. The offensive line gave Taysom some honest to good protection at times on Saturday, and if they keep improving, and Hill gets more and more time to throw, he's going to be impossible to stop.

Prediction: BYU 38, Boise State 17

18 October 2013

This week in BYU football

Georgia Tech thoughts:

1. Georgia Tech runs a triple option system. Bronco does not lose to triple option systems. Georgia Tech really had no chance.

2. Once GT started blitzing BYU on every down during the second half, the Cougar offense struggled a lot. While I'm glad Taysom is at the point where he's great if he gets time to throw, now we have to wait for him to mature to the point that he can read blitzes and make defenses pay for leaving guys uncovered. That may take a while. I expect every defense we play from now on to bring the house often.

Houston thoughts:

1. These guys may be the worst 5-0 team ever. They beat a 1-4 Memphis team by 10 points, and an 0-6 Temple by 9.

2. I am worried about their quarterback, freshman John O'Korn. He throws for about 250 yards per game, and has 11 touchdowns to only one interception all season. If he throws to the sidelines to take advantage of the ridiculous cushions BYU corners will give his receivers, and can hit a deep pass or three, he can put up points.

So it's all going to come down to how well Houston can pressure Taysom, and how well BYU's secondary can do their jobs.

Prediction: BYU 34, Houston 24.

07 October 2013

What happened?

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Taysom sure proved me wrong, eh? He went from overthrowing receivers by 15 yards to dropping perfectly thrown footballs directly into the hands of a streaking Mitch Matthews for touchdowns.

I don't know how he figured out how to put some touch on the ball, or lead a receiver, but he did. If it sticks, BYU has itself a quarterback.

Other thoughts from Friday's game:

1. I feel bad for Chuckie. Dude's a gamer, and losing the rest of the season is a tragedy.

2. The defense played out of their minds, even against the backup QB. Lots of pass breakups, which was good to see.

3. KVN is a robot of some kind.

4. Bronco is the worst at developing backup quarterbacks. The game was well in hand at the start of the fourth quarter, yet Taysom remained in there, taking hits he didn't need to take. Ammon finally came in very late, handed the ball off a few times, and went home. If Taysom ever goes down with an injury this year, and we have to rely on a completely unproven Ammon, with zero live balls thrown, I'm not going to be pleased.

5. The offensive line was a sieve more often than not. That's gotta change.

Anyway, convincing win in a game I thought BYU would lose. On to Georgia Tech!

04 October 2013

BYU at Utah State


It's the annual Friday night game between the Aggies and BYU! This used to be a throwaway every year, a chance for BYU to rest its injured starting quarterback (2006) or get the backups some good time in a blowout (2008). But recently the competition has been tougher, and BYU even dropped the 2010 matchup 31-16. 

More recent history has BYU winning two close games by a combined 6 points. And last year showed a ridiculous defensive slugfest where the Cougar defense held the Aggies to 3 points and still almost lost the game. 

And last year is the game that has the most importance when determining what will happen tonight. Chuckie Keaton, dual threat extraordinaire, threw for 27 touchdowns and rushed for 619 yards last season. BYU held him to zero touchdowns and 37 yards rushing. I attended this game, and was amazed at how well the Cougar defense, led by Van Noy and Ziggy, managed to beat him to the edge time and time again. He never broke off a long run. Never got that long pass play. He was bottled up as effectively as I've ever seen. The defense won the game that night, and I hope to see it again this time around.

While it's true Ziggy is doing his thing in the NFL now, I like what I've seen from linebackers Alani Fua and Uani' Unga. BYU's side-to-side pursuit is as good as it's been, and while I know Chuckie has gotten stronger and faster, I still don't see him going off. Utah State will score no more than 17 points.

On the offensive side of the ball for BYU, I still don't expect great things from Taysom. He only threw 17 times against MTSU, and while one or two of them were nice throws, the rest were easy pitch and catch plays where he had plenty of time and was not dealing with real pressure. Utah State will bring it, and he'll be far less comfortable in the pocket. I think we'll see another sub-50% passing performance from Hill tonight. Depending on how well the Aggie rush defense performs, and I expect them to be stout, we might see BYU score around 17 as well.

