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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursday Trivia: Most Played Opponent

Thank you to everyone who participated in last week's question: "What football powerhouse backed out of a visit to Provo for the 1996 season?" Two responders had the correct answer: Alabama. One even had a link to The New York Times announcing when this match up was scheduled. BYU did eventually play Alabama in 1998. I find it significant that the 1996 game did not happen. If BYU had a win against Alabama (10-3, 2nd in the SEC), rather than Arkansas State, on its resume, it would have been nearly impossible for the Bowl Alliance to keep BYU out of its bowl games.

Moving on, BYU will play Utah State for the 80th time this Friday. The only team that BYU has played more than Utah State is, of course, Utah (85 meetings). With that said, this week's trivia question is:
After the two in-state rivals, what school has BYU played the most in football?
Leave your answer in the comments section. Come back next week when the answer is revealed and a new trivia question is asked.

More trivia questions can be found on the Trivia page.

For the results of last week's opinion poll, click here.
For this week's Flashback, click here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Flashback: Curtis Brown Runs Wild In Wild BYU Comeback (2002)

Brigham Young Cougars true freshman running back Curtis Brown ran for 217 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries in the biggest comeback win in BYU football history. In 2002, all of Cougar nation was stunned to see BYU trailing Utah State 34-7 at halftime in a Friday night game played in Logan, Utah. Curtis Brown had played well in the first half rushing for 100 yards and scoring BYU's lone touchdown. He also had a 45-yard reception that got BYU into scoring position on another drive.

The tide turned in the second half when the BYU defense shutout Utah State, and the offense started finishing drives. Curtis Brown ran for two more touchdowns in the third quarter to make it a game again. BYU used some trickery to score its fourth touchdown on a pass from wide receiver Toby Christensen to Jason Kukahiko. With 6:46 to play, BYU completed the comeback with an 18-yard scoring pass from Bret Engemann to Gabriel Reid. In just over 23 minutes, BYU scored 28 unanswered points to take a one point lead, 35-34. The defense stopped Utah State's final two drives to preserve the win.

Curtis Brown only ran for 82 more yards on 39 carries the rest of 2002. On this night, however, he carried the BYU offense. He played well when the others did not, and he provided a spark that set the whole team on fire.

More flashbacks can be found on the Flashbacks page.

For the results of last week's opinion poll, click here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Poll Results: How many total yards will J.J. DiLuigi have at the end of the year?

This poll resulted in a tie. Both 1,200-1299 and 1,400-1499 yards received 30% of the votes. The next highest vote getter was 1,300-1,399 with 20%. The remaining 20 percent were split 15 and 5 for 1,500-1,599 and 1,600+, respectively.

With one more game in the books, DiLuigi is on pace for 996 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards. That would be 1,596 yards. Those projections are based on a 12 game season. If BYU makes it to a bowl game, then those stats would be included as well.

Thank you to everyone who voted. Don't forget to vote in the new poll: When will Jake Heaps have his first 300 yard passing game?

Monday, September 27, 2010

One Wild Week for the Brigham Young Cougars

It’s time for a little Monday Morning Quarterback, Brigham Young Cougars edition. This MMQB likes to stretch the field, so we won’t just look back at last Saturday’s game. Let’s go long, real long, and break down the past week.

Quarterbacks
The BYU quarterback race finally ended Tuesday, September 21, 2010, when the school announced that “Riley Nelson will have surgery to repair a shoulder injury suffered Saturday during the Florida State game and will be out the remainder of the 2010 season.” The week wasn’t without good news for Nelson. That same day, BYU also announced that the junior quarterback was named to the 2010 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

Jake Heaps is not only the undisputed starting quarterback, but he is THE quarterback. No more rotating every series. Three games into his career everyone is looking to him to take an offense that is on life support and turn it into a feared beast. A tall task, but that is exactly why Heaps came to BYU.

Coaching
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall is no stranger to criticism, even with a 50-18 career record. The back-to-back losses and the two QB system made Mendenhall a target for criticism this year. Fans and some media outlets found something else to jump on this week: his reaction to Riley Nelson’s injury. Mendenhall was painted as a partisan coach who could only praise Nelson as he ignored Heaps. He delegated the responsibility to inform Heaps that he would be the unquestioned, full-time, starting quarterback to the assistant coaches. There were even rumors that Bronco promised Nelson a significant role in the offense next year.

I dug a little, and Bronco did have plenty of positive things to say about Nelson. That is understandable. A good coach should like his players and want to give them props during a difficult time. I can’t substantiate the rumor about Bronco promising Nelson a role as a quarterback next year. The closest thing I found was this from the Deseret News: “‘I think he wants to come back and I think he wants to play here and I think he wants to play quarterback,’ Mendenhall said. ‘That's what I'd like to see happen as well.’” 

As for giving Heaps the cold shoulder, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Bronco did praise Heaps. From the same Deseret News article, I found this: "Who knows whether he's prepared or not? It's a freshman playing football. If there's anyone that is prepared, his experience to this point has led to me feeling very comfortable. I believe in his potential. It's just a matter of catching up on experience and playing football. He's very capable. It's just going to be decision-making, experience, execution, and just playing ball."

Another criticism about Coach Mendenhall is that he gives preference to older, more experienced players over younger, more talented players. I think that even those criticizing Mendenhall understand the value of experience, just as much as they understand the value of talent. Bronco appears to be extremely concerned about the culture of the program, and he would rather err on the side of caution and play an experienced player who will preserve the culture of the program, than play a talented phenom and risk losing that culture and identity.

I support Bronco ardently protecting the culture of BYU football, but I understand the critics. It seems paradoxical that a coach who thought he could make a two QB system work would think that he couldn’t preserve the team’s culture by playing talented young guys that HE recruited. By insisting on not playing younger players, even if they are the best player at their position, are you admitting that you recruited the wrong guys? Did you compromise your standards to land these talented players hoping that two years in the program would change them?

Suspension
Wednesday, September 22, 2010, Bronco Mendenhall apprised the public that wide receiver O’Neill Chambers was suspended from the team for two weeks. This suspension could not have come at a worse time for Chambers. Not only will he miss playing in two games, he is not allowed to practice with the team. For someone looking to have a breakout year and be a major contributor, this is a huge blow. With Heaps moving to the starting role and getting all the practice reps, Chambers might find that he gets fewer looks from the quarterback when he does return. The offense is looking to establish an identity and for each player to fit the needed roles. How does an invisible receiver get a role?

Future Schedules
BYU inked a deal to play the West Virginia Mountaineers in 2016 at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. The game will be played September 24 and, most likely, will be broadcast on ESPN. I like this game for two reasons.

First, it is not on Labor Day. After Florida State nearly lost to a FCS team following a Labor Day loss in 2009, and Virginia Tech actually losing to a FCS team following its Labor Day loss to Boise State this year, I don’t want BYU to be part of any Labor Day games. Even though it is the same as playing a Saturday game followed by a Thursday game the next week, the Monday to Saturday cycle seems to be very problematic for losing teams.

Second, I like BYU’s chances. West Virginia is a top tier Big East team that plays very well in bowl games, which sounds a lot like Utah. Regardless of the season, I have always felt that BYU could beat Utah. Beating West Virginia should be as much of a challenge as beating Utah. Hopefully, a win will get BYU the same national respect that Utah got this year by beating Big East favorite Pitt.

