October 17, 2013
BYU Football 2013 Mid-Season Awards

The Brigham Young Cougars are officially halfway through the 2013 regular season. Time now to pause and look at who has been the best performers up to this point and what plays have had the most impact. BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL hands out 10 mid-season awards ranging from your standard MVP variety to unique categories you won't find anywhere else.?

Each award has three nominees. To keep it interesting, once one player wins one award, he is not eligible for another individual award. The winners were selected by the votes of the three contributors to this site: Neal Rappleye, Tanner Spear, and myself.?

Team MVP

Nominees
Taysom Hill: 90 rush, 644 yards, 7 TD; 90-191, 1263 yards, 5 TD, 5 Int
Jamaal Williams: 107 rush, 543 yards, 1 TD; 7 rec. 53 yards
Kyle Van Noy: 40 tackles, 10 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 int, 4 pass breakups, 10 QBH, 1 safety, 1 TD

Winner:
?Kyle Van Noy

The last two seasons I have asked myself, "How is Van Noy going to do to top last season?" He has made so many big plays and even taken over games that it seems he cannot do more. Each of the last two seasons, he finds another way to have a better season. He is on pace for a career high in tackles (80 vs. 68). He has already equaled his career high in quarterback hurries. Van Noy has scored yet another touchdown, and even forced a safety for the first time in his career. You really have to believe thatanything?is possible for Van Noy.?
?
Runner up: Taysom Hill
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Offensive MVP

Nominees
Hill:?90 rush, 644 yards, 7 TD; 90-191, 1263 yards, 5 TD, 5 Int
Williams:?107 rush, 543 yards, 1 TD; 7 rec. 53 yards
Mitch Mathews: 14 rec., 253 yards, 3 TD

Winner:
?Taysom Hill

Yes, Hill has had some struggles throwing the ball (still below 50 percent on the season), but he has made up for it with his legs. He is averaging over 100 yards rushing per game and over 1 touchdown on the ground per game. Hill has also completed well over half of his passes the last three games, too. With over 1900 yards of total offense at this point, Hill is on pace to finish in the top six in school history in that category where former BYU quarterbacks have often led the nation and set and reset the NCAA record.?

Runner Up:
?Jamaal Williams

Defensive MVP

Nominees
Uani Unga: 56 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 pass breakup, 1 QBH, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble
Alani Fua: 27 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 int, 7 pass breakups, 2 QBH, 1 TD
Robertson Daniel: 32 tackles, 2 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles

Winner:
?Uani Unga

This was close. Due to teams wanting to keep the ball away from Van Noy, it was imperative that Alani Fua be legit, otherwise, opponents could exploit a weakness and have tons of success even with Van Noy on the field. However, Unga has had a great first half of the season. How good? There has been zero drop off from Brandon Ogletree. Unga has been everything BYU wants and needs in a middle linebacker. He is a tackling machine with double digit tackles in half of the games, including 16 at Utah State, which is tied for second most in a single game since 2000. Unga is doing it all with a fumble recovery, forced fumble, as well as getting in the backfield to stop ball carries for losses or pressure the quarterback.

Runner Up:
?Alani Fua?

Most Improved Player

Nominees
Justin Sorensen: 9-11 FG, 20-20 PAT
Mitch Mathews:?14 rec., 253 yards, 3 TD
Blake Morgan: 26 tackles, 1 pass breakup, 1 fumble recovery

Winner:
?Justin Sorensen

Sorensen had a terrible season last year. He was just 6 of 12 on field goals, and missed three extra points. It wasn't all his fault. He was playing at less than 100 percent and should have redshirted the year. Clearly, he is feeling much better this year. He is automatic again on extra points, and having the best season of his career kicking field goals.?

Runner Up:
?Mitch Mathews

Newcomer of the year

Nominees
Robertson Daniel:?32 tackles, 2 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles
Algernon Brown: 31 rush, 136 yards, 1 TD, 1 rec. 4 yards
Scott Arellano: 39 punts, 41.2 average, 59 long, 5 touchbacks, 12 inside the 20, 6 50+, 3 blocks

Winner:
?Robertson Daniel

Not much was expected from Daniel 10 months ago. He earned a starting spot after projected starters Jordan Johnson and Trenton Trammel went down with injuries. Even then, not much was expected. There was a lot of trepidation over how the cornerbacks would perform, but Daniel, and the others, have acquitted themselves well. They definitely are not the reason BYU lost to Virginia and Utah. At this rate, Daniel is on pace to continue the trend of a??JC cornerback transfers <http://www.bluecougarfootball.com/1/post/2013/02/byu-football-did-you-know-junior-college-cornerbacks.html> ?having at least 44 tackles.?

Runner Up:
?Algernon Brown

Play of the year

Nominees
Van Noy pick six on first play of the Utah State game for 7-0 lead
Taysom Hill 68-yd TD run vs. Texas for 10-7 lead
Cody Hoffman 45-yard TD catch vs. Georgia Tech for 7-0 lead

Winner:
?Taysom Hill 68-yard TD run vs. Texas for 10-7 lead

This was the biggest play in the biggest game of the first half of the season. It was a very timely play in that game to retake the lead. It also epitomizes Hill's record setting performance in that game.?

Runner Up:
?Kyle Van Noy pick-six on the first play of the Utah State game for 7-0 lead.

Best offensive series

Nominees


Winner:?8 play, 79 yards to start 3rd Quarter vs. Texas.

Runner up:?
4 plays, 71 yards for final score vs. Utah State.?

Best Defensive series

Nominees

Winner:?4 plays, 12 yards 4th quarter vs. Georgia Tech.

The way this drive ended was not just game changing, but game deciding. After Fua's pick six the game was over.?

Runner Up:?
1 play, 0 yards 1st quarter vs. Utah State.

Biggest Surprise

Nominees

Winner:?After starters suffer season ending injuries in the preseason, BYU defensive backs are stout.

The cornerback position has always been the hardest position for BYU to fill. Having just one starter go down with injury can have terrible consequences. For BYU to see both projected starters suffer injury, the pressure for the front seven to perform greatly increased. So far, opponents are averaging less than 200 yards passing per game, and only Texas has had more than 300 yards (313), and that was only because of a 45-yard pass in garbage time.

Runner Up:?
The BYU ground game.

Biggest Disappointment

Nominees

Winner:?Losing to Utah for the 4th year in a row.

This game was a heart breaker. It brought on deseration that BYU would not become bowl eligible. It lowered many people's confidence that BYU would beat Utah State.?

Runner Up:?Taysom Hill's sub 40% completion percentage each of the first 3 games

 

October 3, 2013

BYU QB Hill runs past Young, Doman, and Carter; should Staley be worried?


Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill ran for 165 yards against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders on Friday night. That gave him 565 yards on the ground this season, and made him the most prolific quarterback, on the ground, in BYU history. That, however, may be just the beginning. Hill is on pace to do something much, much bigger this year.
With 400 yards rushing in the first three games of this season, Hill only needed 75 yards to top Virgil Carter's 474 yards from 1965. Between Hill and Carter were Steve Young (407 yards, 1982; and 444 yards, 1983) and Brandon Doman (456 yards, 2001).

Hill passed the 1982 Young total with on his second carry of the night--a 12-yard touchdown run. His total was now 414. Early in the second quarter, Hill was about to pass Young's 444 yard total as he tried to run the ball for a second touchdown from three yards away. After picking up just one yard, Hill fumbled. That one yard tied him with Young's 1983 season.

The next time BYU got the ball, Hill separated himself from Young, passed Doman, and leapfrogged Carter all in one play. After completing a 14-yard pass to Skyler Ridley on the first play of the drive, Hill?bust loose for 41-yards on the ground. The simple math of 444 + 41 = Taysom Hill the?most rushing yards?in a season by a BYU quarterback. ?

Now that HIll has set a new standard for quarterbacks, the question becomes, "Just how many yards can he get this year?"?

