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BYU Football 2011 Season Preview
It should be a great year as BYU embarks on its first season into independence. By my account there are five gimme wins on the schedule and seven tough games. Assuming BYU goes 4-3 in those tough games, they finish at 10-2. Assuming they go 3-4, it will be a 9-3 season. Ole Miss and Texas will be tough even if both programs are down right now. BYU plays Ole Miss during the hottest part of the day and one has to worry about fatigue in that humidity our players are unaccustomed to. Texas is Texas and is never an easy win on their home field. BYU has to come home with at least a split of those two games. I really like our chances this year against Utah, so I'm chalking that one up as a win. Central Florida is underrated and very good. The reigning Conference USA champs return a very talented QB of their own who is also very athletic and they are coming off a season where they knocked of Georgia in the Peach Bowl. But given this is a home game, I like BYU's chances in that one. Utah St. should be a nice revenge win for last year. So that's a 4-1 September. The tough games in October are Oregon St. and TCU. Oregon St. is not predicted to do all that well in the PAC-12 this year, but road games are always tough. I actually like our chances this year against TCU because they don't have the veteran Andy Dalton at the helm. I'll call a split of those two games, with sure wins against San Jose St. and Idaho St., making our record through October 7-2. November has two easy wins in Idaho and New Mexico St., so that's 9-2. The Hawaii game concludes the season, and that is a tough one to call. BYU was not playing very well on the islands when the series ended several years ago. And this Hawaii team, that went 10-3 last year, should be very good. They run a pure version of the Run 'n Shoot, an offense that has given BYU's defense fits over the years. If Hawaii, knocks off Washington early in the season, the Warriors quite likely could be undefeated going into this game. It's a tough one to call and one that I think will determine whether BYU finishes the regular season with 10 wins or 9.
Here's my detailed breakdown of the offense, defense, and special teams units, along with an in-depth player analysis of the two deep depth chart. Hopefully, you will see why I am so optimistic about this season.
New offensive coordinator Brandon Doman brings an excitement and energy to coaching the offense that is contagious. He will be running the "old school" BYU offense with a decidedly modern twist. He has talked to anyone and everyone he knows, from BYU QB legends to great NFL coaches he has worked with in the past to piece together what should be a very dynamic offense. The offense will be pro style, West Coast, Philadelphia Eages/Houston Texans-style, with a Boise St. twist of unpredictability, and a dash of Stanford power football. In short, it will be a flexible offense Doug Scovil would be proud of because its concepts will be manipulated to fit the QBs strengths. Given that Jake Heaps is an NFL style, dropback QB, don't expect to see a heavy dose of the spread this year. He will be under center more. They're going to give him more play action and rollouts. The offense BYU ran under Coach Robert Anae required a lot of progression reads for the QB, on virtually every throw. That is tough on a QB when you throw as much as BYU does. Coach Doman is going to simplify things a bit in the pass game. Great offenses make the easy throws on first and second down. When the defense is expecting pass you run and when they are expecting run you pass. When you do that you can make third down manageable. That is what the great BYU offenses have done and that is Coach Doman's gameplan for ths season. If BYU had the athletes Oregon and Auburn have, they would run the spread. But BYU doesn't. Stanford is a good example of what BYU wants to do because they recruit a similar type of athlete. They play fundamental football. They are a pass-first team. So BYU will continue to throw the ball. Coach Doman's goal is for BYU to throw 35-40 times and throw for 250-300 yards per game like the fans are accustomed to. But BYU won't throw it 55-60 times a game unless it's working. Coach Doman recognizes that he not only has the most scrutinized coaching position in Provo, but in all of college football because of BYU's reputation. Coach Doman has even joked with Bronco that defense wins championships so he needs to take care of that part of it. But offense sells tickets, so Coach Doman understands what is at stake.
This year's offense is loaded. It is young, but experienced, an exciting combination. But with all the stars at the skills positions, this offense will only go as far as its offensive line takes it. Fortunately, that's a good thing. The offensive line returns four starters and they have come into camp in better shape than they have in a long time. Coach Weber has also instilled a new, more aggressive mindset in them. Coach Doman says this offense starts up front. That is why the coaching staff decided to up the number of OL scholarship slots from 12 to 15. The OL will be critical to making the offense work. Fortunately, that is an area of recruiting strength for BYU so the future is bright.