The Game
Oh, yeah, BYU did play football this week. If you want a game day recap, click here. My Monday morning analysis is that although 1-3, BYU is in a better position. The offense and defense showed signs of life in the second half. Nevada’s only score came on a 21-play drive—and that only resulted in a field goal. Late in the fourth quarter the defense did not pack it in as a loss; they kept fighting. Vic So’oto intercepted the ball deep in Nevada territory to keep the outcome in question for a few more minutes. However, the defense did suffer a blow losing nose tackle Romney Fuga for the season. Jake Heaps started to find a rhythm as he made multiple connections with McKay Jacobson and Cody Hoffman. Receivers were still droping passes, however, and the tight ends weren’t involved. Another week of practices and the offense should be pretty cohesive, which might do the trick this week for BYU to win game five.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Game Recap: Nevada Wolf Pack 27, Brigham Young Cougars 13

The Brigham Young Cougars fell to 1-3 for the first time in five years. Nevada was nearly unstoppable in the first half putting up 24 points and gaining 293 yards. The Cougar defense clamped down in the second half and held Nevada to 107 yards and three points. The inexperienced BYU offense was unable to move the ball and put enough points on the board to win this game. This was most painfully evident after a Vic So'oto interception in the fourth quarter, deep in Nevada territory, when a touchdown would have made it a one score game. Four plays and -5 yards later, and Nevada had the ball back.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Andrew Rich's fumble recovery in the first quarter that set up BYU's only touchdown.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Andrew Rich, 14 tackles (9 unassisted), one fumble recovery

As for what I was watching, here is what I saw:

  1. How will Jake Heaps play in his first start? I give Heaps a B. He had not interceptions and no fumbles, and he guided the offense to more points than he has in any other game this year. However, Heaps is still missing open receivers and his yards per completion is still way to low (less than 10). He also needs to improve his execution at key moments (3rd down, red zone).
  2. Who will help Heaps? J.J. Di Luigi was slowed by a minor injury, but he still contributed 67 yards on the ground and caught 8 passes for 56 yards. Cody Hoffman and McKay Jacobson caught four passes each, which helped the wide receivers to have their best game since the opener. Several passes were dropped, however, and the tight end position was still MIA.
  3. Who will step up on defense? Andrew Rich had 14 tackles and forced a fumble that set up BYU's only touchdown. Vic So'oto had the aforementioned interception. The defense still needs to stop opponents on 3rd down.
  4. Will the stories off the field be a distraction? No. BYU lost because they were out played. Nevada executed well on offense, and the Cougar O was plagued by the same problems that have haunted them the last three games.
Other observations from the game:
  • BYU must start executing better on offense. We are seeing that it is true, BYU has talented players, but all their talent is meaningless without execution. Eliminating the dropped passes, the bad passes when receivers are wide open, and the failure to convert on third down will drastically change the outcome of games.
  • No turnovers. I am choosing to "accentuate the positive" from this game. With all the time the offense did not execute, they still executed well enought to not turn the ball over. Avoiding turnovers is always important.
  • BYU tied Nevada in the second half (3-3). Air Force outscored BYU 14-0 and Florida State did 21-0 in the second half. BYU even outgained Nevada in total yards, 211-107.
  • Nevada "only" rushed for 239 yards. That is below the 271.7 yards that BYU gave up the first three games, and significantly less than the 302 yards that Nevada averaged coming into this game. 
NEXT: at Utah State
DATE: Friday, October 1
TIME: 6:00 PM (MDT)

For this week's Reaction to the Rankings, click here.
For the results of last week's opinion poll, click here.
For this week's Flashback, click here.
For this week's Trivia question, click here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Game Preview: Brigham Young Cougars vs. Nevada Wolfpack

The Brigham Young Cougars’ game against the Nevada Wolf Pack has taken on new dimensions that were unimaginable two months ago. At the end of July, the Nevada game represented a run-of-the-mill non-conference game for BYU. Since then, three things have happened.

First, news broke that BYU would leave the Mountain West Conference and join with the WAC in all sports except football. Nevada, one of the key players in the arrangement, quickly jumped ship to the MWC before the BYU-WAC deal could be finalized. Nevada and Fresno State’s departure from the plan put the brakes on the deal and eventually BYU did leave the MWC, but for the West Coast Conference, not the WAC.

Second, BYU fans all figured that this year would have some drop off, but no one thought the pass happy Cougars would average a measly 155 yards passing in their first three games. Coaching decisions and player dissensions have cast a cloud over the possibility for BYU to turn things around.

Third, Nevada has started the year 3-0 highlighted by last week’s 52-31 mauling of the Cal Bears. Nevada hasn’t won 2, let alone 3, of their first three games since the 2004 season. The Wolfpack is 5th in the nation in rushing yards per game, while BYU is giving up 271.7 yards rushing per game.

This game could be a defining point of the season for BYU. The Cougars are still trying to find an identity. Dropping to 1-3 and all the wheels could come off. Evening up the record at 2-2 with a win will mean that BYU was able to contain an explosive offense while finding some offensive rhythm.

Things to watch for:

  1. How will Jake Heaps play in his first start? He played most of the downs against Florida State, and with Riley Nelson out for the season with a shoulder injury, this is now Jake Heaps’ team. This is a huge burden for a true freshman, but it is one he has been preparing for.
  2. Who will help Heaps? Besides J.J. Di Luigi, both quarterbacks have had very little support. The offensive line, the tight ends, and the receivers have been major disappointments this season. BYU needs some guys to step up, now.
  3. Who will step up on defense? A few players have accumulated a nice number of total tackles (Andrew Rich-33, Jordan Pendleton-25, Shane Hunter-23), but a tackle 8 yards down the field doesn’t mean very much. More turnovers, third down stops, and some sacks/tackles for loss would be nice. Free safety Steven Thomas will the game, and Brian Logan could as well.
  4. Will the stories off the field be a distraction? BYU did well in game one to not be distracted by the news of BYU declaring independence. This week O’Neill Chambers was suspended, Bronco Mendenhall was scrutinized, and one more big game was scheduled for the future. The Chambers and Mendenhall stories hit closer to home than the independence story did. This is a great time for the team to build character.
All-time series: BYU leads 4-1-2
Last: Nevada won 31-28 (2002)
Streak: Nevada won 1

KICKOFF: 4:00 PM (MDT)
TV: The Mtn.
RADIO: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, www.ksl.com

For this week's Reaction to the Rankings, click here.
For the results of last week's opinion poll, click here.
For this week's Flashback, click here.
For this week's Trivia question, click here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday Trivia: 1996 Schedule

Thank you to everyone who participated in last week's question: "The capacity of LaVell Edwards Stadium is the ___ largest in the nation?" One respondent had the correct answer: 37. LES was number 36 when the capacity was 65,000, but the reduction to 64,045 a few years ago puts LES below Heinz Field (64,450) where the Pitt Panthers play.

With all the new scheduling that has been happening with BYU announcing independece for football, this week's trivia will be schedule related.
What football powerhouse backed out of a visit to Provo for the 1996 season?
Leave your answer in the comments section. Come back next week when the answer is revealed and a new trivia question is asked.

More trivia questions can be found on the Trivia page.

For this week's Reaction to the Rankings, click here.
For the results of last week's opinion poll, click here.
For this week's Flashback, click here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Flashback: Ryan Hancock to the Rescue (1992)

The Brigham Young Cougars were replacing Ty Detmer, the winningest quarterback in BYU history, in 1992. The season started out well with a win in the first game against UTEP. Week 2, BYU lost to a conference foe--San Diego State. The third game was against a nationally recognize program (UCLA), and it was a tough loss for the Cougars. Starting quarterback John Walsh injured his shoulder and was out for the year. Going into game four, BYU was 1-2, and by game's end it was another close loss, but Cougar fans had hope. Ryan Hancock, a baseball player with a 90+ mile per hour fast ball, brought BYU back from a 29-10 fourth quarter deficit to take a 32-29 lead. A BYU turnover cost the Cougars the game, but Ryan Hancock was all the rage. He finished the game 20-33, 383 yards, and 2 TDs.

Hancock went on to finish 1992 with a 7-1 record as a starter, highlighted by a 30-17 win over nationally ranked Penn State on Halloween. He led BYU to a 35-0 win the following week, BYU's first shutout since 1988. He guided BYU to a 31-0 lead going into the fourth quarter against Utah. BYU finished the year as co-champions of the WAC.

Poll Results: The biggest reason BYU lost to Air Force was

The results for the latest poll were evenly split. Poor coaching had the highest percentage of the vote with 35%. No passing game was second with 28%, followed by Inexperienced players at 22%. Turnovers was last with 15%.

Thank you to everyone who voted. Don't forget to vote in the new poll: "J.J Di Luigi has 409 total yards through 3 games. How many will he have at the end of the year?"