His 565 yards in four games is a 141.25 yards per game average. If Hill continues this pace, then he will finish with 1,695 yards after the Cougars play Nevada in the regular season finale. Throw in a?bowl game, and that number becomes 1,836. Both?totals?would eclipse Luke?Staley's school record of 1,582 yards?in?2001.

How reasonable is it to think that Hill could continue this pace and break the Doak Walker Award winner's record? More reasonable than you may think.

Yes, Hill had 259 yards rushing against Texas, which is a statistical outlier for anybody, or, in other words, we can't expect Hill to have another game like that. However, this four game sample also includes a 42 yard outing at Virginia in the pouring rain. It seems that game is an outlier in the other direction, so, in a way, it balances out.

In 2001, Staley's total for the first four games was 390 yards, or 175?less?than Hill. Staley had to rush for 207 and 196 yards later in the year to improve his total. Hill doesn't need any more outrageous rushing games to break Staley's mark. While Hill is averaging 141.25 yards, he only needs to average 127.2 yards per game in the regular season, or 113 yards per game including a bowl, to break Staley's mark. Hill has shown he is capable of that.

One reason Staley was able to rush for so many yards was a superb yards per carry average (8.1). Hill is currently averaging 8.6 YPC.

There are two other scenarios to consider.

1. BYU starts throwing the ball more.

Maybe that should read "throwing the ball better," but I think you understand. The Cougar offense has done its damage almost exclusively on the ground in games one through four. You have to expect that at certain point this will change, and become more 50/50. When that does happen, it will mean fewer opportunities for Hill to pick up yards running the ball.?

2. Opposing defenses start keying on stopping Hill.?

Opponents are going to game plan to stop Hill. They will feel that the way to beat BYU is to stop Hill. This is what happened against Utah when Hill had 99 rushing yards on 20 carries. When good defenses do this, Hill might have just 60 yards in the game. He can't afford too many sub-100 yard games and still expect to break Staley's record. What will help prevent this defensive strategy is if Jamaal Williams returns and continues to demand attention.

Clearly, it is still too early to tell, but it will be fun watching how it turns out.

With all the commotion that comes before and after a BYU-Utah game it’s a good thing to let the dust settle before making any real analysis.Now that the emotion has died down and the teams have moved on it’s time to look at what has now come from this “last” Holy War battle.There’s a lot to be said about this last game and the subsequent “end” of the rivalry, but when it comes to coaching…there’s even more.

History Teaches Us

BYU had only offered Bronco Mendenhall the head coaching position once Kyle Whittingham passed it up for the Utah coaching position. Bronco was not BYU’s first choice and now it stands to reason that Athletic Director Tom Holmoe offered the better coach first.

The Holy War was no longer a just a team rivalry, but a coaching one as well. Two brand new head coaches thrown into a pit to go at each other. While the coaches didn’t see it as a rivalry, constant comparisons between Mendenhall’s and Whittingham’s numbers and stats were being made and displayed.

As of now Whittingham owns the series 6-3, two of those games being blowouts. While Mendenhall escaped ?merely by the skin of his teeth in each of his three victories.?

The notable individual statistic Mendenhall holds over Whittingham is bowl appearances all 8 years since they began. Whittingham missed his first post-season appearance last season after going 5-7, but it’s only fair to note that this losing record came in Utah’s second season in the Pac-12.

While Mendenhall may have more post-season appearances and his record is an admirable 6-2, Whittingham stands with an equally admirable 6-1 record. His lone loss coming at the hands of a BCS worthy Boise State.

This Last Game

BYU has been outcoached in nearly every game against Utah. Despite how the rest of their season goes, Utah always comes out firing on all cylinders versus BYU. Their energy, confidence, and zeal make the game. BYU comes in confident, but loses that somewhere during the second quarter where Utah takes control, leaving the Cougars to play catch-up. It is the coaches’ responsibility to manage the emotions of their teams.

One genius move on Whittingham’s part was how Utah shaped their gameplay around Kyle Van Noy.Van Noy’s specialty is his pass rush, so the Ute offense always line up an extra slot receiver forcing Van Noy to cover the pass and taking him out of the rush defense. Whenever BYU ran a Van Noy blitz, Travis Wilson would key on him and call a short slant pass. With BYU’s inexperienced corners playing back far enough it was the perfect play against BYU over and over again.

The extent of BYU’s coaching was “Taysom….run less.” Okay, that might not be ?a fair assessment but it’s what it felt like during the game.

Now What?

Mendenhall would like the rivalry to continue uninterrupted, and I’m guessing in an ideal world so would Whittingham. Ever since the Utes jumped to the Pac-12 and BYU went independent the rivalry game lost its conference implications and, naturally, much of its meaning. While both coaches would like to continue playing, it already means less and it is truly beneficial for both teams to go their separate ways for right now.

Utah is playing in the Pac-12 and it is a tougher schedule than before. For Utah to progress as a team and establish themselves in the long run as a Pac-12 contender. Having to prepare for the likes of Stanford, USC and Oregon ?will have some getting used to. Whittingham can’t afford to also have to plan for a heated rivalry on top of that.

As for Mendenhall and BYU they need some time to get the Utes out of their heads and move on. Utah always makes BYU feel smaller and inferior on and off the field and by extension Mendenhall, too.

BYU, the athletic department, and its fans are putting Mendenhall on the hot seat for being so unsuccessful against Utah. It can literally lose him his job. While I don’t think that will happen, it doesn’t hurt for Mendenhall, and the fans, to have some seasons away from the drama.

With Utah off the map BYU and its players will be able to really focus on what counts-- a national ranking and prestigious bowl victory. Having Utah lingering in the back of their heads has proven enough to deter BYU’s season downward.

This two year hiatus will be a load off the shoulders for both Mendenhall and Whittingham.?

Final Thoughts

For the record, I hate Utah. I hate them just as Max Hall does. Too many times I’ve wanted to write articles about why Utah is terrible. That would quickly turn this site into editorial based coverage instead of an actual site for sports news and analysis.However, let it be known that this game cut down deeper for me than the Mariana Trench. These last four years live in infamy for me.But a win is a win. Utah outplayed, out hustled, and ultimately out coached BYU. Sometimes the truth just hurts.?

BYU Football: The running of the bulls,
and running into the record book

By Scott Rappleye

I’ve heard the “running of the bulls” that happens in Spain each year. ?Other than that, I don’t know much about it, but I did see something like the running of the bulls in Provo, Utah on Saturday night. It was more like a running?over?of the bulls or, more appropriately still, a running over of the Longhorns, Texas Longhorns.?

After perusing the different stories published across dozens of media outlets, I saw a lot of words about Taysom Hill’s performance against the University of Texas.

And why shouldn’t there be so many stories written about him? It was possibly the best single game rushing performance by any Brigham Young Cougars football player. He set a school record for highest yards per carry average in a game (15.2, old record was 14.2 set by Luke Staley in 2001 vs. Tulane). Hill was 13 yards away from tying the school record for most rushing yards in a game, and eight yards shy of tying former Texas quarterback Vince Young’s college football mark for most rushing yards by a quarterback in the last ten years. Don’t forget Hill’s hat trick of touchdown runs.

All this being said, BYU’s second-week gem was far from a one-man show in rushing. Jamaal Williams is on pace to follow up his breakout 2012 season with a year to wow the nation. He had 144 yards rushing against Virginia in the season opener, and a career best 182 yards versus Texas. Last year Williams tallied 775 yards total rushing with an additional 315 in receiving and scoring 12 touchdowns.

Currently Jamaal Williams has the second-highest rushing yards in the NCAA ?thus far in the season (326) and has the most attempts at 63. Clearly the season is still young…but so is Jamaal for that matter. Last year Williams set new marks for a Cougar true freshman for carries, yards and touchdowns, and he is only getting better. While he was excellent last year, there is something different about what we've seen from him this year. He runs with quite a bit more force breaking tackles and trucking defenders to gain that extra yard or two.