Considering Vegas has Utah State as a 6 point favorite, it makes sense. One or two turnovers will be the decider, and in the end, I see the Aggies getting their second win in 4 years, 21-17. 

03 October 2013

Are the Utah Jazz Any Good? | Bill and Jalen's 2013 NBA Preview | Rank #27

Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose of Grantland.com preview the Jazz. Some pretty funny takes.

Personally, I'm more excited about this Jazz team than I've been since 2008. There's room to improve and grow, and for the first time in a long time, I'm not sure what the ceilings of these players are.

26 September 2013

Middle Tennessee State University at BYU

(Mike Kittrell/mkittrell@al.com)

I hate to say it, but I feel like this game is meaningless for BYU.

Game Outcome 1: Taysom comes out and continues to miss wide open receivers. The defense clamps down on the Blue Raiders because they don't have a quarterback who can throw, but the offense struggles mightily and BYU wins by a score of something like 20-13. We learn nothing. Taysom still can't throw, and the defense is able to shut down at Conference-USA team. Good for them.

Game Outcome 2: Taysom throws lights out. He's hitting guys at a 70% clip, BYU wins by seven touchdowns, etc. etc. We learn nothing, because it's a Conference-USA team. Good for Taysom.

So here we are. I'll watch the game, but I don't expect to feel any differently about this team afterwards than I do now.

Amazing what losing four in a row to your rival does to your fanbase.

Go Cougars!

23 September 2013


Utah Utes quarterback Travis Wilson throws a touchdown pass (Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) 

I feel like we've been here before. BYU's quarterback can't hit the broad side of a barn, but is able to scramble a bit to get a few first downs. BYU's defense is good enough to hold Utah to fewer than three touchdowns. But in the end, that quarterback's inability to hit wide-open receivers leads to a pathetic offensive showing and a loss for the Cougars.

Yes, Taysom has a stronger arm than Riley. Yes, Taysom is faster than Riley. But he is effectively Riley 2.0. BYU receivers didn't play lights out on Saturday, but there were enough times they had their man beat by two or three steps and Taysom either overthrew them by 10 yards or threw behind them. And those throws were the difference in the game.

Hill completed over 60% of admittedly limited passes last season. After the first three games of 2013, he's completed 35% of his passes, which is the lowest in all of Division 1 college football, and his quarterback rating is the second lowest. It's bad.

So here BYU fans are once again. Stuck with a starting quarterback who cannot pass. Four points to consider:

1. BYU hasn't had a quarterback improve significantly as a player since John Beck. Max Hall was largely the same guy as a sophomore as he was as a senior. Heaps regressed from his freshman to sophomore year, and Nelson was a worse quarterback for BYU than he was at Utah State. Now Taysom fits the pattern. It's disturbing.

2. I was on board the "Taysom can figure it out, given time" train for a long time. But if you can find me a quarterback who threw for under 40%, three consecutive games, and ended up being an elite passer, I'd love to hear about it. I think he's done. John Beck's worst season at BYU, when he was a freshman, he still completed 50% of his passes, and 56% as a sophomore. I recognize that Taysom is young and may improve, but I just don't believe he will ever get to where a starting QB for BYU needs to be.

3. I'd like to see what Ammon Olsen can do. Let him play against Middle Tennessee State. We know Taysom can beat this team, having him out there accomplishes nothing. If Ammon can complete throws against an FBS school, in real game time, give him a shot to earn the starting spot. If he can't, bury him forever.

4. I feel terrible for the BYU offense, and especially KVN. He wanted this game, and holding Utah to 20 points is highly acceptable considering the squad's weakness at defensive back. The offense let them down.