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reaction to the Rankings, Week 3

At this point, it is futile to discuss the rankings, from a BYU standpoint. Therefore, the reaction to the rankings feature will be suspended until the rankings are relevant for BYU football. I will still provide something on Monday's each week, and it won't just be filler material. If you haven't seen it already, read today's post The BYU QB Conundrum.

If you still want to discuss the rankings in general, you can visit my Top 25 on College Football Haven.

The Brigham Young Cougars Quarterback Conundrum

The Brigham Young Cougars quarterback situation has evolved from being undecided after fall camp to a dilemma after game one, and to a controversy after game two. After game three, the QB situation is now a conundrum. Neither Riley Nelson nor Jake Heaps has outplayed the other and made an overwhelming case to be the one, as Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall has said he was waiting for.

Depending on which fan you talk to, the decision is easy. They know who they want to play quarterback. For the coaches, it is not so simple. Deciding on a starting quarterback is always difficult because the quarterback is the most important player on the team. In this particular case, the decision is more convoluted due to BYU’s offensive identity, the youthfulness of Jake Heaps, the lack of offensive chemistry, the mixed results through three games, and the only real success coming against Washington.

Identity
For nearly 40 years, BYU has been Quarterback U. The only times that BYU has known success is when they passed the pigskin. Why mess with a good thing, right? Riley Nelson puts that identity in jeopardy. He has a better running ability than most former BYU quarterbacks. A mobile quarterback isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just look at Tim Tebow, Donovan McNabb, and Steve Young. It is fine if Nelson tucks the ball and runs about 10 times a game, and it is always good if defenses have to prepare for another dimension. The problem with Nelson is that he hasn’t been able to show that he is capable of being molded into a proficient passer. When option pitches and designed QB sprint outs and draws start to become a staple of the offense, BYU is in trouble.

If Nelson running the ball is such a problem, then the decision is easy, right? Just play Heaps.

Youthfulness
Heaps isn’t a sure fire winner either, at least not this year. Heaps is a true freshman, and true freshmen don’t have a very good track record of success. Tate Forcier only won 5 games at Michigan last year. Jimmy Clausen only won 3 games at Notre Dame in 2007. Matt Barkley led USC to a 9-4 record last year, which by USC standards was a disappointing year. Redshirt freshman have been successful, such as Kellen Moore at Boise State, Colt McCoy at Texas, and Sam Bradford at Oklahoma.

Heaps has had some flashes of greatness, but he has also had moments where he looks like a freshman. In the Florida State game, he needed to put some touch on a screen pass on third and goal. Instead, he rifled the ball to the back who was unable to adjust to it and BYU had to settle for a field goal. On the opening drive of the second half, BYU faced third and short. Heaps overthrew an open receiver on a short pass that would have picked up the first down. Those are freshman mistakes. Do we have to wait for Heaps to be a sophomore for those mistakes to go away, or will he have a shorter learning curve?

Before the season started, the majority seemed to be saying, “I want the quarterback that will win the most games to play this year.” While Heaps may be destined for a great BYU career, the odds are stacked against him this year.

Results
The coaches do have some results to draw on now, something that they didn’t have in fall camp. Unfortunately, the results don’t indicate a clear leader. If anything, the results favor Nelson.

Stats
Nelson: 20-40, 205 yards, 2 TD, 1 Int (31 rushes, 148 yards, 1 TD)
Heaps: 30-60, 260 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int (7 rushes, -55 yards)

Points
Nelson: 4 TD drives
Heaps: 3 FG, 1 TD

When Nelson got all the reps in the second half against Air Force, the offense was terrible. If Heaps had gotten all the reps, I don’t think the results would have been any worse. Conversely, Heaps played most of the Florida State game this week. He got 10 points and the offense had less than 200 total yards. Continuing the “what if” game, if Nelson had played, he probably could have gotten 10 points as well.

The hardest part of using the results of each quarterback to name a starter is that they are not playing in a controlled environment. Quarterbacks depend on their supporting cast for success. The entire BYU offense has had issues this year.

Offensive Chemistry
Simply put, there is none. The two strengths of the BYU offense were supposed to be the offensive line and the wide receivers. The last two games, the O-line has been out played. They gave up eight sacks. BYU’s last four drives against Florida State ended the same way: a sack. If the offensive line is going to play this bad all year, it might be better to let Nelson take the beating and protect Heaps. At least Nelson might be able to scramble and avoid a loss.

The wide receivers are completely missing in action. Cody Hoffman is the only one to have caught a touchdown, and he is a new guy. Veterans like McKay Jacobson, O’Neill Chambers, and Luke Ashworth are struggling to get open, and when they do break free they drop the passes thrown to them.

Tight end has been the most consistent position at BYU the last 30+ years. Even though BYU has no returning tight ends, the talent level at this position is off the charts. This year, they have been non-existent. Freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and return missionaries have stepped in and played the TE spot well for BYU in the past, why not this year? The situation is so bad that the coaches even resorted to using Chambers in a flex end spot.

Are all these problems a result of practice reps being split between two quarterbacks with different playing styles? Or, are the quarterback problems a result of a poor supporting cast?

Washington
Washington is still Washington. At least they have one win this year. Nebraska showed us just how bad they are this last weekend. Besides Washington being a bad team, the Huskies are also Jake Heaps’ hometown team. Football players often play better when the stakes are raised. For Heaps, the stakes were very high in this game. Not only was he playing in his very first college football game, he was doing it against the hometown team that he spurned to come to Provo. He had a lot to prove to the critics back home. Did all of this compound so that Jake’s play against Washington was an aberration, or will he play better in many more games this year? Hard to say at this point, but it could be something the coaches are considering.

The Decision
The coaches should be worrying a lot about the quarterback position this week. As we can see, the success of BYU football is tied to the success of the quarterback. Neither quarterback has played well when he has gotten consecutive series. Nearly all of BYU’s offensive success has come using the two QB system alternating every series. Instability at the QB spot doesn’t bode well for BYU, either. Just look at 1997 and 2000.

The decision is still the same as it has always been: who will win more games for BYU in 2010? I am not sold on either quarterback. If Nelson can be a more typical BYU quarterback I think I would go with him, but I have not seen that yet from him. He resembles Lance Pendleton more than Brandon Doman at this point. With Heaps, my reservation is that he is just a freshman. If he starts to get all the reps in practice will he beat the odds for freshman success? Will the offensive chemistry issues be solved? Most importantly, will more points be put on the board?

The coaches truly have a conundrum at the quarterback spot. As I have said all along, how ever the QB battle ends, the coaches need to stand by it. They have three options: Nelson, Heaps, or use both and alternate every series. This is the time to pick one and stick with it for the rest of the year. Each option will have its good times and bad times, but consistency will help to maximize the good and minimize the bad.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Game Recap: Florida State Seminoles 34, Brigham Young Cougars 10

The Brigham Young Cougars had lost to the Florida State Seminoles by an average of 22.3 points in their three previous meetings. That differential was maintained Saturday as Florida State pulled away in the second half for a 24 point win. After two early turnovers, BYU was able to recover from a 13-0 deficit to make this game interesting when freshman quarterback Jake Heaps threw his first career touchdown pass with only a few seconds left before halftime. The second half was an encore performance of the second half a week before at Air Force. Florida State dominated both sides of the ball as they turned a close and competitive game into a route.

