Brigham Young Cougars 2011 Position Grades

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Position grades are part 2. If you missed part 1, you can click here.


Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps combined to pass for over 3,100 yards and 28 touchdowns. They both passed for over 300 yards in a single game once. Nelson finished two games with a pass efficiency rating over 200 (204.97 vs. Utah State, and 229.18 vs. Idaho State). The 229.18 rating was the twelfth best in BYU history. Nelson was a valuable contributor to the run game with 392 yards rushing.

The quarterback position did have its drawbacks. First and foremost, BYU had to change quarterbacks. Heaps never played well in a game for more than one half. Both QBs had some ugly turnovers in the three losses that can be linked to why BYU lost those games. The 3,100 yards and just two 300 yard passing games is very modest by BYU standards. The combined pass efficiency rating for Heaps and Nelson was sub 130, which is also sub par. Three times Heaps or Nelson completed less than 50 percent of their passes.

Heaps has now transferred and Nelson showed in the Armed Forces Bowl he still has lots of room for improvement.

Grade: B-
Nelson: 116-202 (57.4%), 1717 yards, 19 TD, 7 Int., 152.9 Pass Eff.
Heaps: 144-252 (57.1%), 1452 yards, 9 TD, 8 Int., 111.0 Pass Eff.
Totals: 260-454 (57.3%), 3169 yards, 28 TD, 15 Int, 129.6 Pass Eff.

Running Backs
As a team, BYU averaged roughly the same number of rushing yards per game this year as last (168.1 in 2010, 160.3 in 2011). BYU also had an identical 4.2 average yards per rush both this year and last. However, these figures for 2011 include 392 rushing yards (32.7 per game) from quarterback Riley Nelson. The BYU running backs clearly took a step back this year.

Once again, J.J. Di Luigi led the team in rushing yards, but his total yards was over 300 less than a year ago. Bryan Kariya and Joshua Quezada both topped 500 yards rushing a year ago. Neither one could top 300 yards this year. Not one of BYU’s four core running backs had a 100 yard rushing game.

Michael Alisa came along mid-season and provided a boost with 91 yards rushing against San Jose State. Before then, no running back had gained more than 56 yards in a single game. The jury is still out on whether Alisa is the long term solution.

Maybe Drew Phillips wouldn’t have been any better, but one can’t help but wonder how the rush attack might have been different had he not left school during the summer.

Grade: C
Di Luigi: 116 rush, 584 yards, 5.0 ave., 3 TD
Alisa: 85 rush, 455 yards, 5.4 ave., 3 TD
Kariya: 74 rush, 298 yards, 4.0 ave., 6 TD
Quezada: 86 rush, 298 yards, 3.5 ave., 1 TD
Totals: 361 rush, 1635 yds, 4.5 ave., 13 TD

Wide Receivers
The receiving corps made great improvements from a year ago. Cody Hoffman was the clear leader of this group. He is clutch. He is reliable. He is virtually uncoverable. Ross Apo had a solid freshman campaign. He finished with an impressive nine touchdowns, and he was making noticeable progress as the season concluded. JD Falslev was a pleasant surprise supplanting McKay Jacobson in the slot. Although Jacobson finished his career with his least productive season, he had two 40-yard receptions that directly shaped the success of this season.

The receivers can still improve their ability to get open against tight man-to-man coverage.

Grade: A-
Hoffman: 61 rec., 943 yards, 10 TD
Apo: 34 rec., 453 yards, 9 TD
Falslev: 31 rec., 330 yards, 2 TD
Jacobson: 25 rec., 323 yards, 1 TD

Tight Ends
The tight ends get a little bit of a pass due to all the injuries that occurred. The top three tight ends suffered season ending injuries at one point or another. Even though, this unit made great progress from a year ago. Austin Holt and Richard Wilson showed potential to be the next great tight end tandem in Cougar lore. Though still not a true tight end, Marcus Mathews was a reliable receiving option. He made a great heads up play to catch the winning touchdown against Utah State.