Saturday’s romping wasn’t just a two-man show, either. Junior running back Paul Lasike, the BYU rugby All-American from Auckland, New Zealand, also contributed 87 yards and a touchdown of his own.

While Hill, Williams, and Lasike were running over the Longhorns, they were also running into the record books. Besides the previously mentioned school record Hill registered, this trio single handedly broke the BYU team record for most rushing yards in a game. Back in 1958, BYU chewed up 458 yards carrying the ball in a game against Montana. Hill, Williams, and Lasike combined for 528 yards—70 more than the mark established 55 years ago. As a team, BYU finished with 550 yards on Saturday.

Hill became just the third player in BYU history to reach the 250 rushing yards mark for a single game. With Williams surpassing the 150 yards mark, it was the first time that BYU has had a player rush for over 250 yards (or 200 for that matter) and 150 yards in the same game.

Besides ensuring a place in BYU football history, the Cougars locked up a spot in Texas Longhorns history as well. The 550 rushing yards is a new standard of futility for them. In all the years since 1902 that Texas has fielded a football team, none of their opponents had ever accumulated so many rushing yards in one game. It is probably safe to say it will be a long time before another opponent eclipses this mark.

It’s exciting to see what these young players with wheels can do. While one can’t expect every game the rest of the season to go this way, I think good things are going to happen this year for the Cougs.

 


Reaction to the Rankings:
BYU receives vote(s) in both preseason polls

By Scott Rappleye


The Brigham Young Cougars finished the 2012 season without a single vote in both of the Associated Press (AP) and USA Today (Coaches) Top 25. Since then, BYU has changed its entire offensive coaching staff, changed quarterback, and lost seven starters in defense--including the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft. Yet, with the new season there are new believers that the Cougars will return to being one of the best teams in the nation. 

The USA Today Preseason Top 25 was released back on August 1, and BYU was one of the many teams listed under "Others receiving votes." With 20 total points, BYU has the 36th highest point total. That is right behind the Cougars' October 4 opponent and in-state rival Utah State (23 points). 

Interestingly, the 20 point total is twice as many as BYU had in last year's USA Today preseason poll. In 2012, the Cougars were coming off a 10-3 season and no. 25 finish in the USA Today final rankings. BYU finished the season 8-5 and without a single vote, as previously noted. Throw in the other noted changes that normally have a negative impact on preseason poll point totals, and it is quite surprising that BYU received any votes, let alone enough to double what was received last year. 

What has given BYU credibility among the voting coaches? I would guess Bronco Mendenhall's defense. Having a top 3 defense last season and returning the star on that side of the ball--Kyle Van Noy--has inspired confidence in some that this year's team will be better. 

On Saturday, August 17, the AP preseason poll was released. BYU brings up the rear. The Cougars had one point, which means one voter listed BYU as no. 25 on his ballot. That voter was Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News. 

Unlike the coaches poll, this marks a contrast to the 2012 AP Preseason rankings. BYU was still in the "others receiving votes" section, but had 22 points to start last season. As noted in last years' reaction to the rankings (R2R), the coaches usually vote more favorably towards BYU. The fact that BYU had 22 points in the AP poll to 10 points in the coaches poll in 2012 marked a deviation. The 2013 preseason polls mark a return to normal, and it isn't surprising to see that BYU has much fewer points in the AP poll than the USA Today poll. 

Why is it so much tougher to get votes in the AP poll? The media is biased, especially when it comes to picking the final five teams (nos. 21-25). It is hard, especially in the preseason, to pick which team is the 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, and 25th best in the country. To make things easier, they will round out their ballot with token votes for regional teams having good seasons. (Hence a local writer is the only one who voted for BYU, and at no. 25 for that matter.)

BYU's future position in the rankings is tied to the same factor as every other teams: win. If BYU wins games, then they will move up. How high BYU rises will depend on the quality of the opponents (and wins). The 2013 schedule is favorable in that respect. 

Four BYU opponents are ranked in both top 25 rankings. Notre Dame (Nov. 23) is the highest at nos. 11 (USA Today) and 14 (AP). Texas (Sept. 7) is no. 15 in both rankings. Boise State (Oct. 25) is no. 19 in both rankings, and Wisconsin (Nov. 9) is no. 23 in both.

The earliest we could expect BYU to appear in the top 25 is if the start the season 2-0 and by beating Virginia and Texas. If that does not happen, then it will depend on how many of the other games BYU is winning and what other teams in the country are losing each week. BYU could make the top 25 before the Boise State game if Texas is the only loss on their resume. 

What's your reaction to the rankings?  

Brigham Young Cougars 2013 Season Preview
By Scott Rappleye

The 2013 football season is fast approaching. For the Brigham Young Cougars it marks the beginning of a new phase of independence, and on the offensive side of the ball a new era. The honeymoon phase of independence is gone. The quarterback situation led to struggles on offense, which caused a cloud to hang over the first two seasons. Opportunities to make a major splash and carve a spot in the national landscape were lost. This year, year 3 of independence, is put up or shut up time for BYU. 

Who's staying, who's going?

Once the 2012 season ended, all attention turned to who was staying and who was going. That referred to both players and coaches. 

Juniors Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman both could have forfeited their senior seasons and entered the NFL Draft and heard their names called. Both, however, quickly decided to stay. The Poinsettia Bowl was on December 23, and before January 1 they had announced they would be back. That wouldn't be the case with the offensive coaching staff. 

There was no doubt that changes would be made with the offensive coaching staff. Athletic Director Tom Holmoe made that known during the season. What wasn't expected was that Bronco Mendenhall would clean house. 

Early in January, Mendenhall announced that Robert Anae would return to be the offensive coordinator. He had held that position on the BYU staff from 2005-10. The rest of the process was not so quick. Mendenhall and Anae worked slowly and deliberately to build an offensive coaching staff. It resulted in none of the 2012 offensive staff returning. Long time assistant Lance Reynolds retired ending a playing and coaching career at BYU that spanned five decades. Former BYU wide receiver Aaron Roderick was announced as a new hire only to have Roderick change his mind a day later. 

Eventually, the offensive staff was finalized and everyone was on the same page adopting Anae's new mantra.

Go fast, go hard

"Go fast, go hard" was the new catch phrase for Anae. He spent the last two seasons at Arizona. His last year was on Rich Rodriguez's coaching staff. The go fast, go hard mantra comes from Rodriquez who has been successful at Tulane, West Virginia, and Arizona. 

BYU went fast and hard during spring practices. That marked the return of Taysom Hill from his season ending knee injury. Hill appeared capable of going fast and hard. At the conclusion of the spring practices he was officially named the staring quarterback. That came as no surprise, but the post-spring depth chart did have some surprises. 

Skyler Ridley was listed as a starting wide receiver ahead of Ross Apo, and Tyler Beck was listed as a starting middle linebacker over Manoa Pikula. Brett Thompson was listed as a co-starter at the tight end position, as well. 

Ziggymania

At the same time, a lot of attention came BYU's way as Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah rose of the draft boards of NFL teams and scouts everywhere. In this age of information, it is accurate to say that Ansah garnered more attention and generated more draft talk than any other Cougar. He was drafted no. 5 overall by the Detroit Lions. Never before had BYU fans had the joy of hearing television and radio pundits glowingly speak of one of their own. It made loyal fans everywhere proud to be Cougar fans. 

Growing excitement

Ansah's high draft position was added to the excitement that fans were rediscovering. Two years ago, fan excitement was at an all-time high. The Cougars were coming off a strong finish to the season, and independence was beginning. Failing to meet expectations had drained most people's emotions by November 2012. 