The offense and defense both looked pretty good in the second quarter. The defense was getting stops and the speed of the Seminoles didn't seem to be a problem. The offense started to move the ball effectively moving the ball, getting first downs and scoring 10 points. The momentum was squarely on BYU side when the two teams went into the locker room.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Jake Heaps' first career touchdown pass. A four-yard throw to Cody Hoffman in the back of the end zone with 14 seconds to play in the first half.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: J.J Di Luigi, 18 carries, 93 yards; 3 receptions, 36 yards

As for what I was watching, here is what I saw:
  1. How will BYU respond to losing at Air Force? BYU responded pretty well. There were no noticeable signs that BYU was lingering on that lose.
  2. Will BYU stop the run? That's an easy question. No. Florida State rolled up 278 yards with a 6.3 yards per carry average.
  3. How will the quarterback reps be managed? Riley Nelson did start, but after he threw an interception on the fourth play of the second quarter he never came back on the field. It looks like the coaches are going to tolerate fumbles a lot more than interceptions. Each time a quarterback has thrown an interception, he has missed the rest of the game. Many people are assuming that Jake Heaps is the starter now, but I wouldn't be surprised if Riley still starts next week. Heaps did not light it up, and it is possible that Nelson could have directed two scoring drives. Nelson's added speed might have helped him avoid some of the sacks that Heaps had to take. I am, actually, surprised that Nelson did not come in for one or two "situational" plays in the second half to slow down the FSU pass rush.
  4. Can BYU shut down another Heisman Trophy candidate? The good news is that Christian Ponder did not have as good of a game as he did last year. However, he still had a good game passing for 149 yards on 14 of 21 throws. He also racked up 50 yards rushing on 11 carries.
  5. Will Florida State’s speed be a problem? Yup. Part of FSU's excellent run game was due to the Seminoles beating BYU to the corner and outrunning slower BYU defenders. The speed on defense was also a problem as the pass rush disrupted far too many second half drives.
  6. What will happen if BYU falls behind? We have to give BYU credit for maintaining their composure the first time they fell behind. Down 13-0 in the second quarter, BYU dug a little deeper and turned it back into a game. In the second half, when BYU fell further behind, they didn't seem to concede the victory to Florida State as much as they did to Air Force last week. However, I think BYU could have played with more pride and not have gone down without one more score.
Other observations from the game:
  • J.J. Di Luigi is our best skill player. The more touches he can get the better. The offense needs to be designed around him this year. The drop off between Kariya and him was painful to watch. J.J. was able to gash the Seminoles and quickly make it to the second level. A passing game that gets the ball to Di Luigi in space and allows him to make a move will be the best way to open up the receivers and tight ends.
  • Matt Reynolds will be back for his senior year. I can't imagine him being a first rounder after the way he, and the entire, o-line played. They gave up 8 sacks. Each of the last four drives (every drive in the second half except the first one) ended with a sack. Better protection and BYU doesn't lose as bad, and, possibly, even has a shot to win at the end. 
  • The worst play call of the game was to go long to McKay Jacobson on 2nd and 4 on the second play of the third quarter. That was going away from what worked at the end of the first half. That opening drive stalled (3 and out) and all of BYU's momentum was lost. 
  • The tackling was terrible in the second half. Over and over again, Christian Ponder was able to run out of tackles for loss. Florida State running backs were breaking 3 or 4 tackles almost every play. BYU was doing well to be in position to make a play, they just didn't make it. Maybe it was just the speed issue, but I don't want to wait one or two weeks to find out. The time to address the tackling is now.  
NEXT: Nevada
DATE: September 25, 2010
TIME: 4:00 PM (MDT)

For this week's Reaction to the Rankings, click here.
For the results of last week's opinion poll, click here.
For this week's Flashback, click here.
For this week's trivia question, click here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Game Preview: Brigham Young Cougars vs. Florida State Seminoles

The Brigham Young Cougars and the Florida State Seminoles face off Saturday in a game where each team is looking to bounce back from ugly, early season losses. BYU should come into this game very focused and with plenty of motivation. Air Force exposed many weaknesses in this young BYU team. That game made it painfully clear that the Cougars must be 100% focused and give 100% effort in every practice and game this year if they are going to come remotely close to the success of previous seasons. Nothing can be taken for granted.

Focus and effort should not be a problem for BYU on Saturday. Florida State embarrassed BYU last year at home. However, the Seminoles will be just as focused this Saturday as they were for last year’s game. In 2009, Florida State had played poorly in a win against FCS foe Jacksonville State the week before the BYU game. This year, Florida State played poorly in a blowout loss to Oklahoma. Any hopes that Florida State might overlook BYU due to the ease of the win last year have been greatly diminished.

BYU is going to have to play their “best game of the season” to win on Saturday. They cannot be intimidated by their opponent, or by the environment. They will need to execute flawlessly. A lot will depend on the coaches. Not only do they need to have a great game plan ready, they need to be ready to provide leadership and guidance to this young team. Guidance and leadership that will give their players the confidence they need to confront any of the challenges, expected or unexpected, that they may face in this game.

Things to watch for:
  1. How will BYU respond to losing at Air Force? BYU can bounce back with more motivation and determination, or they can be miserable and depressed. When BYU lost games last year, the team moved on quickly and bounced back with strong performances. That, however, was a veteran team. The year before, 2008, BYU struggled to return to the same form after losses.
  2. Will BYU stop the run? We all remember last year. Florida State came into Provo and ran right through the BYU defense for 313 yards. How could we forget last week, either? BYU could not contain Air Force, and the Cadets piled up 409 yards on the ground. The run defense was even suspect against Washington in the season opener with Washington running back Chris Polk averaging nearly 6 yards on his 16 carries.
  3. How will the quarterback reps be managed? What we do know about the quarterback play this week is that Riley Nelson will start. Bronco Mendenhall has said that the coaches do plan to move away from alternating Nelson and Jake Heaps every series and start using a situational rotation.
  4. Can BYU shut down another Heisman Trophy candidate? BYU put the clamps down on Washington’s Jake Locker in the season opener, and some were calling for an end to his hype as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder in on many people’s Heisman watch lists. While his campaign took a hit last week, he looked like a Heisman candidate when he played BYU last year. Disrupting Ponder’s timing in the passing game and limiting his ability to make plays with his legs will be crucial for the Cougars.
  5. Will Florida State’s speed be a problem? BYU showed that by executing and playing assignment sound football, they could neutralize an opponents speed advantage when they played Oklahoma to start 2009. Two games later against Florida State, the Seminoles’ speed was problematic. Nothing has changed this year in the overall team speed of either team.
  6. What will happen if BYU falls behind? Last week, the young and inexperienced Cougars panicked when Air Force took a 7 point lead into the locker room at the half. If BYU trails at the half, or gets into a big hole before halftime, will BYU maintain their composure?
All-Time Series: Florida State, 3-0
Last: Florida State, 54-28 (September 19, 2009)
Current streak: Florida State won last 3

KICKOFF: 1:30 PM (MDT)
TV: ESPNU
RADIO: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, www.ksl.com

For this week's Reaction to the Rankings, click here.
For the results of last week's opinion poll, click here.
For this week's Flashback, click here.
For this week's trivia question, click here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thursday Trivia: LaVell Edwards Stadium

Thank you to everyone who responded to last week’s trivia question, “How many times has BYU had a perfect conference record (no losses, no ties)?” Two anonymous responders got the answer right: 7 (1979, 1983, 1984, 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2007). However, as one of the responders pointed out, in 1974 and 1991 BYU had no losses in conference play with one tie.

This week the Brigham Young Cougars go on the road to Doak S. Campbell Stadium—home of the Florida State Seminoles. With a capacity of 82,300, it is the 14th largest college football stadium. LaVell Edwards Stadium has a capacity of 64,045, and the question for this week is:
The capacity of LaVell Edwards Stadium is the ___ largest in the nation?
Leave your answer in the comments section. Come back next week when the answer is revealed and a new trivia question is asked.

More trivia questions can be found on the Trivia page.

For this week's Reaction to the Rankings, click here.
For the results of last week's opinion poll, click here.
For this week's Flashback, click here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Brigham Young Cougars 2 QB System: A Rousing Success?

The Brigham Young Cougars suffered an ugly loss last Saturday to the Air Force Falcons. It is easy to look at what happened in Colorado Springs and call BYU's two quarterback system a failure. In fact, many are doing just that. However, after letting the emotions subside and reassessing the results of this system thus far, it is far from failing.

We can all agree that the two quarterback system was a success in game one against Washington. The offense gained 408 total yards, scored 21 points, and the quarterbacks combined for a modest 131.5 pass efficiency rating. The points and total offense in this game were better than all other season openers under Bronco Mendenhall, except the 2008 opener against Northern Iowa.