Notwithstanding the injuries, those further down on the depth chart stepped up. Four tight ends caught touchdown passes—Wilson, Mathews, Kaneakua Friel and Matt Edwards.

Grade: B+
Mathews: 27 rec., 299 yards, 1 TD
Holt: 11 rec., 180 yards
Wilson: 11 rec., 130 yards, 1 TD
Friel: 7 rec., 55 yards, 1 TD
Edwards: 1 rec., 9 yards, 1 TD
Total: 57 rec., 673 yards, 4 TD

Offensive Line
The offensive line did not live up to expectations. This unit is just as responsible as any for the slow start by the offense. They allowed only 17 sacks, but that is a little misleading. Jake Heaps was frequently getting rid of the ball early to avoid a sack, and Riley Nelson’s mobility enabled him to dodge defenders and make something positive even when protection was poor.

The line does deserve praise for helping the offense improve its 3rd down conversion percentage a full 5 percent this year to 51%. Lastly, hats off to Matt Reynolds for making the block of the year in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Grade: C

The offense only needed to make two or three more plays against both Texas and TCU to win those games. If that happens this would have been a completely different season.

Offense Grade: B


Defensive Line
The defensive line didn’t put up as big of numbers as last year (6.5 less sacks, 5 less pass breakups, 8 less quarterback hurries). That doesn’t mean these guys didn’t have a presence in the trenches. Without a versatile guy like Vic So’oto or Jan Jorgensen, the D-line had a different role this year than in years past. The nine players who rotated at the three down linemen positions played their role well. While they might have lacked versatility, these big bodies were nimble and could be seen chasing down ball carriers from sideline to sideline.

Grade: B+
Eathyn Manumaleuna: 33 tackles
Hebron Fangupo: 26 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 pass breakups, 3 QB hurries
Romney Fuga: 25 tackles, 2 TFL
Graham Rowley: 16 tackles, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 2 QB hurries
Travis Tuiloma: 12 tackles, 1.5 TFL
Matt Putnam: 6 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble
Simote Vea: 5 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 QB hurry
Jordan Richardson: 4 tackles, 0.5 TFL
Mike Muehlmann: 3 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks

The linebacking corps was the heart and soul of the defense. This unity was consistently making plays all over the field. This year they recorded more than double the number of sacks (8.5 to 17.5), quarterback hurries (9 to 20), and forced fumbles (3 to 10) from last year.

Depth proved to be essential among this group. Spencer Hadley stepped in admirably at Texas (12 tackles) when Brandon Ogletree missed the game due to a concussion. When Jordan Pendleton missed six games during the season, Jadon Wagner and Jameson Frazier were there to make sure the defense didn’t skip a beat.

Kyle Van Noy became the undisputed playmaker on defense. He led the team in tackles for loss, sacks, interceptions, interception return yards, and quarterback hurries.

Brandon Ogletree, despite missing one game, led the team in tackles. Uona Kaveinga forced four fumbles.

Grade: A
Ogletree: 76 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 int., 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble
Van Noy: 68 tackles, 15 TFL, 7 sacks, 3 int., 3 pass breakups, 10 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery, 3 forced fumbles, 1 blocked punt, 1 TD
Kaveinga: 57 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 pass breakup, 2 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery, 4 forced fumbles
S Hadley: 45 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 interception,
Wagner: 37 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble
Pendleton: 32 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 2 QB hurries,
Frazier: 27 tackles, 6 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 5 QB hurries, 2 fumble recoveries

Defensive Backs
Replacing three starters in the secondary led to occasional blown coverages and other concerns in the first half of the season. BYU had a 22 game streak snapped of not allowing a team to pass for 300 yards against UCF. True freshmen quarterbacks were making clutch plays on third down.

As the season progressed, secondary play improved. TCU passed for only 147 yards. Idaho managed to pass for 50 yards, but the starting quarterback had -6. New Mexico State loved to throw the ball and had plenty of weapons, but they only got 159 yards.