The events of the offseason have helped rejuvenate the spirits of Cougar fans worldwide. 
The long promised "best schedule in school history" was releasd in February. While it is aggressive, it is well laid out. Fans who once feared that BYU wouldn't be able to become bowl eligible, now think the Cougars will easily reach six wins and 9-10 wins isn't inconceivable. 

Media day included some major breaking news, which wasn't the case in years past. Although the breaking news didn't directly relate to any part of the 2013 season, It helped people feel BYU was surviving in the college football world as an independent. 

Since then, news has broke that the 2013 season will feature some uniform adaptations, just like 2012 did. For the first time since 2009, BYU will wear royal blue throwback jerseys for the Utah game. BYU hasn't beat the Utes since that season when the royal blue's were first worn against Utah. The 2012 Homecoming game featured all black jerseys, and the 2013 Homecoming game will see the player's names replaced with "Tradition," "Spirit," or "Honor" to emphasize the three major tenets of the program.   

Questions

Even with the excitement, there are still several questions that fans are dying to get answers to in just a few days. 

1. How much drop off will there be on defense? 


The 2012 defense was the best in school history. Besides Ansah, other key leaders on that side of the ball are gone. It is crazy to expect the 2013 D to be as good. However, Van Noy and other very talented guys will fill in. 

2. Will anybody block for Taysom Hill?

While many have a lot of confidence in Hill being able to lead the offense, he can't do it without an offensive line blocking in front of him. Many new linemen have been brought in, but will they get the job done?

3. Can Hill develop as a passer? 

Hill may be the fastest quarterback the Cougars have seen, and that is saying a lot. He is, however, still a little raw throwing the ball. How much has he improved and can that element of his game be relied on for offensive fireworks this season, especially when BYU needs to score in a hurry at the end of a game or half?

4. What will Kyle Van Noy do for an encore? 

KVN ended the 2012 season with one of, if not the, greatest defensive performance of all-time in the Poinsettia Bowl. When talking about an encore by Van Noy, it means much more than just that performance. The last two years he has been a playmaker on defense that has rarely been seen. Blocked punts, a score of sacks, and an abilty to take over a game have defined him. It is hard to imagine what he can do to top his previous feats, but that is exactly when he blows everyone's mind away with something never dreamed of. 

5. Cody Hoffman's assault on the record books. 

The Hoff is poised to rewrite nearly ever receiving record in the BYU history books. Just five years after Austin Collie wrote his name at the top of every list, Hoffman can make Collie's records footnotes. How high will Hoffman push these records, and will they ever be broken?

6. The weak link getting weaker?

The secondary was the weak link on the BYU defense last year. Injuries have decimated that unit this offseason. This is making the process of improving a lot trickier. Can the experience of safeties Daniel Sorensen and Craig Bills help compensate for the troubles at cornerback? 

7. Will Bronson Kaufusi be the next Ansah? 

Kaufusi's play last year has helped soften the blow of losing Ansah. Like Ansah, Kaufusi presents a size mismatch and has above average athleticism. The most impressive part of Kaufusi's play in 2012, however, was that he was a solid contributor after returning home from his mission just days before fall camp started. Now that he has his feet fully under him, how much disruption can he cause?

8. Will BYU win a "big" game?

The biggest failure in the first two years of independence has been the Cougars' inability to pull out a big win. A very good Texas team will visit Provo early in the season. BYU will visit defending Big Ten champ Wisconsin, as well as pay another visit to nationally ranked Notre Dame. A win in one of these three games could generate some national buzz, and build respect with fans nationwide. The Boise State game also looms large since BYU is still yet to beat the Broncos. 

9. Setting things straight with Utah.

This is the last time BYU will play Utah until 2016. The last three games were heartbreaking losses. A fourth consecutive loss that will hang over BYU's head for three years will blemish the 2013 season no matter what else the Cougars accomplish. IT IS A MUST WIN GAME. 

Fred Warner: BYU’s Defense to Gain Lightning Linebacker
By Scott Rappleye

The Brigham Young Cougars defense was ranked no. 3 in the nation for the 2012 campaign. A defense led by Ezekiel Ansah and Kyle Van Noy not only shut down opposing teams’ run game with ferocity but also was a driving factor in BYU’s offense in many instances. A new linebacking recruit hopes to add his name to the growing legacy of Cougar defenders.

New recruit Fred Warner is a 6-foot-3, 205 pound outside linebacker from San Marcos, California that has really shown off some major skills in high school as a Mission Hills Grizzly. The junior and member of the 2014 graduating class, Warner has shown some big potential in his ability to break past the defensive line and harass quarterbacks and running backs across the Avocado East League conference. His lightning speed combined with ability to read the offense gives him a big advantage against opponents.

On 247sports.com, Warner is rated as a 3-star prospect. He is considered the 72nd best outside linebacker in the nation, and the 89th best player overall in the talent rich state of California.

The Mission Hill Grizzlies boasted a 10-3 record in their 2012 season, including a 4-0 record in the Avocado East League. Fred Warner was definitely a large contributor to the team’s success. Though there isn’t a lot of statistical information available for this high-schooler, taking a look at the film available makes it clear why there has been national interest in Warner.

Warner will have big shoes to fill as he prepares to transition into college ball in the future with his predecessors including the likes of Spencer Hadley, Jordan Pendleton, and, of course, Van Noy.

May 10, 2013

Brett Thompson -- BYU's next great tight end?
By Scott Rappleye

Going back over 30 years, outstanding tight end play has gone almost hand-in-hand with outstanding quarterback play for the Brigham Young Cougars. Dennis Pitta caught a touchdown in the most recent Super Bowl, and Gordon Hudson was inducted into the college football hall of fame less than five years ago. However, as BYU fans have waited the last three years for the next great quarterback to emerge, they have also been waiting for the next great tight end to manifest himself.

In 2010, the Cougars had possibly the most star studded group of tight ends the school has ever seen. Austin Holt was a U.S. Army All-American in high school and rated by Scout.com as the no. 5 tight end in the class of 2008. Richard Wilson was rated even higher by ESPN.com (no. 4, class of 2009). Devin Mahina came to BYU after being the nation's no. 11 tight end (Rivals.com) in the class of 2007.

A little bit of a logjam was created since all three of these very highly rated prospects were freshmen that year, but that was supposed to be just a minor speed bump. By season's end surely one, or two, would emerge as the latest in a long line of legendary tight ends.

Mahina finished 2010 with the most receptions by any tight end with just 11. The next year wasn't much better. Holt and Wilson both had 11 receptions in 2011, while wide receiver/tight end hybrid Marcus Mathews had 27 receptions for 299 yards.

For 2012, it was another new name--Kaneakua Friel--that led the team at the tight end position. Although he had over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the season opener, he didn't have a great season. Friel finished with 30 receptions for 308 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Going into 2013, Friel's starting position is in jeopardy. Holt, Wilson, and Mahina are still on the roster, but it isn't one of them threatening to win the starting job. It is Brett Thompson.

Thompson wasn't a star tight end in high school. In fact, he wasn't a tight end at all. He played wide receiver and running back at Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills, California. Thompson played wide receiver for BYU as a freshman in 2009 and redshirted in 2012 following his mission.

Despite having no experience playing tight end, and despite the Cougars' roster being loaded with great high school tight ends, Thompson may be the most likely candidate to join Pitta and Hudson as great BYU tight ends.

Injuries, quarterback play, and offensive coaching issues may have hindered the tight ends from 2010-12. However, many of the great BYU tight ends have something in common with Thompson. They were not tight ends in high school.

Pitta, Clay Brown, Chris Smith, and Chad Lewis are all considered great BYU tight ends, but none of them played tight end until they arrived at BYU. 

After playing wide receiver in high school, Pitta walked on at BYU in 2004 as a tight end. By the time he left in 2009, he was a consensus All-American, and rewrote the record books for BYU tight ends.

Clay Brown was a running back in high school. In 1980, he became the first BYU tight end to have 1,000 yards receiving in a single season, and set a school record with 15 receiving touchdowns that year.