Game two against Air Force, the two quarterback system was not the major failure that many people have said it was. Before forming any opinion or any judgment on this system based on game two, it is crucial to remember that BYU only employed the system in the first half. In the first 30 minutes, BYU had 216 yards of total offense and 14 points. That is 3 more points than the offense produced in game one against Washington, and about the same number of yards (226). In the second game of 2007, BYU only had 182 yards of total offense and 3 points in the first half. The BYU offense fell apart in the second half when BYU used one quarterback.

It is true, BYU turned the ball over three times in the first half against Air Force, including one turnover apiece for the quarterbacks, but that is not enough negative results to erase all the positive results and label the two quarterback system a failure. Yes, each possession is more important against Air Force because of the time they run off the clock using the option, but let's be reasonable. We all knew that BYU would have turnovers this year. All of the great, and not so great, BYU quarterbacks have fumbled and thrown interceptions. I would venture that BYU has had at least three turnovers in the same game hundreds of times, and those were games with a one quarterback system (BYU had 3 against Air Force in 2009). Even with the first half turnovers, BYU went into the locker room down by only 7 points. BYU has overcome seven point deficits many, many times, including the season opener against Washington. There was no need to panic.

BYU had weathered the storm of the three turnovers. They had the half to regroup and come back out in the second half the same way they started the game. Now, I wasn't in the locker room. I wasn't on the sideline. I don't know what happened or what was said, but, in my opinion, the loss to Air Force was not a result of the two QB system. It was a result of inexperienced players overreacting to the miscues, and poor coaching that did not help the young players see that they were outplaying a very motivated Air Force team, that this game was still very winnable, and that they should have stuck with the game plan--particularly the two QB system.

Scrap the two QB system? Not yet. It has worked. Go ahead and start Riley Nelson for the Florida State game, but don't give him more than half of the offensive series's.

For this week's Reaction to the Rankings, click here.
For the results of last week's opinion poll, click here.
For this week's Flashback, click here.

Flashback: Brigham Young Cougars 50, Washington State Cougars 36 (1990)

September 15, 1990-Twenty years ago, today, the Brigham Young Cougars made one of the greatest comebacks in school history. Ty Detmer had led BYU to an impressive upset of the then #1 ranked Miami Hurricanes just one week before. BYU had moved into the top 5 of the AP poll, but in the first half of this game it was the Cougars from Washington State that looked like the elite football team. It was a classic case of a let down after a huge win.

BYU was down 29-7 at halftime. In the thrid quarter, the BYU defense held Washington State scoreless, but the offense still didn't have much life, managing only 7 points. Still down 15, with 15 minutes to play, Ty Detmer did what Heisman Trophy winners are supposed to do: he took control. He guided BYU to three more touchdowns for a 36-29 lead. The lead did not last long as Washington State quickly tied the score with a 7-yard touchdown pass. Detmer was unfazed. He took BYU down the field to regain the lead on a Peter Tuipulotu 22-yard run, and then for insurance, BYU tacked on 7 more with a Stacey Corley 5-yard run. In the final quarter, BYU scored as many points as Washington State did the entire game.

Detmer ended the day 32-50 (64%), for 448 yards, with 5 TD passes. Running back Matt Bellini had 121 yards receiving on 10 reception, and Andy Boyce added 113 yards on 6 receptions. BYU overcame three turnovers.

To read other BYU football flashbacks, visit the Flashbacks page.

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For the results of last week's opinion poll, click here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Brigham Young Cougars: 2007 vs. 2010 (Week 2)

Continuing the comparison of the 2007 Brigham Young Cougars and the 2010 team, here is how they stack up after two games.

2007: 1 win, 1 loss
2010: 1 win, 1 loss
On paper, the win-loss records are the same. However, the feeling is very different. In 2007, BYU fell short in a comeback attempt against the then #13 UCLA Bruins. This year, BYU blew an early lead and turned in one of the worst overall performances in the Bronco Mendenhall era.

2007: Total yards-827
2010: Total yards-717
After a fairly even offensive output in game one, the 2007 team out gained the 2010 team by 126 yards in game two (435 to 309).

2007: Passing yards-679
2010: Passing yards-350
Max Hall threw for 391 yards and two touchdowns in game two, which is 41 yards more that BYU has through two games this season. In fact, the 2007 team was only 21 yards shy of doubling the 2010 pass production.

2007: Rushing yards-148
2010: Rushing yards-367
The one advantage that the 2010 team has on the 2007 team is rushing yards. J.J. Di Luigi broke the 100 yard mark in game two and has 172 yards on the season. That is 24 yards more than the entire 2007 team after two games. Riley Nelson, the second leading rusher this year, has 140 yards (8 yards less than the 2007 team).

2007: Tight end production-15 receptions, 213 yards, 1 TD
2010: Tight end production-6 receptions, 90 yards
The 2007 tight ends broke loose in game two, combining for 9 receptions and 147 yards. BYU 2010 needed that kind of a game from the tight ends on Saturday. Instead, all they got was a 13 yard catch by Mike Muehlmann.

The numbers speak for themselves. The different feeling in 2010 can be attributed to the lack of offense. In 2007, the team still had a robust offense after two games. Last Saturday, the 2010 offense appeared to be on life support. The top offensive priority has to be finding a passing game. BYU would be better off if Riley Nelson had 140 more passing yards, as opposed to 140 rushing yards to compliment his 204 passing yards. Effective tight ends will help, but they are not mandatory, if the receiving corps can step up. In the end, the good news is that Saturday was only one game. BYU 2010 still has the same record as BYU 2007. BYU 2010 has more work to do, but a good season is not out the window yet.

Week 1 Comparison

For this week's Reaction to the Rankings, click here.
For the results of last week's opinion poll, click here.

Poll Results: How confident are you that BYU will beat Air Force?

At the time of kick off the poll results were: 38% said they were 90-100% confident that BYU would win; 36% said they were 80-89% confident; 18% said they were 67-79% confident; 7% said they were 50-66% confident; and 1% said they were 0-49% confident. Unfortunately, we were overconfident. Thank you to all who voted.

Don't forget to vote in the new poll. We are sticking with the Air Force theme: "The biggest reason BYU lost to Air Force was."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reaction to the Rankings, 2010, Week 2

Following the Brigham Young Cougars 35-14 loss to the Air Force Falcons, BYU dropped out of the USA Today poll. BYU was also eliminated from every AP voter's ballot. It looks like Air Force picked up BYU's 30 points, and then some, in the AP poll. BYU still has 17 points from the coaches, which is good enough for the 37th spot.

I am not going to make any defense for BYU to still be ranked, because there is none. The overall team youth was exposed on Saturday. BYU was still in a great position to comeback and win after the two second quarter turnovers. However, it was clear to anyone watching the game that BYU hit the panic button at halftime. The offense and special teams were abysmal the entire second half, and the defense caved in after stopping Air Force's first two second half drives.

Anyways, back to the rankings. When could BYU re-enter the rankings? Even a win over Florida State this week probably won't get BYU back in. The Seminoles are not ranked in either of the polls, but they do have more votes than BYU. Perhaps after Nevada, assuming BYU is 3-1, but that would probably depend on some of the teams ahead of BYU losing. If BYU comes out of the first four games 2-2, then BYU will not see the rankings again unless they move to 5-2 with an upset of TCU, or 9-3 with a win over Utah. Anything less than that and BYU will probably see the four year run of being ranked come to an end.

What's your reaction to the rankings?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Game Recap: Air Force Falcons 35, BYU Cougars 14

The Brigham Young Cougars came out strong to lead 14-7 after one period of play. Then the wheels came off. Air Force tied the game at 14 early in the second quarter. A Riley Nelson fumble and a Jake Heaps interception on back-to-back possessions in the middle of the second quarter gave Air Force all the momentum. Before these two turnovers, BYU had 216 yards of total offense. The Cougars only gained 93 yards in the last 35 minutes of play.