Finally, it's time to announce the winner of the prediction contest. While Stuart's guess was way off in its margin of victory, he was the only one to predict a Utah victory, so he wins the $20. As he requested, I have donated it to Child's Play, a charity set up to get video games to sick kids in hospitals around the world.

18 September 2013

Holy War, Last One Before 2016 Edition

For this year's rivalry game vs. Utah, I am taking the approach that no one can really know what will happen on Saturday. Unless Utah is head and shoulders better than BYU (2004, 2008), this is a dogfight, and until this pattern is disproved two or three years running, a dogfight it will remain. Utah lost to a bad Oregon State team at home. BYU lost to a bad Virginia team on the road. Utah beat a good Utah State team at home. BYU beat a mediocre Texas team at home. BYU runs the ball well and passes poorly. Utah passes the ball well and runs poorly. BYU's defense is fairly great, Utah's defense is fairly bad. All that adds up to a close game that will have me standing and screaming myself hoarse most of the night.

Things I, as a BYU fan, want to see in this game:

1. Kyle Van Noy do this to Travis Wilson.

2. Taysom to break a long TD run.

3. Jamaal Williams goes for 150 yards.

4. Paul Lasike knocks a Ute defender on his back.

5. Utah run for less than 75 yards.

That's about it. I expect Wilson to throw well, as long as he gets time in the pocket (not a given). I expect Taysom to airmail some of his passes and throw grounders with others.

And finally, I expect Utah to play out of their minds, especially on defense. Somehow these guys play the best game of their season against BYU every year. The Cougars will come out too tentative or too amped, and will settle down as the game goes on. And the final score will be within 7 points either way.

As is tradition, I'm holding a Guess the Score contest. Leave a comment with your prediction of the final score, along with Taysom Hil''s rushing yards for the game. The winner gets $20.

Go Cougars!

10 September 2013

Doing the electric car right

Well, I know what my next car is going to be.

09 September 2013

Didn't see that coming

And from the Texas message boards:
I have never seen a bigger improvement in one week in any position group ever in all the football I've ever watched. That the offensive line imposed its will on Texas all night is crazy and I have no idea what happened. If we can see that kind of performance against Utah, it's going to be an interesting game. Full preview next week.

26 August 2013

Coming soon

Near the end of BYU's final fall scrimmage, Taysom Hill showcased his knack for making big plays. One drive featured Hill ripping off a long sprint to set up an easy touchdown. The sophomore quarterback then delivered a pass covering 56 yards to tight end Brett Thompson to set up another score. BYU has promised to roll out a faster-paced offense this season that will regularly light up scoreboards like the Cougars did in their glory days. Hill is eager to prove he is the right quarterback to be at the controls of this revived attack.
Five days.

23 May 2013

Goodbye, Riley


This will be my last post about Riley Nelson. My disdain for him is well documented, But he's gone now, having finally used up all of his college football eligibility. Having landed at Logan High School, teaching offense to bunch of teenagers, he will never throw another pass for BYU ever again.

Earlier this week, Nelson was interviewed on a local Salt Lake sports radio show. Among other topics, the hosts asked him about his health last season, when it was clear he was struggling to even move his arms in certain games. When asked specifically about the Utah game, Nelson gave this response:

The fractures were unstable in the University of Utah game meaning I could feel them grinding and shifting and moving in my back. … at halftime … there were moments where it was kind of hard to keep your mind focused, to keep your hand from shaking, but, you know it was great to have an opportunity to go out there and battle. … it was my senior year to play Utah at Utah — there was no way I was going to bow out or throw in the towel and my coaches were gracious enough to let me go ahead and compete.

Are you kidding me? A healthy Riley isn't even a competent quarterback, and here he is telling us that even terribly injured, he wasn't going to give up the chance to play Utah during his senior season. There's no mention of team. No mention of wanting to win. Just a selfish desire that it be HIM out on the field, gritting it out like only he know how.