Chris Smith was another wide receiver convert. Smith had over 1,000 yards receiving in both 1989 and 1990. He was a two-time All-American.

Like Pitta, Lewis had to walk on to BYU as a tight end after playing wide receiver in high school. With his outstanding leaping ability, Lewis quickly became a fan favorite and playmaker for the Cougars. From 1994-96, he and Itula Mili formed the best tight end tandem in school history. 

Pitta is entering the prime of his NFL career and already has over 100 receptions, 1,000 receiving yards, and a Super Bowl championship. Lewis had a long NFL career and finished with 229 receptions, 2,361 yards, 23 touchdowns, and went to three Pro Bowls.

Daniel Coats is another high school wide receiver who switched to tight end at BYU. He was a freshman All-American in 2003, but his overall career wasn't exactly stellar (86 receptions, 966 yards, 9 touchdowns). However, Coats did have a four-year career in the NFL playing in 57 games and starting 18 times.

The fact that Thompson is at the top of the post-spring depth chart is a good sign that BYU could finally have someone fill Pitta's cleats, and add his name to Pitta, Lewis, Smith, and Brown as great BYU tight ends who played a different position during his prep career.

March 9, 2013

BYU Cougars Spring Football
Burning Questions

By Scott Rappleye

The Brigham Young Cougars open spring football practices today, March 4. It is the first time the majority of the 2013 football team will be able to meet with the new coaching staff and start preparing for next season. The start of anything new brings a lot of questions. Here are BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL's six burning questions for BYU spring practices.

1. Will a starting quarterback be named?

Two senior quarterbacks graduated. The entire offensive coaching staff is new, and a new system will be installed. That leaves the starting quarterback position wide open. Taysom Hill started two games last year and saw spot duty in four more, but his season ended early with an injury. Where he is at in the recovery process, and how the injury has impacted his ability to play makes the QB race interesting.

The new coaching staff makes the open position race even more interesting. Jason Munns is the only one of the top four to have any experience with offensive coordinator Robert Anae. He also has the most seniority, which quarterback coach Jason Beck says will put him at the top of the chart on day one.

Ammon Olsen and Billy Green will also be in the mix.

2. How cautious will the coaching staff be with Taysom Hill?

When Hill injured his knee, the initial recovery time was reported as 4-6 months. It has been nearly five months since his October surgery. Positive reports about his recovery stating that he is ahead of schedule have come out periodically. Last week on the BYU sports program True Blue, Beck stated that Hill's participation in full team drills (11-on-11) was doubtful.

Quarterbacks are always treated as fragile in practice, no matter what drill is being run. Contact is forbidden. Assuming Hill is near 100 percent, it seems a little overly cautious to hold him out of full team drills. It would also hold him back in the QB race and hinder the offense's progress in learning the new offense, if Hill is eventually named the starter.

3. How well will the team pick up the new offense?

Brandon Doman is out as offensive coordinator and Robert Anae is back in. While he was the Cougars' offensive coordinator from 2005-10 and several players are still on the team from that time, Anae will have a new offense. The core of the offense will probably be the same, but Anae has spent the last two years in Arizona and saw two more offensive philosophies. He is bound to have some new wrinkles that will need to be learned. Picking up the new offense will be one of the major keys to success for the 2013 season.

4. Who will emerge on defense?

The best news of the offseason has been that linebacker Kyle Van Noy chose to stay for his senior year. His presence, however, doesn't mean all is well on the defensive side of the ball. The Cougar D has several important players to replace. Both middle linebackers are gone and all three down linemen. Cornerback Preston Hadley also has to be replaced.

Two of the starting down linemen appear to be set with Eathyn Manumaleuna and Bronson Kaufusi, but who will be number three? Uani Unga and Manoa Pikula have the inside track for the two linebacker spots, but will someone else surprise? Junior College cornerback Trenton Trammell is already enrolled, which will give him the inside track on Sam Lee for the open cornerback position, but will Mike Hague, who is expected to get a sixth year of eligibility, prevail with his experience in the system?

5. When will Bronson Kaufusi show up? 

Kaufusi is busy with basketball obligations for at least the first week of spring practices as BYU will participate in the West Coast Conference tournament. BYU will probably end up with a NIT bid, which would extend the season another week or more. As noted above, he is expected to start, so the earlier he shows up the better. It is highly unlikely that the BYU basketball team will play through the end of spring practices.

6. Will the injury bug bite and how hard?

The biggest story out of spring practices last year was the injuries. Not a day would go by without two or three players going down. Several were held out the entire session due to surgeries performed in January or February. The injuries made team sessions difficult, to say the least. Holding any kind of a Blue vs. White Scrimmage was impossible. It is much more important this year that BYU stay healthy and get as much work done as possible.

February 22, 2013

BYU Football: Did you know? (The year after a Top 10 defense)
By Scott Rappleye

The phenomenal play of the Brigham Young Cougars defense in 2012 helped keep the season interesting despite the struggles on offense. Can the BYU defense follow up this stellar season with an excellent 2013?

Did you know that BYU has never had a Top 20 defense the year after having a Top 10 defense? 
The 1986 Cougar D finished 10th in the nation in total defense allowing 277.8 yards per game. The per game average ballooned to 353.0 in 1987, which was just 51st best in the nation.

In 1998, the BYU defense was 5th in the nation after allowing 273.9 yards per game. However, the 1999 defense finished 21st in the nation after allowing 307.8 yards per game.

Most recently, the 2007 Cougar defense fought its way to a top 10 finish (10th) by allowing 307.9 yards per game. That was followed up with a 355.9 yards per game average and national ranking of 59 in 2008.

Last year, BYU allowed just 266.1 yards per game. That was good enough for 3rd in the nation.

Just like the 1986, 1998, and 2007 defenses, the 2012 BYU defense will have to replace key contributors. With Kyle Van Noy and the defensive mastermind Bronco Mendenhall both back, could 2013 be the year this trend is reversed?

February 13, 2013

The ideal candidate to coach wide receivers for BYU
By Scott Rappleye

Brigham Young Cougars offensive coordinator Robert Anae is busy sifting through resumes to fill two assistant coaching positions. One of those assistants will coach the wide receivers. Imagine what Anae's reaction would be if he found a resume with the following:

Coached one Biletnikoff Award winner;
Coached three 1,000 yard receivers at two different schools in just five seasons; and
Coached at schools located in Texas, Washington, North Carolina, and New York.

 Anae's first thought would probably be, "Get this guy in here for an interview."

After looking a little closer, Anae would find out that this coaching candidate holds not just a bachelor's degree in broadcast communications but a master's degree in educational leadership. In addition to his coaching experience, this coaching candidate has experience as an assistant athletics director and chief of staff.

When the owner of this resume arrived for his interview, he wouldn't be able to hide that he is an African-American. Through some simple questioning, it would be learned that he is not a member of the religion that sponsors BYU. Currently, none of the Cougars coaches fit this profile. 

Oh, and this coaching candidate is a BYU graduate and former Cougar football player.

Linebacker Dennis Simmons is the coaching candidate described above. If he is interested in coming back to BYU to coach wide receivers, it seems like a no brainer that Anae should hire him.

Anae, as well as the assistants he has already hired are BYU graduates. While no one has come out and said it, having former Cougars on board as assistants seems important. In fact, even Aaron Roderick, who was BYU's first choice as receivers coach, is a former Cougar. Besides being part of the club, Simmons has a lot to offer.

His nationwide experience would be an asset to recruiting. He has recruited in the West, Texas, the South, and Northeast. Simmons grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. Wherever BYU wants to look to find prospects, Simmons probably already knows someone who can help the Cougars get their foot in the door. His racial and religious background will do the same.

It is a fact that many teenagers feel more comfortable around people who are similar to them. While some African-American, non-LDS players will still come play in Provo even without an assistant coach like Simmons others will not. Coaches from other schools vying for the same recruit will definitely use it against BYU. It would be a shame to have BYU lose out on the next Cody Hoffman just because someone like Simmons wasn't on staff.