The ineffectiveness of the offense and poor punting in the second half is to blame for the loss. The defense didn't play a perfect game and has to improve, but they did make Air Force punt to start the second half and then intercepted a pass on Air Force's next possession. If the offense had scored on either of its first two possessions of the second half, then this would have been a different game. When Riley Stephenson shanked two consecutive punts (1 yard and 12 yards) to start the fourth quarter, BYU was officially out of the game.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Shane Hunter's interception with 7:25 to play in the 3rd quarter.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: J.J. Di Luigi, 7 rushes, 103 yards, 1 TD; 3 receptions, 25 yards

As for what I was watching for, here is what I saw:

  1. What surprises will Air Force have? Air Force did use some different formations to run its traditional option offense, which could explain some of the Falcons' success. Other than that, Air Force did not do anything out of the ordinary.
  2. Are BYU's young tight ends ready? No. They were pretty much nonexistent. Mike Muehlmann had the only reception for this position for 13 yards.
  3. Will the quarterback rotation be any different? After rotating Nelson and Heaps every series in the first half, Nelson took all the snaps in the second half. That was a bad coaching decision. Nelson was just as much to blame for the offense slowing down in the second quarter. Then, even after Nelson was completely ineffective to start the second half, Heaps didn't get another opportunity to do something. This disruption to the quarterback rotation might have made the situtation worse. When the coaches decided that something different had to be done with the quarterbacks, that sent a message to the players that something is wrong and BYU was going to have to do something unusual to win.
  4. Will the wide receivers have a breakout game? No. The passing game was atrocious. The wide outs only had 4 of the 10 receptions for 45 of the team's 88 passing yards. When BYU was making one final push for a comeback, O'Neill Chambers dropped a pass in the end zone.
  5. Will BYU avoid injuries? Several players were shaken up during the game: McKay Jacobson, Andrew Rich, Steven Thomas, Romney Fuga, and Matt Reynolds. They all appear to be fine, but linebacker Brandon Ogletree did not. He spent the second half on the sideline in his warm ups. No word yet on whether he will be back next week.

Here are some other things I saw:

  • BYU needs a pass game. As if history hasn't made it clear enough, today's game should. Even with a 100 yard rusher and a quarterback gaining 95 yards on the ground, BYU only scored 14 points. Turnovers did have something to do with it, but BYU could have overcome those turnovers if the passing game was the offensive focus. BYU only had 3 yards passing in the second quarter and 4 yards in the third quarter. That is not acceptable at Quarterback U.
  • Di Luigi's fumble at the goal line hurt, but it was not crippling. BYU came back with a touchdown on its next drive, but it was the other two turnovers that really did BYU in. It is impossible to say how a 21-7 first quarter lead would have changed the game. Assuming that BYU still self destructs in the second quarter, the 7 extra points would not have made much of a difference.
  • Wind was a factor in the kicking game. During the Las Vegas bowl last year, Riley Stephenson was able to effectively punt into the wind. Why not today? With the wind in his face during the fourth quarter, Stephenson recorded 13 yards total on TWO punts.
NEXT: at Florida State
DATE: September 18, 2010
TIME: 1:30 PM (MDT)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Game Preview: BYU Cougars vs. Air Force Falcons

The Brigham Young Cougars (1-0) play the Air Force Falcons (1-0) this week in a game that has all the makings of a spoiler. It is no secret that Air Force wants to win the BYU game as much, if not more, than the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Throw in the fact that BYU has won the last six games, that this is BYU's last year in the Mountain West Conference, and that BYU embarrassed Air Force's very good pass defense last year, there is no doubt the Falcons will be out for blood this week. Air Force just might have what it takes, too, with all of its offensive production from 2009 still on the roster this year. The other ominous sign for BYU this week is that 4 out of BYU's 6 losses to Air Force have come in games played in September when BYU has been breaking in a new quarterback.

The outlook isn't all bad for BYU. The last time, and only time under Bronco Mendenhall, that BYU played Air Force in September with a new starting quarterback was 2007. The result: A 31-6 victory. Air Force also has the challenge to replace all five starters on the offensive line. Cornerback Reggie Rembert was injured in the season opener and odds are he will be out this week. Rembert, a senior, has started since he was a freshman. The Air Force defensive line appears to be a weakness that BYU can exploit with its very good offensive line. In the end, the deciding factor will be the BYU defense. If the new guys up front can play solid and follow their assignments, this game should not be any different than the last six. The BYU offense appears capable of scoring enough points for an easy victory.

Things to watch for:

  1. What surprises will Air Force have? Air Force will pull out all the stops. I fully expect passing plays and other offensive tricks to try and jump on top of BYU early and make the young BYU quarterbacks have to dig out of a deep hole. The surprises won't be limited to offense either. Air Force had a vanilla pass rush last week. That won't be the case in game 2.
  2. Are BYU's young tight ends ready? The size advantage that BYU has on Air Force usually means a big game for the Cougars' tight end(s). Will BYU be able to continue this with a handful of freshman playing at this spot?
  3. Will the quarterback rotation be any different? The even split last week between Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps rotating every series was a general approach to this unknown situation. Now that the coaches understand what each player can do a little better, do the coaches see a different way to rotate them that might be more productive?
  4. Will the wide receivers have a breakout game? The wide outs were expected to be the bulk of the production in the passing game this year. They certainly have the most experience of the BYU skill positions. Against Washington, however, wide receivers only accounted for 92 of BYU's 262 passing yards, and neither of the two touchdown passes were to wide receivers. 
  5. Will BYU avoid injuries? Ross Apo injured his finger during practice this week. With a big game against Florida State next week, BYU will need everyone healthy to face the Seminoles who have lost a lot of players to injury and off the field issues.  
All-time Series: BYU, 24-6
Last game: BYU, 38-21 (2009)
Streak: BYU won last 6

KICKOFF: 2:00 PM (MDT)
TV: Versus
Radio: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, www.ksl.com

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thursday Trivia: A Perfect Conference Record

Thank you to everyone who gave a response to last week's question: What is BYU's highest preseason ranking ever? There were some good answers, but no one had the right answer. BYU's highest preseason ranking ever was number 10 in 1985.

This week, BYU plays its first conference game in its last season before going independent. With that in mind, the trivia question this week is:
How many times has BYU had a perfect conference record (no losses, no ties)?
Leave your answer in the comments section, and come back next Thursday when the answer is revealed and a new trivia question is asked.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Flashback: LaVell Edwards' 50th Win

Brigham Young Cougars Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall notched his 50th career victory last Saturday against the Washington Huskies. This week, we are flashing back to LaVell's 50th win, November 11, 1978: BYU 21, San Diego State 3.

Weather conditions (snow) made it difficult for the BYU offense. BYU gained only 180 yards on offense (eight sacks by San Diego State also brought this number down). However, BYU's two quarterback system was effective enough for 21 points. The defense made sure those 21 points were enough for the win. They limited San Diego State to three points by forcing six fumbles and recovering three of them. While getting win number 50 was huge for Coach Edwards and BYU (he was the first coach in BYU history to reach this milestone) this win was significant for other reasons. It gave BYU their third consecutive WAC championship and gave BYU the right to play in the inaugural Holiday Bowl.

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Reaction to the Rankings, Week 1, 2010

The Brigham Young Cougars climbed into the USA Today Top 25 this week claiming the number 24 spot. Having been three spots outside the rankings in the preseason, BYU was poised to join the ranks after three teams dropped from the rankings. BYU has a fairly comfortable cushion on South Carolina (#25) with 23 points separating them, while only 15 points separate BYU and Arizona (#23). This ranking represents a lot of respect. Arizona and South Carolina won their games big (41-2 and 41-13, respectively), and South Carolina is an SEC team. True, their competition wasn't as good as Washington, but I still think it says a lot. They could have kept Pitt in the rankings (they lost to another ranked team) or voted another "name" team in (Notre Dame or Stanford).