The fact that Riley Nelson started 14 games for the Cougars is unfathomable. That Coach Mendenhall fell in love with Riley's heart and spirit and amazing good looks is very distressing. Can't we just play quarterbacks who are quarterbacks? I don't care if they are a prima donna (see: McMahon) or cries after losses (John Beck). If they can make all the throws with zip and accuracy, play them. If not, they ride the pine.

As far as this applies to the 2013 season, we know Taysom can run. We know he can throw the ball 60 yards. What we don't know is if he can get the ball where he wants it, every time. This season is his proving ground, in my opinion. Here's where he has to show accuracy. If, by the end of the year, he still has trouble hitting tight ends over the middle or dropping a pass into the hands of a streaking Cody Hoffman, I am all for exploring other options.

My point is, I hope we learn from the Riley Nelson fiasco. May we never play a converted fullback at quarterback again.

16 May 2013

Mid-playoffs analysis

Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

So yeah, the NBA playoffs are happening. Ever since we got rid of cable, I've watched maybe two entire NBA games. I still care, but not nearly as much as I used to, which makes sense, I guess.

The consensus among NBA experts and fans seems to be that this is the Heat's title to lose. I agree, and maybe that's part of my disinterest in this year's playoffs. After ripping off a 27-game winning streak and going 8-1 through the playoffs so far, LeBron has won something like 42 of his last 43 games. The only real threat to this team is maybe Memphis? but the Grizzlies just can't score enough versus a great defense to win four games.

And despite the Heat looking as vulnerable as you can while going 4-1 against Chicago, I feel like they're playing possum and conserving energy for when it really matters. Wade has looked like like an old man for the last few weeks (knee problems), but last night? When it was time to clamp down on the Bulls and earn some rest for the conference finals? 18 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals with only one turnover in something of a throwback performance. When it gets down to brass tacks, the Heat have another gear they can get into that no one else can touch.

That said, I really like what the Grizzlies are doing right now. Everything is built around strong, smart defense. Everyone, from Gasol to Allen Conley, know exactly where to funnel driving players and who to double team where and when. You cannot beat them going one-on-one, as the Thunder tried to do for much of that series. As everyone fretted about Memphis giving up their 20-point scorer Rudy Gay for essentially nothing earlier this season, the Grizzlies knew it was addition by subtraction. Getting rid of an inefficient scorer who is bad on defense makes your team better overall.

So here the Grizzlies are. No flashy free agent signings. No one scoring more than 15 a game. An All-Star banger down low (Randolph) and a Defensive Player of the Year (Gasol). Add in some lock down team defense and suddenly they're in the conference finals. The Jazz can do this.

Elsewhere, it was fun to see the Lakers flame out so spectacularly. It's been fun to see the Knicks fall apart when faced with some real defense from Indiana. It was unsurprising, but still kind of sad, to see the Nuggets fall apart in the first round after a great regular season. Just more proof that regular season success is no indicator of future championships.

As an aside, if you look at the likely final four teams: San Antonio, Memphis, Miami and Indiana, the Grizzlies and Pacers were #1 and #2 in defense this season. Miami was fourth and San Antonio was 9th.

Good luck making it far in the playoffs without an elite defense, everyone in the NBA.

17 April 2013

Build around stars

Sports Illustrated

Lately there's been a lot of discussion about young talent versus experience as they relate to both the BYU football team and the Utah Jazz.

Situation A:

Jake Heaps commits to BYU amid great fanfare. He has a decent freshman season, and experiences a slump in year two, to the extent that the offense looks completely dead with him under center. With only nine touchdowns in five games to his eight interceptions, he was clearly struggling, and the coaching staff made the decision to bring in the more experienced Riley Nelson. Riley wins the 2011 Utah State game thanks to some last-minute heroics, and the short-term benefit is obvious.

Riley starts 16 of the next 17 games and Heaps transfers to Kansas. BYU won about half of these 17 games, though so many were against the likes of Idaho and Weber State it's hard to say the team was even that good.

The Riley Years turn out to be largely regarded as one of the worst periods in BYU football, especially since fans feel like the elite defense was wasted on an offense that couldn't even score a touchdown in some games. BYU is a middling program with no real shot at relevance nationally.