BYU has recognized the importance of a Polynesian presence on the coaching staff to help land top Polynesian recruits. African-American players have made vital contributions to BYU's success over the years. Making a hire to help ensure that quality African-American players continue to come to the Y should be equally important.

Simmons and Anae can probably relate pretty well to each other in terms of football. Besides having a similar playing experience under LaVell Edwards, they were both assistant coaches under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Simmons came on board at Texas Tech in 2005, which was just after Anae left for his first stint as offensive coordinator at BYU. While they were never there at the same time, they both learned from Leach. When Anae presents a game plan or a new scheme, Simmons should pick up pretty quick what the team will need from the receivers to properly execute it, and then be able to effectively convey that to the players.

Simmons' former BYU teammate Tim McTyer thinks Simmons would be a good hire for BYU.

"I would say yeah," McTyer responded. "Dennis has been coaching. He did his time there (graduate assistant) before he left and went out into the coaching ranks. He is another guy that can go out into the community and understand some of the African-American guys as well. I think Dennis would be a fit anywhere, but being a BYU alumni, I think of course he would fit."

McTyer has been a high school football coach for several years. He knows how to recognize a good coach. When he evaluates Simmons it isn't just from the perspective of being a former teammate.

Indeed, Dennis Simmons appears to be the ideal candidate to coach wide receivers for BYU. He brings diversity, but also knows what BYU represents and how to win the right way. He has been successful at multiple schools. He would be a huge asset in recruiting. He has a similar offensive background as Anae.

 

January 30, 2013

Game-by-game analysis of BYU's 2013 football schedule
By Scott Rappleye

The Brigham Young Cougars have announced their 2013 football schedule. Next season's schedule was officially released on the BYU sports program True Blue last night. This schedule has long been promised to be the best in school history. The finished product is very impressive.

Game 1 - at Virginia Cavaliers, August 31
The season will kick off on the East coast. BYU and Virginia don't have a ton of history (this will be just the fourth meeting), but the last two meetings have been thrillers. Each school has won one, including a BYU overtime win in 2000 in a game played at Scott Stadium.

Virginia was just 4-8 last season and finished last in the ACC Coastal Division, but don't expect this game to be easy. First, it is a long road trip. Second, it is the season opener, and BYU is replacing a lot of starters on defense as well as breaking in a new quarterback and new system on offense. TCU started the season at Virginia in 2009--the year the Horned Frogs made their first BCS appearance--and won 30-14. Virginia finished 3-9 that season. Defense was key for TCU in that game, and will be for BYU.

Early odds for BYU win: 50%

Game 2 - Texas Longhorns, September 7
The home opener comes in week two. It should be a very stiff test from the Texas Longhorns. Texas finished last season 9-4, ranked in the top 20, and beat Oregon State (a team BYU lost to at home last season) in the Alamo Bowl. Texas was inconsistent last season. Some games it was the offense winning the game in a shootout, and other games the Longhorns won because of a strong defensive effort. Texas returns almost all of its starters from last year's team. With the experience gained last season, they could have a top 10 team.

BYU lost the last meeting between these two schools, which was the first time the Cougars had ever fallen to the Longhorns. The last time these to teams met in Provo (1988) it was also the second game of the season for BYU as well as the home opener. Texas came in nationally ranked, but BYU won convincingly 47-6.  

Early odds for BYU win: 30%

Game 3 - Utah Utes, September 21
The Cougars get a bye before, arguably, the biggest game of the season. BYU has dropped the last three games to Utah, and the two schools will not play again until 2016. With this being a rivalry game at home following a bye week, this is a must win for the Cougars. Utah was just 5-7 last season and have to replace some key players on the defensive line. The Utah D-line was a big reason why Utah won last year in Salt Lake City.

Utah also looses a lot of its offense from a year ago. Running back John White IV is gone after back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. This isn't just a must win game. There is no excuse for losing to Utah this year. Aside from the scheduling advantage and motivational edge, BYU should be the much better team.  

Early odds for BYU win: 60%     

Game 4 - Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, Friday, September 27
If there is a trap game on the 2013 schedule, this is it. Short week and sandwiched between two rivalry games. Middle Tennessee State isn't a big name school, nor are they from a big name conference, but they have had some very good athletes in recent years (Dwight Dasher). All it will take is a few big plays early in the game for Middle Tennessee State to make this competitive for 60 minutes. They shocked Georgia Tech last season and earned a 49-28 win in Atlanta.

Middle Tennessee State finished 8-4 and tied for second in the Sun Belt last season. Quarterback Logan Kilgore has started the last two seasons and will return for his senior year. The Blue Raiders also return their leading rusher from 2012.

Early odds for BYU win: 70%

Game 5 - at Utah State Aggies, Friday, October 4
The Utah State series has been very competitive the last three seasons, but will that change now that head coach Gary Andersen has left? The Aggies also lose star running back Kerwynn Williams, but quarterback Chuckie Keeton does return. How much drop off will there be with the loss of Andersen and Williams?

Utah State is coming off its most successful season in school history: 11-2, undefeated WAC Champions, top 20 national ranking, bowl win. However, they did not beat BYU. They will be motivated. The Aggies have the home field advantage, which appears to make a big difference in this rivalry. Utah State's only wins in this series the last 30 years have come in Logan. Two of the three wins BYU has had in Logan the last 15 years have been much more challenging than they should have been (1999, 2002).

Early odds for BYU win: 50%

Game 6 - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, October 12
BYU embarrassed Georgia Tech in Atlanta last year. Head coach and defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall had an excellent game plan to stop the Yellow Jackets option offense. How well BYU duplicates that feat and how much improvement Georgia Tech makes on defense will determine whether this game has a different outcome in 2013.

The Georgia Tech defense played a strong game in the Sun Bowl against USC to help GT finish the season 7-7 after losing in the ACC Championship game.

Early odds for BYU win: 65% 

Game 7 - at Houston Cougars, October 19
Houston is coming off a disappointing 5-7 season. Losing head coach Kevin Sumlin and the NCAA all-time passing leader Case Keenum took a toll on Houston. Poor defense also contributed to Houston going from 13-1 in 2011 to a losing record last season. Opponents scored 30 points or more in all seven losses, and over 40 in five of those games. Houston will throw the ball a lot, which is the one area that the BYU defense was susceptible last season.

The trip to Houston is the only game BYU plays in the Lone Star State next season. It is the first time since 1997 that BYU has played in Houston, which is one of the biggest recruiting hotbeds in the nation.

Early odds for BYU win: 45%

Game 8 - Boise State Broncos, October 26
The last half of the season has been a sore spot on BYU's first two schedules as an independent, but not this year. The home game against Boise State in late October is the first of three big games down the stretch. Boise State finished 2012 with an 11-2 record and ranked in the top 20 of both major polls despite never fully developing on offense.

The last two games in this series have been one-point losses for BYU. Both came on the blue turf in Boise. This year BYU gets the Broncos at home. It is very important that BYU wins this game. Besides being a match up of two regional powers, Boise State still carries a lot of clout nationally. BYU needs to establish itself as the best team in the Rockies, and the only way to do that is to beat Boise State.

Early odds for BYU win: 50%

Game 9 - at Wisconsin Badgers, November 9    
BYU has a bye following the Boise State game, and it could not come at a better time. The Cougars will need the rest before make the first of two big November road trips. Wisconsin finished 2012 with an 8-6 record. The Badgers won the Big Ten championship. Former Utah State head coach Gary Andersen is now Wisconsin's head coach. The familiarity with him should help BYU. It also helps that Wisconsin lost running back Montee Ball to graduation. However, he will be replaced by James White who has over 2,500 career rushing yards and 32 career touchdowns.