Let's take a look now at what I think will be the depth chart on offense.
#9 Jake Heaps (6-1, 205, So.). Has bulked up considerably. Matured football-wise over the course of last season. Has earned the respect of his teammates with his work-ethic, leadership, and performance. Can make all the throws with his elite arm. Loves the deep ball. Very accurate and hopefully that will be reflected in an improved completion percentage this year. Reads defenses well and continues to improve in this area. Has the potential to duplicate the Jimmermania phenomena in the college football world.
#13 Riley Nelson (6-0, 201, Jr.). Very good runner and good passer in the short game. Struggles with deeper throws and is obviously undersized. Still commands the respect of his teammates with his rah-rah nature and exemplary work ethic. Bronco has given a mandate to Coach Doman to make sure that the offense includes Riley Nelson in it. It will be interesting to see how Coach Doman implements that mandate.
#20 Josh "Juice" Quezada (5-11, 211, So.). Explosive, off tackle runner who has good feet and vision to read holes. Good receiver out of the backfield. Needs to improve his pass blocking. Is poised to be the workhorse RB this year.
#10 JJ DiLuigi (5-9, 190, Sr.). Small, but physical and determined RB. High effort guy. Runs better out of the spread. Outstanding receiver out of the backfield. Will be used more as a third-down back and slot receiver this year (think Matt Bellini).
#33 Bryan Kariya (6-0, 217, Sr.). Extremely physical, downhill runner. Will be counted on in short yardage situations. Great blocker. Frustratingly inconsistent as a receiver out of the backfield. One of the team leaders.
#42 Michael Alisa (6-1, 213, So.). Converted outside linebacker can do it all: block, catch, and run. Has the skills to play halfback or fullback. Reminds some of Harvey Unga with better speed but less "shake."
#35 Zed Mendenhall (5-11, 239). Season-ending injury to Iona Pritchard makes him the guy. Punishing lead blocker. A running back's best friend. Won't be counted on to contribute much in running the ball himself. Has good hands out of the backfield but is not athletic enough to make adjustments to poor throws. A blue collar, Bronco-type player. Most effective in the I-formation.
#42 Michael Alisa (6-1, 213, So.). See above.
#88 Austin Holt (6-5, 247, So.). 5-star recruit out of high school. Big bruiser, outstanding blocker, good hands. Lacks speed to be a threat down the seam but could have an Andrew George type of career, which isn't bad at all. Hard worker Bronco loves. Gritty. Determined. Consistent.
#80 Marcus Matthews (6-4, 208, So.). This tall, polished receiver will play both TE and WR this year. He will be the flex or receiving TE (that means he won't play with his hand on the ground next to the o-line but rather will be "flexed" out in the slot). And he will play as an outside receiver as well. Has great receiver skills but is too thin to play like a regular TE and too slow to be an outstanding outside receiver. But surely Coach Doman will create situations that take advantage of his talents and put him in a position to make big plays. If he can show he can take the hits over the middle, hang onto the ball, and get back up and do it again, he will be a special talent.
#18 Richard Wilson (6-2, 232, So.). Short for a TE but is by far the fastest of the TEs. Also a surprisingly great blocker. Has a good rapport with Heaps in practice sessions, but has yet to translate on the field. Has been hampered by injuries his entire career at BYU and has shown questionable hands at times. Has the potential to emerge as a go-to TE.
#84 Devin Mahina (6-6, 236, So.). At this point, the most well-rounded of the tight ends on the roster, but doesn't excel at anything in particular, and has questionable hands. However, he is a big and rangy target. Might be better suited as a DE.