Situation B:

Al Jefferson is an established starting center in the NBA. He averages about 19 and 8 per game, but hasn't ever been on a real winning team in his entire career. The Jazz end up trading for Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, both top-five draft picks and widely regarded to have a lot of potential. However, both Derrick and Enes struggle in limited minutes early with the Jazz, clearly not ready to lead the team to wins.

Jazz management make the decision to let Al have the run of the team for two years. Favors and Kanter are definitely bench players, never given major minutes except in the rare case of injury to the starters. The Jazz are a middling program with no real shot at relevance nationally.

Both cases, in my estimation, are examples of management choosing the known, limited value over the potential star talent. And both cases are massive mistakes.

To build a national contender. you need star talent at the core of your team. Miami did this with Wade, and then LeBron and Bosh. The Spurs did it with Duncan. The Lakers did it with Kobe and Shaq. Texas A&M is doing it with Johnny Manziel.

Great teams recognize star talent and make use of it as early and often as they can. They do not latch onto players who may be good, but not great. Smart GM's don't try and build around Luis Scola or Rudy Gay or Josh Smith. These players may be talented, may even make an All-Star team or two, but if they are expected to carry you to a championship, you're in for a world of hurt.

So find the stars. Play the stars. Cast aside the good-but-not-great players that might win you games now, but will never, ever take you to the promised land. Al Jefferson will never be the star on a championship team. Riley Nelson was never going to lead BYU to an undefeated season.

Does that mean Heaps would have? Does it mean Favors and Kanter will? I don't know. But you hitch your cart to the talent as far as it takes you. If it eventually proves itself to be of non-star-quality, start down a different path. But until that point, use it.

BYU gave up on Heaps way too soon. The Jazz have yet to give Favors and Kanter enough room to prove themselves capable or not. Both fell for the trap of wanting to win now rather than be elite later.

Here's hoping Taysom's talent can lift BYU to elite levels. Here's hoping Favors and Kanter are eventually proven stars, and become a fearsome frontcourt in the NBA on both ends of the floor as the Jazz become title contenders.

But if not, it's time to start looking elsewhere for the stars. New ones arrive every year.

15 April 2013

BYU Football thoughts


I attended the BYU Spring Game a couple weeks ago with my Dad and brothers. It was surprisingly warm and we all got a little sunburned, with the exception of my Dad, who wore long sleeves and an Indiana Jones hat. Anyway, it was good to be at LaVell Edwards Stadium again, I became moderately excited for football this fall.

The problem with watching young quarterbacks at BYU is that most of them won't see the field for another 5-7 years, assuming they serve missions. So while it was nice that Tanner Mangum looked good throwing the ball, he won't get play for a looong time.

It seems Taysom Hill is the anointed starter. He didn't participate in full contact plays, but did sling the ball around a bit before the actual game began, and honestly, I wasn't super impressed. He sailed more than a couple passes across the middle, the kind that go over the tight end's head and are easy picks for safeties. I've always thought Hill's arm is strong enough to make the throws he needs to (unlike Max Hall or Riley Nelson), but accuracy was, and still is, a concern.

A couple days later, Hill gave an interview on a local sports radio station and actually impressed me quite a bit. He spoke about how the quarterback running plays where the QB is trying to find holes between the tackles are gone, and now any running he'll do will be outside the tackles, towards the sidelines and away from giant defensive linemen and linebackers. The coaches have introduced him to the art of sliding to avoid taking a big hit. He wants to throw deep post routes to Apo and Hoffman. His confidence level is very high, and he feels like he can dominate anyone, just like he did in high school.

So we'll see. I expect Taysom to be a major upgrade from where this team was last season, but will he approach Johnny Manziel levels? I doubt it, but if Taysom can be smart about using his legs to keep defenses honest, while using his arm to keep defenses honest, we could see some great things from him.