Camp Randall Stadium will be a hostile place to play, especially since the Wisconsin program has improved by leaps and bounds since the last time BYU went there in 1980. The only games Wisconsin lost at home last year were in overtime.

Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel is the son of former BYU linebacker Rocky Biegel. Vince will be a redshirt sophomore in 2013 and should see playing time in this game.

Early odds for BYU win: 40%

Game 10 - Idaho State Bengals, November 16
BYU fans probably don't have to worry about freezing to death in the final home game of 2013. Expect this game to be played during the day. Idaho State was bad when the two schools met in 2011, and they don't appear to have gotten any better. The Bengals were just 1-10 in 2012 and winless in the Big Sky conference. This should be another nice send off for the seniors playing their final home game in LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Early odds for BYU win: 100%

Game 11 - at Notre Dame Fighting Irish, November 23
One of the best weekends, if not the best weekend, in college football is Thanksgiving weekend. BYU fans can look forward to being a part of that great weekend this year with a huge game at Notre Dame. BYU suffered a heartbreaking loss last year in South Bend and this will be an excellent opportunity to avenge it.

Notre Dame was 12-1 last season and played in the BCS National Championship game. Expect the Irish to take a step back this season. Manti Te'o is gone, and he was the leader on the defense that carried Notre Dame all season last year.

Early odds for BYU win: 55%

Game 12 - at Nevada Wolfpack, November 30
Kyle Van Noy will return home to Reno for his final collegiate regular season game. BYU leads this series 4-2-2, but Nevada has won the last two. Nevada, however, has not been the same team without Colin Kaepernick who was quarterback last time the two schools met.

Nevada was 7-6 in 2012 and finished fifth in the Mountain West Conference. That is pretty much par for the Wolfpack. Besides the breakout 13-1 season when Kaepernick was a senior, Nevada has had between 6 and 8 wins every year since 2006. Nevada will be breaking in a new coach in 2013. The Nevada icon Chris Ault has retired.

Early odds for BYU win: 70%

Bowl Game - Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, San Francisco
If BYU becomes bowl eligible, the Cougars will face a Pac-12 opponent in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl played in San Francisco. It will be the only game BYU plays in California, which is one extra reason it is important that the Cougars make it to a bowl game this season.

BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe did an excellent job laying out the 2013 schedule. There are no killer back-to-back road trips like the 2012 schedule had. There is only one really difficult game in the first half of the schedule. While Idaho State is the only gimme game on the schedule, there are many winnable games for the Cougars. The key to winning those games will be BYU consistently playing up to their potential. At this stage, Texas is the only team that appears to have to potential to be a juggernaut.

The 2013 schedule features 10 teams that BYU has played less than nine times. Only Utah and Utah State has BYU played double digit times in over 90 years of football history. Eight of the teams BYU has played less than five times. Two (Middle Tennessee State and Houston) will be the first ever meeting between the two schools.

BYU plays opponents from eight different conferences (ACC, C-USA, Big 12, Big Ten, MWC, Big Sky, Pac-12, Big East) plus independent Notre Dame, and will play in all four time zones of the continental United States. 

Hawaii and Washington State were expected to be on this schedule, but they both backed out of contracted games with BYU. It is unknown when BYU will face either school again.

January 9, 2013

BYU Football 2012 Season Review: A Noble Experiment Gone Wrong
By Scott Rappleye


The stage was set for the 2012 edition of BYU football in December 2011. Blue chip quarterback Jake Heaps announced he would transfer shortly after the regular season ended. That meant Riley Nelson would be the undisputed leader of the offense. At the end of December, Nelson led BYU to a last second bowl win. While he delivered in the clutch, it was clear that Nelson had a lot of work to do if he was going to compensate for his lack of size and arm strength.

BYU needed more from Nelson than just leadership and play making ability in 2012, especially since the Cougars had put all their offensive eggs in the Riley Nelson basket. It would be a noble experiment, at the very least. The great misfortune of 2011 was that BYU failed to take advantage of a favorable schedule. Heaps was caught in the middle of many of the reasons for BYU’s failure in 2011. Would Nelson, while less talented, be able to take a more unified BYU team to greater heights in 2012 with his experience and leadership?

EXPERIENCE
Nelson seemed destined to be the latest in a long line of BYU quarterbacks who had excelled as seniors. Nearly every beat writer beat like a dead horse the amazing success that BYU had experienced since 1974 when an experienced starter returned for his senior season.

In fact, BYU would have more than the benefit of an experienced senior quarterback. Shortly after the 2011 season ended the local media noticed the 2012 roster was expected to have 29 seniors. The leadership from this massive senior core was anticipated to be an unprecedented positive intangible. Add to the mix very experienced and talented juniors Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman, and the Cougars appeared to have the perfect formula for success in epic proportions.

As the season kicked off, everything was in place to start this experiment. Just four games into the season, this noble experiment had gone terribly wrong.

A GOOD START
The first two games at home against Washington State and Weber State went as planned. The major story going into the game was Mike Leach returning to the sidelines as Washington State’s head coach. The major story after the game was how well and physical the BYU defense played. Van Noy made two sacks. Jordan Johnson intercepted a pass at a key moment and returned it 64 yards in his first career start. Washington State finished the game with 224 yards total offense, including -5 yards rushing, 6 points allowed, and zero touchdowns.

The BYU offense wasn’t too shabby in the opener. The Cougars had over 300 yards passing. Taysom Hill threw a touchdown on his first career play from scrimmage, and Kaneakua Friel had over 100 yards receiving from the tight end position. The 30-6 win over Washington State couldn’t have gone much better.

BYU ran its record to 2-0 with a 45-13 win over Weber State. Cody Hoffman had his first of eight 100 yard receiving games. Three quarterbacks played, and combined for over 300 yards passing. True freshman Jamaal Williams scored his first career touchdown, and true freshman Bronson Kaufusi got his first career sack. The win came with a price, however. Nelson had injured his back. Publicly, the coach’s said it was just back spasms, but later it was learned that he had fractured three vertebrae.

No news could have been worse as BYU prepared for its first challenge of the season.

THE TOLL OF INJURY
Game three was at the University of Utah. In a very hostile environment, BYU got off to a very bad start. A false start penalty on 4th and 1 nullified a first down run by Nelson. That penalty forced BYU to punt. Utah returned the punt 57 yards to the BYU 17-yard line. Utah scored two plays later to take a 7-0 lead. That left BYU playing catch up the rest of the game. In the final minute, BYU trailed by three. A 47-yard pass from Nelson to Hoffman gave BYU a chance to win or force overtime. Poor pass blocking prevented another Nelson to Hoffman hook up that probably would have won the game. Nevertheless, BYU had one second left to attempt a game winning field goal. It was blocked, but Utah fans poured onto the field before the play was over. The resulting penalty gave BYU a second chance. The second field goal attempt bounced off the uprights.

For the third straight year, BYU had lost to Utah. It was a big black eye for the season.

Five days later, BYU could have got the season back on track with a win at Boise State. That Thursday night in Boise, the Cougar D solidified itself as a major force to be reckoned with. They allowed zero points. They stopped Boise State on all five attempted fourth downs. A 4th and goal from the 1-yard line in one of the greatest goal line stands in school history. Not even an injury to senior defensive end Eathyn Manumaleuna could set back this defense. In fact, that misfortune opened a door for Ezekiel Ansah to become one of the biggest stories in college football for 2012.

The third year player from Accra, Ghana finished with eight tackles that night. He assumed Manumaleuna’s starting roll and quickly became the hottest NFL commodity in Provo this century. Ansah would grace the pages of Sports Illustrated before the end of the season, and was projected to be a first round draft pick in the NFL draft.

Nelson’s injury, however, would have a greater impact on the outcome of the Boise State game. The true severity of Nelson’s back was finally apparent as he played the worst game of his career. He completed 4 of 9 passes for 19 yards and 3 interceptions. His final interception was returned for a touchdown. BYU lost the game 7-6. With less than four minutes to play, Hill scored on a four-yard run, but his pass on the two-point conversion was incomplete.