The media (AP) poll didn't have the same movement. After starting the season with 19 points, the win over Washington helped BYU collect 30 points this week. The 30 points puts BYU in a tie with Arizona as the teams with the 32nd most points (BYU was 34th in the preseason). As I stated previously, the media is, historically, harder to impress (in this specific case, it makes me wonder how much they have bought in to the Locker for Heisman campaign). Of course, a few more wins and the media and coaches will probably be on the same page.

What is your reaction to the rankings?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Poll Results: BYU's 2 Quarterback System is

This poll has closed, and 61% said that BYU's two quarterback system is the best option at this time. "A good idea" received 8% of the votes, and "A bad idea" received the other 31%. Thank you to all who voted.

Don't forget to vote in this week's poll: How confident are you that BYU will beat Air Force?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Brigham Young Cougars: 2007 vs. 2010

The Brigham Young Cougars faced many of the same challenges coming in to the 2010 football season as they did in 2007. Coming off an 11-2 season, BYU opened the season at home against a Pac-10 team. The Cougars had to replace their three year starting quarterback, their all-time leading rusher, and their all-conference tight end. This has been pointed out by many already. Now that one game is in the books, let's compare how the first game went in 2007 and 2010.

2007: BYU 20, Arizona 7
2010: BYU 23, Washington 17
The important thing here is that BYU won in both 2007 and 2010. BYU did limit Arizona to less point in 2007, but that team did have less to replace on defense.

2007: Total yards-392
2010: Total yards-408
Just as the team scored slightly more in 2010, the offense had slightly more yardage on Saturday.

2007: Passing yards-288
2010: Passing yards-262
Max Hall threw for 26 more yards three years ago than Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps did combined. Hall was more accurate (26-39) than BYU's two QBs on Saturday (24-40). With each averaging about 11 yards per completion, the greater accuracy in 2007 is the reason for the difference.

2007: Rushing yards-104
2010: Rushing yards-146
BYU ran for much more yardage in this year's season opener. The clear difference being Riley Nelson. In 2007, Hall had 4 yards rushing. Nelson had 45. Harvey Unga and J.J. Di Luigi had comparable stats. Unga had 15 carries for 67 yards. Di Luigi had 13 carries for 69 yards.

2007: Tight end production-6 receptions, 66 yards (Dennis Pitta, 4-33; Vic So'oto, 2-33)
2010: Tight end production-5 receptions, 77 yards (Richard Wilson, 3-45; Mike Muehlmann, 1-15, Marcus Mathews, 1-17)
Once again, production was similar. While 2007 had more receptions, 2010 had a better average yards per reception. The only real difference is that Pitta had a touchdown reception. Wilson almost had one.

While it is just one game, the 2010 offense has the potential to be just as good as the 2007 offense. The real difference between 2007 and 2010, thus far, is the defense. BYU only allowed 255 yards total offense (32 rushing) in 2007, while the D surrendered 394 (128 rushing) to Washington on Saturday. That doesn't come as a shock. As stated earlier, the 2007 defense did not have as many holes to fill as the 2010 defense. The other key difference is the opponent. Washington (31 rushes, 39 passes) was a more balanced pass-run team than Arizona (19 rushes, 38 passes). The biggest question, though, is whether Washington will be better than Arizona (5-7) was that year? In three more months we will have answers for all these questions.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Game Recap: BYU Cougars 23, Washington Huskies 17

Bronco Mendenhall rotated Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps every series in the Brigham Young Cougars season opener. This two quarterback system produced 408 yards total offense and 23 points, which was good enough for a win against the Washington Huskies. Each quarterback directed two scoring drives. Two touchdowns for Nelson; two field goals for Heaps. They both benefited from the services of J.J. Di Luigi. The junior running back was the team's leading rusher and receiver.

The new BYU defensive front made a good first impression. Up against the very athletic and hyped Jake Locker, they limited Locker to 29 yards rushing on 11 carries. The secondary played well also. Locker only completed 54% of his 37 passes for 266 yards. Washington running back Chris Polk was able to rush for 92 yards on 16 carries.

BYU also benefited from a safety as a result of a bad snap over the punters head in the first quarter, and from not turning the ball over.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Riley Nelson to J.J. Di Luigi 48-yard touchdown pass for the winning score.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: J.J. Di Luigi, 13 carries, 69 yards (5.3 yards per carry); 4 receptions, 83 yards, 1 TD (152 total yards)

As for what I was watching for, this is what I saw:

  1. How will BYU's two quarterbacks play? Riley Nelson had a very good game. His pass efficiency was 168.26. He completed 64.7% of his passes and added 45 yards rushing on 8 carries. Nelson also scored on a two-point conversion. Jake Heaps looked very good on his first scoring drive. Overall you can't ask for much more from a true freshman. His numbers weren't as good as Nelson's, but some perfectly thrown passes were dropped by receivers. The two quarterback system passed its first test. The offense does need better rhythm, but I couldn't tell if the changing of quarterbacks hurt the offenses rhythm or if it was just that this was a season opener with new players at the skill positions.
  2. Will the defensive front seven contain Jake Locker? Yes. His longest run was 9 yards and he only averaged 2.6 yards per carry. They did force Locker to beat BYU with the pass, and he was not able to do it. 
  3. Is having a great offensive line all it is cracked up to be? It was for this game. For the offense to amass 408 yards of total offense with new quarterbacks and running backs, the offensive line deserves a lot of credit. BYU averaged 4.4 yards per carry, and Washington never sacked the quarterback. 
  4. How many freshman will see the field? My count was 10. Jake Heaps, Kyle Van Noy, Joshua Quezada, Cody Hoffman, JD Falslev, Richard Wilson, Austin Holt, Zac Stout, Marcus Mathews, Mike Muehlmann.
  5. Will the announcement this week that BYU football will go independent next year affect this game? No, and I didn't expect it to. It isn't really the type of thing that 18-24 year olds get wrapped up in. They would much rather play a game then pontificate about future scenarios. 
  6. Will Bronco Mendenhall get win number 50? Bronco won game number 50 only 65 games into his career. Needless to say, that is the fastest any BYU coach has reached number 50, and brings his winning percentage to 77%.
Here are some other things I saw:

  • O'Neill Chambers is still fumble prone. Chambers has a lot of positives, which is why he has been on the field a lot since he was a true freshman. He only has one drawback, really, but it is a big one. While Washington didn't recover a Chambers fumble tonight, it is like playing with fire. Eventually, you will get burned.
  • BYU missed a field goal early, before the safety. This is important because it shows that the safety wasn't a momentum changer that explains how BYU won. The offense already showed that it could move the ball and BYU didn't need a fluke play to play on the same level as Washington.
  • Brian Logan dropped a sure interception late in the second quarter. The next play Washington kicked a 54-yard field goal as the half expired. I have noticed a trend over the last several years that whenever a BYU defensive player drops a possible interception the opposing team scores a touchdown on that same possession. Had it not been for the half ending, I would expect Washington to score 6. Mechanically, the difference between the player making the interception and dropping the ball is very small, but the end result in huge.
  • The defense held Washington scoreless in the second half. Replacing 6 of the defensive front 7 has been overshadowed by the offense replacing the entire backfield, but the new defensive players are just as important to the team success this year as the offensive replacements. The scoreless second half is a very good sign that this defense will be very good, and that they are adapting well. 
NEXT: at Air Force
DATE: September 11, 2010
TIME: 2:00 PM (MDT)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Game Preview: BYU Cougars vs. Washington Huskies

The Brigham Young Cougars will kick off the much anticipated 2010 season Saturday against the Washington Huskies in Provo, Utah. This game has many sub plots that will impact what will happen on the field. The last time these two teams met, the game ended with BYU blocking an extra point attempt with one second left after a controversial penalty on Washington quarterback Jake Locker. That blocked extra point gave BYU the victory. Since that game in early 2008, Washington hired Steve Sarkisian, former BYU quarterback, as head coach. Washington and BYU also went head-to-head in 2009 recruiting super prep Jake Heaps. Heaps chose the Cougars over his home town Huskies, and he is expected to play in this game--his first collegiate game.