Anae's return is fine, I guess. I think he's a better OC than Doman by a long shot, but Anae's insistence that he could out-execute every team he played when he was first at BYU frustrated me to no end. I hope his time under Rich Rodriguez, known creative playcaller, has given him a bit of a unpredictable factor. If opposing defenses aren't quite sure what to expect from BYU this year, I'll take it was a win.

Jake Heaps tore it up in the Kansas Spring game last week, throwing for 257 yards, four touchdowns and no picks. Disclaimers: it was a spring game. Kansas' pass defense has been really bad the last couple of years. Still, if Heaps turns out to be a good-to-great quarterback, my frustration with Bronco for choosing Riley over him will no know bounds.

I'm very glad KVN is back for his senior season, and expect good things from the defense again. A tough schedule combined with an upgraded offense and a minorly downgraded defense (fare thee well, Ziggy) means somewhere between a 7-9 win season.

11 April 2013

NBA thoughts for April

ESPN photo

Some of what's been bouncing around my head the last few weeks:

-For starters, Grantland's Zach Lowe is my new favorite NBA writer. This guy rocks, and it seems like he watches every game, every night. His use of stats combined with strategy makes him a must read, whether he's analyzing the league's recent trend towards complex defense and how offenses are coping, or perfectly understanding what it is about the Jazz that makes them so unlikable to their fans these days. If you like basketball, you'll like Lowe.

-About the aforementioned Jazz, I really only care about this team to the extent that Hayward, Favors and Kanter are improving. Jefferson does not play defense and cannot be the focal point of a championship-contending team. Mo Williams is a shoot-first point guard who, likewise, will never be a starter on a championship team. In fact, let's break the team down, player by player.

1. Jefferson: Defense is terrible. Offense not nearly enough to offset it.

2. Mo Williams: Shooting guard in a point guard's body.

3. Marvin Williams: Useless to the extreme. Can't shoot, can't drive, doesn't pass, doesn't really defend well.

4. Kanter: Legitimate stud who can barely break 15 minutes per game. Given starter's minutes, he's dominated. 

5. Favors: Offense is raw, defense is light years ahead of Jefferson. Favors enforces his will on others in the paint, and the league is taking notice. Only 21, I expect him to get much better.

6. Hayward: Somehow he makes tall and lurpy work. Nice shooting stroke from 3, defends like a maniac, passes and rebounds reasonably well, and is fun to watch on the fast break. I don't know if he'll ever be a 20-5-5 kinda guy, but it wouldn't shock me.

7. Evans: Amazing athletically, utterly lost on defense and offense. I believe better coaching could turn him into an often solid, sometimes dominant guy. 

8. Tinsley: Often terrible, sometimes good. Never getting any better than he is now.

9. Millsap: An amazing 6th Man of the Year candidate if he came off the bench. He is best used dominating other teams' second units. Starting, his effectiveness is lessened. 

10. Foye: Broke the Jazz record for 3-pointers in a season this year, and he's actually shooting better from the 3-point line than on field goals overall for 2012-2013. Gotta keep him around if just for that, but I wish he gave the Jazz anything else in his 27 minutes per game.

11. Burks: Has shown some flashes, but I'm not sold he'll be a solid NBA player just yet. Lately can't even seem to get time on the floor at all.

12. Carroll: Fantastic Adam Keefe. Hustle, energy, garbage points, he gives the Jazz all of it. Gotta keep him around just because every team needs a Keefe. 

13: Earl Watson: A fine backup point guard. Keep the ship steady, don't turn the ball over, don't do anything crazy. I can take him or leave him.

So, to sum up, I'd like the Jazz to keep Kanter, Favors, Hayward, Millsap (as a sixth man), Foye, Carroll and maybe Burks and Evans. That gives the Jazz a few of roster spots to fill, though this summer's free agent class is pretty sparse. 