#82 Kaneakua Friel (6-5, 244, So.). Fantastic athlete who can accelerate and run. He's big. Got a zip in his motor that allows him to get away from defenders. Can also block, as evidenced by his also playing some fullback before he went on his mission. But his hands are a question mark. Friel is the enigma of the TEs because he had an unremarkable spring coming off his mission, but he is the only TE on the roster who has been mentored by Dennis Pitta and Andrew George and has the most experience of all the TEs. Durability a major concern.
Cody Hoffman (6-4, 205, So.). Tall, well-built, athletic receiver who emerged as Jake Heaps' go-to receiver last season. Great "blue zone" target; caught 7 TD passes last year. Tons of potential. Needs to work on his route-running and consistency in catching the ball. But has tremendous upside.
#6 McKay Jacobson (5-11, 190, Sr.). Great straight-ahead speed. Physically strong and gifted receiver who has yet to live up to his potential. Will this be his year? With Cahoon instilling self-confidence in him, I'm voting "yes."
#11 Ross Apo (6-3, 202, Fr.). Lanky, freakishly athletic, silky-smooth, fast receiver with soft hands who has a good rapport with Heaps in practice sessions. Remains to be seen whether he can produce as an inexperienced redshirt freshman. There are some question marks about his ability to pick up the offense quickly enough to have a major impact this season (i.e. knowing how to run intermediate routes as opposed to just running straight down the field). The bigger question is whether he can stay healthy for an entire season, something he has yet to do in his football career. If those questions can be answered positively, he could be the best WR BYU has ever seen.
#80 Marcus Matthews (6-4, 208, So.). See above.
#87 Rhen Brown (5-10, 178, Jr.). Had a fantastic camp so far. Not as athletically gifted as the starters but a solid, traditional BYU-type receiver who plays with a nasty edge.
#83 Spencer Hafoka (6-0, 201, Sr.). Has never quite lived up to his billing despite showing flashes of being a contributor. Is a solid route-runner who can catch the ball but, so far, has shown a lack of explosiveness and big-play ability. Questionable work ethic. Has a chance to step it up this year and make his senior year a special one.
#10 JJ DiLuigi (5-9, 190, Sr.). See above.
#12 JD Falslev (5-8, 184, So.). Quick, shifty, and fast waterbug receiver who is tough as nails. Not afraid to make the tough catch over the middle. Undersized but plays with a lot of heart. Slated to play in the slot in three receiver formations.
#70 Matt Reynolds (LT) (6-6, 305, Sr.). Potential All-American and first round NFL draft pick. Gave up just one sack last year. Slimmed down considerably in the offseason, shedding a lot of belly flat. If he has a weakness, it's in blocking speed rushers. Kyle Van Noy has given him a handful in camp so far. Is ready to anchor a veteran and very good offensive line.
#78 Houston Reynolds (LG) (6-2, 308, So.). Has good bloodlines. Can also play center. Not as big as his older brothers but still very effective. Has the smarts and demeanor to play the position.
#60 Terence Brown (C) (6-4, 318, Sr.). Made smooth transition to center last year. Snaps the ball well and is a load to move in the middle. This is perhaps the most critical position on the line because the center is the QB of the line and makes all the line calls. Certainly has the smarts to man the position.
#76 Braden Hansen (RG) (6-6, 313, Jr.). Nastiest lineman and arguably the best lineman on the team, giving Matt Reynolds a run for his money. Is a warrior who will play through injuries. Is really a left tackle playing the guard position. Athletic, smart, and a hard worker.
#75 Braden Brown (RT) (6-6, 301, Jr.). Converted TE has potential to play at the next level. Athletic, aggressive, and smart. Doesn't fit the typical right tackle profile of a big plodder.
#72 Ryker Matthews (LT) (6-6, 313, Fr.). US Army All-American coming out of high school put on quite a show in the spring. Will be hard to keep him off the field. Is Matt Reynolds and Braden Hansen rolled into one. Talented, hard-working player.
#62 Marco Thorson (LG) (6-3, 327, Sr.). Versatile lineman who has played every position along the line. Is a load for defensive linemen to deal with. May not be the most naturally talented or athletic of the bunch but he get the job done and his experience is invaluable.
#54 Blair Tushaus (C) (6-2, 280, Fr.). Has some more bulking up to do but is a natural born center. Snaps, makes calls, and blocks well.