Junior College transfers Preston Hadley and Joe Sampson were welcome additions. Their play improved each week. Hadley and Corby Eason both had 14 pass breakups. Andrew Rich and Brian Logan combined for 15 last year. Sampson scored a touchdown on a fumble return and Daniel Sorensen returned an interception for a score. Travis Uale tied Kyle Van Noy for the team lead with three interceptions.

Everyone in the secondary was susceptible to getting beat for a big play. Games like Tulsa and UCF wouldn’t have been so close if the secondary didn’t have brief lapses in coverage. Utah was able to pick up momentum at the end of the second quarter and the start of the third quarter because of poor pass coverage.

Grade: B+
Sorensen: 61 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 int., 6 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD
P Hadley: 51 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 14 pass breakups, 1 QB hurry,
Uale: 49 tackles, 3 int., 4 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery
Eason: 46 tackles, 2 TFL, 14 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble
Sampson: 23 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 int., 3 pass breakups, 2 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD

Perhaps what is most impressive about the 2011 Cougar defense was that in over 800 plays from scrimmage, there are only about 10 that were bad plays. Several times the offense put them in a bad situation, and they routinely came out of that situation pretty well.

Defense Grade: A-


By the numbers, Riley Stephenson had another solid season. However, the miscues against TCU still sting.

Stephenson and the cover guys got off to a slow start. He averaged well below 40 yards per punt the first two games. Opponents had 64 return yards on two returns in those games. The other 10 games, the punt team excelled.

Punting directly led to wins over UCF and Tulsa. Several punts were downed inside the 10-yard line as a result of great hustle and good hang time. Only 12 of the 47 punts were returned.

Grade: B
Stephenson: 47 punts, 42.2 yard average, 20 punts inside the 20, 15 punts 50 yards or more.

Field Goals/Extra Points
Justin Sorensen was another player with high expectations. The strong legged high school All-American only connected on 60% of his field goal attempts. He finished the year making just six of his last 14 tries, however, none of the misses really had any impact on the outcome of the game. From 50 yards or longer, he was 0 for 3.

Sorensen did connect on 100% of his point-after-touchdown attempts, which isn’t as easy as it appears. Of the times that BYU place kickers have been perfect with the PAT attempts, Sorensen had, by far, the most attempts.

Grade: B-
Sorensen: FG—15 of 25 (60%), long 46, 1 blocked; PAT—48 of 48

For the fist time in 13 years, BYU had a kickoff returned for a touchdown. For the first time in five years, BYU had a punt returned for a touchdown. It was the first time in 15 years that BYU did both in the same season. Additionally, Cody Hoffman set a new school record for most kickoff return yards in a season. JD Falslev had two 22-yard punt returns in the bowl game. The second one set BYU up just 48-yards away from scoring the game winning points.

The only strike against the return teams is the two fumbled kickoffs. One was of little consequence (late in the Idaho State blowout), but the other (Utah game) had a huge negative impact.

Grade: A-
KO—Hoffman: 36 returns, 879 yards, 24.4 ave., 1 TD
Punt—Falslev: 22 returns, 220 yards, 10.0 ave., 1 TD

Special Teams Overall: B


The quality of coaching came into question several times this year. There were inevitable growing pains for the new coaches. While the growing pains were understandable, they don’t excuse every shortcoming by the coaches.

One coach who wasn’t experiencing growing pains was the head man Bronco Mendenhall. He devised some great defensive schemes that were well designed to stop other teams with the specific personnel BYU had. Mendenhall caught a lot of fire, however, over how he managed the team. The way he managed fall camp and the continuing pattern of his teams unraveling in big games drew the most criticism.

New offensive coordinator Brandon Doman struggled to make in game adjustments and keep the offense effective for four quarters. Ben Cahoon’s influence on the receivers had been good. Joe Dupaix faces a big challenge to get the running backs producing again. BYU’s leading rusher has not had less than 600 yards rushing since LaVell Edwards’ final season.

The offensive line needs better coaching. Someone needs to motivate them and get them playing with more passion.

Grade: B

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