What I'd like to see is the Jazz jettison Jefferson, keep Millsap around as long as he agrees to come off the bench, and start the youth movement for real. Start Kanter, Favors and Hayward. Give Evans a lot of minutes, while focusing on teaching him where to be and why. I guess start Foye at the 2, then find a journeyman point guard who is pass-first and can shoot reasonably well. I'd like to see Jose Calderon or Shawn Livingston. If NBA history has taught us anything, an elite, high-paid point guard is no guarantee of a championship. 

Ideally, Kanter and Favors turn into a dominant 1-2 punch in the paint, much like Memphis have in Gasol and Randolph (pre injury), with Foye and Hayward raining threes and an established point guard directing traffic. I'd watch that team. Sure, they'd probably be in the lottery next year, but if they can turn that pick into a solid player, I'll take it along with the player development we'd see.

-It's the Heat's championship to lose this summer. LeBron is playing as well as anyone in the last 15 years, and the team as a whole is on the same page and really clicking, both on offense and defense. I can't see anyone beating them four times in seven games.

-That the Lakers are fighting desperately for their playoff lives is pretty great. Just a few months after assembling their vaunted Super Team of Kobe, Dwight, Pau and Nash, they are facing a likely first-round drubbing at the hands of the Thunder. Reasons:

1. Dwight has been hurt most of the season, and is clearly not the guy he was in Orlando when he was winning Defensive Player of the Year awards. 

2. Nash is also hurt, and struggling in an offense where he doesn't dominate the ball. Without the Phoenix witch doctors to cure his ailments, and playing with someone who also needs to dominate the ball, I don't see Nash improving with the Lakers any time soon. If ever.

3. Pau is a head case. Mere weeks after killing it in the Olympics for his native country of Spain, abusing Team USA down low and being a man among boys, he's only played 46 games this season and is being told to put his big boy pants on by Kobe, I don't think the Lakers can expect much out of him anytime soon.

4. Kobe has stopped playing defense. Lowe has outlined this impressively well.

Either way, the Lakers kinda stink and I am enjoying it immensely. 

That's it. I plan on doing an NBA Playoff Preview once the matchups are set. Until then, go young, Jazz, and die in a fire, Lakers.

10 April 2013

Leave Watterson alone!

For those who are unfamiliar

Salon.com posted a feature discussing Bill Watterson a couple days ago. As I've mentioned before, Calvin and Hobbes is a major influence in my life, so any time I can read about it or its creator, I'm there. The feature's author, Liv Combe, focuses on Watterson's decision to avoid the public eye almost entirely since he ended C&H in 1995.

The term “recluse” seems like a dirty word, a slur — “private” or “introverted” seem much fairer ways to describe someone than a word that suggests agoraphobia — but that’s how many would describe artists ranging from Emily Dickinson to Marcel Proust, Harper Lee to J.D. Salinger.

I'd been aware that Watterson doesn't ever give interviews, doesn't go to comic conventions, doesn't license his intellectual property to movie studios or toy manufacturers. But I'd never really thought about what that meant for him.

Watterson's sense of principle and integrity is such that the image of the tens of millions of dollars he would earn by selling out was overshadowed by the idea of allowing others, motivated solely by greed, to be involved in the creative process for Calvin and Hobbes.

“I’m convinced that licensing would sell out the soul of ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’” Watterson said in the same article. “The world of a comic strip is much more fragile that most people realize. Once you’ve given up its integrity, that’s it. I want to make sure that never happens.”

Some fans do not quite understand this, or are unaware of it, and will drive past his home, or try to find him at a library he probably frequents. However, this documentary film maker is completely on board and didn't even attempt to contact Watterson in making a film about the strip.

How rare an individual is Bill Watterson? I have to say I greatly admire his lack of greed, his foresight, and his ability to stick to his guns decades after making a difficult decision. If you have time, I recommend reading the commencement address he gave to his alma mater, Kenyon, back in 1990.

Finally, an online comment someone made about the feature:

It says a great deal about the morality and obsessions of our times that we treat as odd a man who, in an age of attention and cash mega-whores, has staunchly maintained his ethical stance and only wishes to be left alone to enjoy his life out of the spotlight.

