BYU vs. Hawaii: Five Game Observations

The defense was stellar once again and the offense got back on track in the Brigham Young Cougars’ 47-0 thumping of the Hawaii Warriors. Many questions were answered in this game, but with a few injuries on the Cougar sideline, there are some more questions that loom for next week’s game against the Utah State Aggies. 

1. Riley Nelson or Taysom Hill?

Hill got the call and answered it. He was 12 for 21 passing for 112 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.  Not a bad night for his first start. He got the BYU offense rolling for the first time since the Weber State game. If there was a game to break in a new quarterback, this was the game for it. Hawaii’s defense was sub-par and was good for Hill to get some reps and run the offense.

Now the question is will Bronco stay with him for next week? It all depends on Nelson’s health. In his post game press conference, Bronco said Nelson is his guy as long as he’s healthy, "If Riley is capable and ready to play, then he will be our starter," Mendenhall said. "The biggest decision is going to be how Riley is feeling."

I think Cougar fans all liked what they saw from Hill and can feel confident in having a solid replacement if needed.

2. Whoever plays quarterback, will they throw the ball?

Brandon Doman had a good balance of passing and running. While there was more running than throwing, the passing game was at least there. Hill made some good plays with his arm, especially early on. Doman called some short passes to get Hill’s confidence up and it seemed to work. As the game went on, Hill made some plays a little deeper. There was the one interception on a deep ball early on. Those short passes and screens are what Hill does well, as it opens up the field for him a lot. And as the passing game improved, it really opened up the running game.

3. Will the offensive line show up?

With two new offensive linemen in the starting lineup, and Braden Hansen moving over to center, the offensive line looked really good. They definitely helped the run game this week, as BYU outgained Hawaii 396 yards to just 41 on the ground. BYU even had 400 before its final running play of the game, a loss of four by David Foote. Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams had 143 and 155 yards on the ground, respectively, making it the first time the Cougars have had a rusher go over 100 yards in a game since Josh Quezada in the 2010 New Mexico Bowl. Last night, the Cougars even had two.

Hill was full of praise for the offensive line after the game. In the post game press conference he said the reason the offense was able to do all it did was because of the offensive line.

"I felt the difference from last week to this week was the toughness the offensive line had," Hill said. "They were getting to the linebackers and sealing those guys. It allowed us to make some big runs. Anytime we can put up numbers like that, it's great.”

The toughness of Famika Anae even injured a few Hawaii players. Although you never like to see guys get hurt, no matter what team they are on, the toughness of the offensive line is something that has been lacking, and was good to see last night.

Mendenhall also praised the line, and accredited much of the improvement to just switching up the lineup. 

“The shuffling at offensive line produced a culture change that I think was strong and apparent to me,” he said. “Famika Anae really did a nice job out there. [He was] super physical. Braden Hansen brought his poise and experience to the center position and then Solomone Kafu and Manaaki Vaitai stepped in and did a nice job. It was nice to see those guys hungry and eager."

Once again, Hawaii’s defense is not at the same level as Utah’s or Boise State’s, but the line probably learned some good things and should hopefully be ready for Utah State next week.

4. How many points can the offense score against a weak Hawaii defense?

Not quite as many as Nevada scored against the Warriors last week (69), but well above the season average (25.5), and above the season high (45 against Weber State). The best part about it was they scored early. For the first time this season, the Cougars scored on their opening drive. With the way the BYU defense is playing, scoring early and putting Utah State in a hole could be all BYU needs next week.

5. Mendenhall announced that Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah is the injured Eathyn Manumaleuna’s replacement. What will he do with the opportunity?

Ziggy is bringing NFL scouts to the game and to practice all on his own. Now with added playing time, his draft stock is continually rising. Last night he had five tackles, 0.5 for loss. He was a big part of why the defense held Hawaii scoreless for the first time since 1998. He also had a near touchdown, but the play was ruled down before the Spencer Hadley fumble. “They ripped me off,” he said after the game, half smiling half serious, on what he thought when they took his touchdown away. The only thing Ziggy needs to work on though is his touchdown celebrations. He looked in shock when he landed on the ball in the end zone. Other than that, he made the most of his opportunity as a starter. Hopefully he gets another chance to find himself in the end zone this season, and can improve in that one aspect.

One other observation I had was Jamaal Williams has amazing potential. This is probably obvious to everyone who has watched the start to his season, but the way he runs reminds me a lot of LaMichael James, who played for Oregon and is now a running back in the NFL. He is patient, waits for holes to open up, and then his first step is so quick he can power through those holes. When he gets into the open field he makes people miss.

Bronco also had praise for the 17-year old running back. “Jamaal has a great vision. He is a great athlete and we have seen all of that in practice. He made the most of his time. It was fun to see him.”

Williams made the most of his opportunity, even without knowing the extent of Michael Alisa's injury. "I didn’t know that Mike was really injured, so when they told me, I knew I had to step up," he said. "Whether that meant carrying the ball or blocking for Taysom, I had to step up."

As sad as it is to see Alisa hurt, Cougar fans can feel confident in Williams, even if he is young.

"I’m learning to mature fast through this," he said. "There are always jokes on the side that I can’t sign for myself and that my parents have to pay for me, but its okay.”

The game answered a lot of questions for me and I think for a lot of other BYU fans. We’ll see if the answers are the same next week as Cougars take on a very hungry and very good Utah State team.

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