#71 Walter Kahaiali'i (RG) (6-3, 325). Very talented and has started several games over the years. Would probably start for many other college football teams around the country.
Expect the defense to pick up where it left off last year under Bronco's direction. The front seven could be the deepest it has ever been in the Bronco era. And it is filled with young athletes with playing experience. The secondary is likewise young and talented but, with the exception of a couple of players, lack game experience. How well they develop could dictate how dominating this defense can be. Expect this defense to make big plays and get turnovers. On the flip side, they will pay for their increased aggressiveness with some big plays by opposing offenses. I wouldn't be surprised to see a return to more of the high-risk, high-reward defense we saw Bronco field at BYU when he was DC. Here are the players to get excited about and what I think the depth chart will look like.
#55 Eathyn Manumaleuna (6-2, 294, Jr.). Converted NT is a perfect fit as a DE in the 3-4. Eats up space to allow linebackers behind hm to make plays. Not much of a pass rusher, but in this defense, the DEs don't have to be. Very stout against the run.
#92 Graham Rowley (6-4, 261, So.). Highly touted coming out of high school. Managed to see significant playing time as a true freshman last year. Is ready to break out. Talented but needs to continue to improve, which he should with more experience.
#91 Hebron "Loni" Fangupo (6-1, 331, Sr.). USC transfer who will likely be playing on Sundays next year. A premiere run stuffer. Nasty. A handful that opposing offensive lines will have to account for. He's only got one year to play, so enjoy him while you have him.
#94 Jordan Richardson (6-3, 271, Jr.). Will move back to his more natural position at DE. Played admirably as the starting NT after Romney Fuga was hurt until he himself was injured late in the year. Very solid player who provides great depth here.
#98 Romney Fuga (6-2, 321, Jr.). Back from a wicked knee injury sustained last year. Is a great run stopper and space eater. His return is a welcome sight and provides great depth at the position, allowing a nice rotation of tackles.
#97 Travis Tuiloma (6-2, 320, Fr.). Was the defensive MVP on the scout team last year. A beast who provides for an incredibly strong rotation at NT.
#91 Hebron "Loni" Fangupo (6-1, 331, Sr.). See above.
Inside (Mike) Linebacker
#4 Uona Kaveinga (5-11, 236, Jr.). USC transfer made an immediate impact on defense in the spring. Already established himself as the unquestioned leader of the defense. A bit undersized and struggles a little in pass defense. Is a premium run-stuffer. He's scary good.
#34 Austen Jorgensen (6-2, 237, Jr.). Saw significant playing time last year and played very well. A veteran presence to back up Kaveinga. Any other year, he'd probably be the starter. Athletic and smart.
Inside (Buck) Linebacker
#44 Brandon Ogletree (5-11, 225, Jr.). Undersized height-wise but has an oversized heart. A true warrior. Benefited the most last year when Bronco took over as DC. Has great burst and a nose for contact.
#2 Spencer Hadley (6-1, 230, So.). Didn't skip a beat in spring ball after returning home from mission. Played well as a true freshman and has picked up where he left off. A ferocious hitter who plays with heart.
#1 Jordan Pendleton (6-3, 239). An unquestioned leader on defense who was missed last year due to injury. Appears to have bounced back in great shape. Provides a formidable force on the outside with Van Noy. Ferocious hitter. Can also cover thanks to the skills he learned as a safety.
#3 Kyle Van Noy (6-3, 235, So.). Has a greet motor, loves competition, and is constantly in the spin cycle trying to get in the backfield. Perhaps the most exciting player on defense to watch because he is so active. Came into camp in great shape. Worked his tail off in the offseason and is making more plays on defense than anyone. He and Pendleton could form one of the best outside linebacking combos BYU has seen since Bryan Kehl and David Nixon.
#48 Jameson Frazier (6-2, 230, Sr.). Started last year and played very well. Has worked his way up through the ranks and deserves everything he gets. Very athletic. Provides invaluable depth.