Well said. Fight on, Bill.

26 January 2013

January thoughts

- BYU's 2012 football season felt like a failure. To have an excellent defense (Oregon State and Notre Dame notwithstanding) and a terrible offense was very frustrating. It often seemed the team was a decent quarterback and a mediocre offensive line away from 10 wins, but when James Lark is probably your best quarterback and the O-line is dealt six season-ending injuries, reality sets in. Here's hoping the big boys up front can put together a good year in 2013, and Taysom Hill develops his arm. I think Hill can be a lesser version of Colin Kaepernick or Johnny Manizel when all is said and done.

Oh, and Kyle Van Noy is ridiculous.

-Speaking of those guys, holy cow are they the best running quarterbacks I've ever seen. Amazing speed and quickness, but their ability to complete long passes is really what makes defenses throw up their hands in  frustration.

-BYU basketball is simply not great this year. Good, not great. Brandon Davies is a disappointment, frankly, as his weaknesses in strength and speed have not improved much at all over last season. And Tyler Haws, while able to drop 40, has consistency issues to the point that he went 0-9 against Gonzaga earlier this week. When these two are your best players, fans really shouldn't make any plans for the Final Four. Or Final 64.

-The gun control debate rages on. I believe gun ownership is like car ownership. Both are tools which can be used for good purposes or destructive, murderous ones. But as long as someone isn't mentally imbalanced and passes a few tests, they can drive a car. The same should go for using a gun.

-The Jazz need to trade Al Jefferson as an expiring contract. His defense is soft and his offense is not dominant, as against great teams he folds quickly. Shooting 5-14 last night against the Lakers, when 90% of his shots are within 10 feet of the hoop is embarrassing. He doesn't rebound and he's a black hole on offense. The Jazz are better without him. If they can turn him into a piece they need before losing him for nothing this summer, I'll be ecstatic.

And if they re-sign him this offseason? I'll be speechless.

-On that note, Coach Corbin needs to play Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter a lot more. They show flashes, and Kanter, especially seems to be improving. But this team is not great. Let's allow the kids to figure out how to play against real competition. This will either speed up their progress and make them focal points of the team, or eventually reveal they are busts and not worthy of their original draft status. Either outcome is fine with me. This limbo, however, is not.

-I'm watching the final season of Fringe, which is the only show I've ever followed live, from the pilot to the finale. Everything else I've ever started watching two or three or six seasons in, or lost interest after following it from the start. The weird thing is that Fringe isn't even super amazing. It has some good characters and interesting storytelling, but it definitely has some big weaknesses, as well. Go figure.

-I'm currently waiting on the remaining parts for a new computer I'm building to be delivered. It's my first build in eight years, so I'm pretty excited. I went middle of the road on parts; an i5 instead of an i7, a 1 terabtye hard drive instead of 2 or more, etc. Still will be a major upgrade over the $350 Compaq I bought in 2009. Woohoo!

-I attended Mandi's latest opera production last night with my sister Amy. It is Florencia en el Amazonas, a relatively new production that premiered in Houston in 1996. Modern opera has a reputation for being weird, and Florencia did not disappoint. The performances were mostly impressive, and the main storyline was interesting enough, but I felt like most of the characters were shallow and certain plot elements were lazily constructed. Overall, it is always good to get some culture, and the Utah Opera is a good place to get it.

-I have no idea who will win the Super Bowl. I've picked against the Ravens for their last two playoff games, but they manage to pull off wins despite having what I think are an overrated defense and quarterback. That said, Joe Flacco has shown he has the guts and ability to throw deep, and in today's NFL, that's something of a rarity. On the other end, the aforementioned Kaepernick is a marvel, but he's a second-year player and this is his first rodeo. I expect the aging, sneaky Ravens defense to account for his running and do enough to confuse him in the passing game to slow the 49er offense down. Baltimore 24, San Francisco 21.