Additional history makes this game more intriguing. Coming off their most successful season in over a decade, BYU opened the 1997 season at home against Washington. It was the year after Sarkisian graduated, and BYU had two quarterbacks battling for the starting spot. The competition was very close and both quarterbacks ended up playing. The result was an embarrassing 42-20 loss. The 2009 campaign was BYU's most successful in over a decade. Max Hall just graduated and the top two candidates to replace him are expected to play.

Then again, the saying goes that when two teams get on the field, all the history disappears and it is only the present that matters. At present, Washington has a quarterback that many believe is the best in the nation. Washington has Chris Polk at running back, fresh off a 1,000 yard season. Sarkisian took Washington from 0 wins to 5 wins in his first season, and everyone is filled with optimism for year two. The Huskies are poised for a break out year.

BYU, on the other hand, is replacing one of the nation's best quarterbacks from 2009, as well as a 1,000 yard rusher and almost all of the front seven on defense. What BYU lacks in experience they make up for with talent. The new players have more talent than BYU is accustomed to having. However, BYU does have experience where it may matter most: the offensive line and the defensive secondary.

This game should be a hard fought game that goes down to the wire.

Things to watch for:

  1. How will BYU's two quarterbacks play? Riley Nelson is making his starting debut at BYU, and Jake Heaps is making his collegiate debut. They will split time guiding the offense. Apparently, each quarterback has his own play packages tailored to his strengths.
  2. Will the defensive front seven contain Jake Locker? Locker gave the BYU defense trouble in 2008 running for 62 yards and 2 touchdowns while passing for 204 yards and one TD. Two years later, BYU is much more athletic up front. With the secondary being the strength of the defense, forcing Locker to try and beat BYU with the pass would be a huge accomplishment.
  3. Is having a great offensive line all it is cracked up to be? BYU may have its best offensive line of the Bronco Mendenhall era this year. That is comforting with Max Hall and Harvey Unga gone. Last year, the offensive line was a big part of the opening game upset against Oklahoma. Many experts feel that teams can get by with inexperience at running back and quarterback if the offensive line is strong. Saturday is our first chance to put this theory to the test.
  4. How many freshman will see the field? Quarterback Jake Heaps probably won't be the only one. Kyle Van Noy, Joshua Quezada, and Zac Stout all figure to get reps as well. What about Ross Apo, Cody Hoffman, and JD Falslev?
  5. Will the announcement this week that BYU football will go independent next year affect this game? This was definitely a distraction for fans and the media this week. What really matters for the players is the game on the field. Let's hope they have kept their heads in the sand on this issue.
  6. Will Bronco Mendenhall get win number 50? Bronco is 49-15 in five years at BYU. A win in the opener will give him an even 50 wins.
Kickoff: 5:00 pm (MDT)
TV: CBS College Sports Network
RADIO: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

For this week's Reaction to the Rankings click here.
For the results of last week's opinion poll click here.
For this week's flashback click here.
For this week's trivia question click here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thursday Trivia: BYU and Preseason Rankings

Here is the first edition of Thursday Trivia. While BYU is not ranked to start the 2010 season, BYU has been ranked in the preseason AP poll 11 times. The trivia question is:
What is BYU's highest preseason ranking ever?
Leave your answer in the comments section, and come back next Thursday when the answer is revealed and a new trivia question is asked.

For this week's Reaction to the Rankings click here.
For the results of last week's opinion poll click here.
For this week's flashback click here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Flashback: BYU 31, Washington 3 (1985)

September 14, 1985-The Washington Huskies came to Provo in a clash of the 1984 number 1 and 2 teams. It was the first meeting ever between these two schools. BYU jumped out to a 17-3 first half lead. The Cougars tacked on two more touchdowns in the second half for insurance.

The defense was the story of the day. Jason Buck and Kurt Gouveia led the defensive unit that forced five turnovers (3 fumbles, 2 interceptions). They also made two fourth down, goal line stands.

Quarterback Robbie Bosco didn't have one of his better games throwing two interceptions, but a strong run game kept things in BYU's favor. Lakei Heimuli ran for 112 yard on just 18 carries (6.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.

You can watch the full game here.

The Brigham Young Cougars are Officially Football Independents

The Brigham Young Cougars officially announced their departure from the Mountain West Conference (MWC) on August 31, 2010. This resignation will be effective June 30, 2011, and a news conference is scheduled for September 1, 2010 at 12:00 PM (MDT). BYU will be independent for football and all other sports will go to the West Coast Conference (WCC), with the exception of track and field, swimming and diving, and softball. While my August 28 prediction ended up being wrong about where the other sports would go, I like the move to the WCC for the scheduling freedom it will provide for football.

Two weeks ago, I called myself a fence sitter on this issue and would support whatever direction BYU followed. That is still true. I support this move, 100%. I also pointed out four major risks with BYU going independent. With the end result now known, it is possible to access how BYU handled these risks.

Finding a home for BYU's other sports
It is clear that the WCC was plan B and the WAC was plan A. The only drawback to the WCC, in this respect, is that track and field, swimming and diving (go figure, it's the West Coast Conference), and softball won't have a league to compete in. This is not so much of a problem for track and field and swimming and diving. These sports are not as dependent on conferences to schedule meets and give athletes opportunities to qualify for the NCAA championships. I have no answers for what softball can do. Maybe the WAC is still an option, or softball will have to drop to division 1-AA status. I don't know how it all works. When weighing everything, softball does very little to tip the scales either direction when overall exposure for the school is the main objective.
GRADE: B+

Scheduling Twelve Games Every Year
A few years down the road, I think this issue will turn out to be one of the easier aspects of being an independent. The best part of going to the WCC is that BYU will have no contractual obligation to schedule WAC teams. That was going to be a sticking point for me if the original deal went through. However, in a worst case scenario, it appears BYU can use WAC teams as a fall back to fill remaining holes. I think several MWC teams will still want to have BYU on the schedule, too. I still like my 3-3-3-3 plan (3 MWC, 3 Pac-10, 3 Big XII, and 3 East schools). Specifically, I would like to see the following:

Play TCU and Air Force annually.
A regualr home-and-home series with Notre Dame.
Utah State can replace a MWC team, sometimes. Maybe a rotation of two years on, two years off.
Continue to play Utah annually in November.

I haven't seen any schedules yet, but I won't be surprised if they are a little WAC heavy the first few years. They will balance out in future years to be nationally respectable.
GRADE: A-

Losing Access to Bowl Games
The WAC agreement would have taken care of this nicely. BYU was guaranteed one of the WAC's bowl spots if BYU had a better record than the third best WAC team. BYU might announce a bowl agreement at today's press conference. I am sure several bowls are interested in an agreement with BYU, but existing contracts may prevent them from locking up BYU immediately. Until then, BYU will probably get into one of the MWC bowls in 2011 since the conference won't have enough bowl eligible teams, and then when Fresno State and Nevada move over to the MWC in 2012, the WAC will probably not fill all its bowls, and BYU will slide in there. While not ideal (I would prefer the Holiday Bowl or Sun Bowl) it is a start.

The bigger issue with bowls is BCS money and BCS access. BYU will lose up to a couple hundred thousand dollars annually by not being part of a conference that has agreed to the BCS. BYU will not be guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl unless it qualifies for the national championship game. However, I believe the BCS will not pass over a BYU team ranked in the top 10. Just as the BCS invited Boise State as a second team from a non-AQ conference last year, the BCS will invite BYU if BYU's ranking justifies it. Fortunately, there has been enough progress the last 10 years that the BCS will at least do this.
GRADE: B

Identifying a new television partner
BYU appears to have a contract in place with ESPN for BYU home games. The revenues from this agreement should far exceed the $1 to $1.5 million that BYU receives annually in the MWC. I expect more information on this at the press conference. ESPN has usually given BYU the right to rebroadcast games on BYUTV. Any game that ESPN does not choose to broadcast, BYU will show on BYUTV.
GRADE: A+

Overall, this is still a work in progress. The initial reaction from the BYU camp should be positive, but BYU has no time to rest. The first few years will be the most important. Everyone will be watching. Perform well and even greater things will come. Perform poorly and BYU will still be exposed, but not exactly as they originally intended.