#47 Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah (6-6, 270, Jr.). Sprinter from Ghana. Amazing athlete with NFL written all over him. Will likely get a shot at the NFL no matter how he performs in college because he is such an athletic specimen. Has recorded a sack just about every day of practice. Explosive edge pass rusher. Has speed to cover but is still learning the defense and how to play with a football player mentality. Need to work big time on his conditioning otherwise he's good for only a few plays a game.
#25 Corby Eason (5-8, 173, Sr.). Diminutive corner who played boundary corner last year will play field corner this year. Good cover skills. Excels at the corner blitz. Solid tacker. Has managed to stay with Apo most of camp, even though Apo still makes the catch. A nice veteran presence to play the most critical corner position as he will be going against team's best receivers. A little short, but then again, so was Brian Logan and that didn't seem to be a huge negative for him.
#26 Robbie Buckner (5-10, 176, Jr.). Has the speed and the skills. Lacks confidence at times. Better in pass coverage than against the run. Has some playing experience. Has athleticism BYU has rarely seen in its corners. Good upside.
#28 Jordan Johnson (5-10, 185, Fr.). Special talent who has given Buckner a run for his money. Potential shut down corner as he matures. Is better than Buckner in defending the run. Can also return kicks.
#7 Preston Hadley (6-0, 200, Jr.). Physical corner who can cover. Bronco loves him. Great cover and run defense skills. Can also play safety.
#17 Joe Sampson (5-10, 213, Jr.). The assassin. This guy will be playing in the NFL. He's not starting because he just arrived in time for camp and he's still learning the defense, but he is a smart player, as evidenced by the fact that he's already moved into the two-deep. Can also play safety.
#21 DeQuan Everett (6-3, 205, Jr.). Coaches can't keep him off the field. He just continues to make plays. Like Sampson, a great hitter. Has matured over the last year.
#9 Daniel Sorensen (6-2, 200, So.). Converted linebacker came home from his mission and caught everyone's attention in spring ball. Appears to be an Andrew Rich close in every way except that he is more athletic. Will play a linebacker type position in the nickel like Rich did. A special player, big-time hitter, and hard worker.
#15 Carter Mees (6-0, 190, Jr.). Was having a great game in his first career start against TCU then got hurt. Tough as nails player Bronco loves. Smart and a good hitter.
#18 Jray Galea'i (6-0, 196, So.). Athletic safety with good playing experience from last year. Struggles at times in coverage but is impressive in how he moves around the field.
#32 Mike Hague (5-10, 190, Jr.). Converted RB made a name for himself in spring ball. Lost over 40 pounds and was hard to ignore when he was on the field. A big-time hitter with deceptive speed. Will have to see playing time because he is so good. Can you say Eric Weddle?
#23 Travis Uale (6-2, 199, Sr.). Athletic, rangy safety can lay the wood. Struggles at times in open space but understands the coverage concepts inside and out.SPECIAL TEAMS
Bronco is placing an increased focus on special teams this year. He understands the average starting field position (ASFP) is a key stat. Bronco's record at BYU is 56-21. During that time, the Cougars are 41-6 when they hold the edge in ASFP. They are just 15-15 when even or minus. Moreover, BYU is 27-2 in its last 29 games with the advantage is ASFP. Here's a look at the key special teamers.
#18 Justin Sorensen (6-2, 230, So.). The high school sensation with the big leg is back from his mission and after spring ball appears to have shaken off the dust. Word is his leg strength is back and he should be booming kickoffs into the end zone again. Has struggled at times with his accuracy but that could improve with experience.
#99 Riley Stephenson (6-0, 203, Jr.). Seems to get better every year. Can be frustratingly inconsistent, booming one kick one time, then shanking the next. If he can get his consistency down, BYU should be fine here.
#28 Jordan Johnson (5-10, 185, Fr.). See above.
#32 Mike Hague (5-10, 190, Jr.). See above.
#12 JD Falslev (5-8, 184, So.). See above.
There you have it. A look at your 2011 BYU Cougars. Should be an exciting first year of independence, laying the groundwork for an eventual national championship within the next few years. Go Cougars!"