The outcry over playing Nelson while injured and electing to go for two at Boise was tremendous. The job security of Bronco Mendenhall and some of the offensive assistants be came a popular topic for the rest of the season.

POSTITIVE AND NEGATIVE
Despite finishing the season 6-3 after the Boise State game, a dark cloud hovered over the rest of the season. Anytime the Cougars did something positive an equal, if not greater, negative would shortly follow.

Hill started in place of the injured Nelson the next two games. Against Hawaii, BYU had its first 100-yard rusher since the 2010 season. Hill and Williams both had over 100 yards rushing behind a resurgent offensive line. Days after the 47-0 triumph, BYU learned Famika Anae’s football career was over. He was a big part of the resurgence.

The next week, BYU beat a very good Utah State team. BYU was now 4-2. With Hill and Williams both rushing for over 200 yards over the last two games, there was some excitement again about the possibilities of this team as they prepared to face back-to-back top 10 ranked teams. That excitement was quickly lost as it was soon discovered that Hill’s season was over due to a knee injury suffered on an unnecessary run in the final two minutes.

BLACKOUT
For Homecoming, BYU debuted new all-black uniforms. It was BYU’s first ever blackout. A 4-0 and no. 10 ranked Oregon State team was the opponent. The Beavers smacked around the BYU defense and left them black and blue, even without the uniforms as Oregon State’s back up quarterback scorched the BYU secondary for over 300 yards in his first career start. It was the one game all year that the BYU defense didn’t play well.

The BYU offense did well to pick up the slack. Nelson was back under center. BYU stayed toe-to-toe with Oregon State through three quarters. Two tipped passes in the fourth quarter resulted in 14 points for Oregon State. It was too much for BYU to overcome.

A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY
Up next was undefeated and no. 5 ranked Notre Dame. The Golden Domers were the only team on the schedule with a better defense than BYU. Even though, BYU had a golden opportunity to shock the college football world. As the fourth quarter started, the Cougars led 14-10. If the offense could score one more touchdown, the defense was playing well enough to win the game.

BYU couldn’t score a single point in the final 15 minutes, and the defense wore down. It wasn’t like opportunities weren’t there. BYU missed a 46-yard field goal with 6:31 to play in the third quarter. BYU punted just 34-yards away from the end zone with 6:10 to play and down by three. Poor placekicking was a problem all year. The Notre Dame game was when it was costliest.

The loss at Notre Dame left BYU at 0.500 for the second time in the season. Another 10 win season was officially impossible. The disappointment of this reality was magnified by the fact that this Cougars defense was still ranked among the nation’s elite.

TRYING TO FINISH STRONG
The final four games continued the positive-negative trend. The Cougar D absolutely dismantled the Georgia Tech option attack and didn’t allow a touchdown. The 41-17 win was BYU’s biggest road win of the season. Jamaal Williams tied the school record for most touchdowns by a freshman in a single game (4) in Atlanta. He was well on his way to having one of the best freshmen seasons in school history.

A few days later, several BYU defensive players were involved in a brawl. Two were suspended for the rest of the year and another had to sit out a game.

Hoffman went off in November. Up to that point in the season, it seemed pretty conclusive that he was not having the type of season that would make him decide to leave early for the NFL. After he set new career highs for receptions in a game, receiving yards in a game, and touchdowns in a game (5 vs. New Mexico State, also tied the school record), Hoffman's future wasn't so certain.

Unfortunately, the same problem that turned the season south back in September reared its ugly head in November. In a road game at San Jose State, Nelson suffered injury again. This time there was no doubt to anybody that he was in serious pain. The coaches never took him out of the game. The Cougars squandered several opportunities to overcome a 20-7 deficit that was created by BYU’s poor pass defense in the first quarter. Although San Jose State would finish the season 11-2, this loss brought irreparable damage to the season.

It was official. Riley Nelson was the worst senior quarterback at BYU. He was 4-5 as a starter. His passing stats were pedestrian. He lost to Utah. The five losses were the most BYU had ever had with a returning starting quarterback during his senior season. Nelson was too injured to start the two remaining games.

A NEW QB CONTROVERSY
With Nelson and Hill both out with injury, the door was opened for senior James Lark to make his first career start. In the regular season finale at New Mexico State, Lark had the most prolific passing day by a Cougar QB in four years. He passed for 384 yards and 6 touchdowns in the 50-14 win.

Mendenhall and the offensive coaches were embroiled in another quarterback controversy. Who should start the bowl game? Mendenhall professed loyalty to Nelson after the New Mexico State game. Incredible pressure was applied from the outside to start Lark. Finally, Mendenhall acquiesced. Lark started the Poinsettia Bowl.

BACK TO SAN DIEGO
From 1978-93, BYU’s bowl destination was the Holiday Bowl in San Diego more than two-thirds of the time. An invitation from the Poinsettia Bowl brought BYU back to San Diego during bowl season for the first time in 19 years. The opponent would be the hometown San Diego State Aztecs. BYU has played some of its greatest games against San Diego State. Some of the greatest performances in Holiday Bowl history were by BYU Cougars.

This Poinsettia Bowl would be no different.

Trailing 6-3 in the fourth quarter, Kyle Van Noy took center stage. In less than seven minutes, the junior outside linebacker scored two touchdowns (fumble recovery, interception return) to help BYU take control of the game and win comfortably 23-6. It was the greatest single defensive performance by a BYU player, ever. When the Poinsettia Bowl officials decide it is time to start a Hall of Fame, Van Noy should be a member of the inaugural class.

LESSON LEARNED
The noble experiment taught us that it made the margin of error too small—essentially zero. BYU could afford zero injuries, zero mental mistakes, zero bad days, zero bad coaching decisions. Of course, it would be preposterous to think a football team could have such good fortune. At 8-5 it wasn’t a terrible season for BYU. There were many great moments to be proud of. However, it will be almost impossible to ever remember this season and not think of how close BYU was to achieving much more.

 

December 27, 2012

Bringham Young Cougars set three Poinsettia Bowl
records, tie three others
By Scott Rappleye

The Brigham Young Cougars extended their school record for most consecutive bowl wins to four last week when they won the Poinsettia Bowl. BYU also continued its streak record setting play in bowl games. BYU set or tied six official Poinsettia Bowl records.

Ezekiel Ansah was the first to enter the record books when he intercepted a pass on San Diego State's first drive of the game. He tied the record for most passes intercepted. Later in the game, Kyle Van Noy and Alani Fua would tie that same record with interceptions of their own.

Van Noy and Jordan Johnson tied the record for most fumbles recovered with one each.

Just as BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL said it was possible a week before the game
, Cody Hoffman broke the record set in 2005 of nine pass receptions by catching 10 passes from James Lark.

Early in the fourth quarter, Lark tied the dubious record for most interceptions thrown with two. By the end of the game, the San Diego State quarterback overtook Lark and held the record all by himself with three.

As a team, BYU impacted the record books by holding San Diego State to just six points. It was the fewest points allowed breaking the old record of seven set in 2006.

The 29 points that BYU and San Diego State combined to score was a new record for overall scoring futility. The old record was 33 points set by Boise State and TCU in the 2008 game.

Although both teams had a lot of turnovers, BYU and San Diego State still combined for 15 punts in the game (BYU 8, San Diego State 7), which tied the record for most punts by both teams. TCU and Northern Illinois combined for 15 punts in 2006.

According to the Voice of the Cougars Greg Wrubell, BYU and San Diego State set a Poinsettia Bowl record for most turnovers by combining for 8 (San Diego State 5, BYU 3). However, that record category is not listed on the Poinsettia Bowl's website. In reality, there are many other records that BYU probably set. Five turnovers forced is probably a record. It is hard to imagine that another defensive player has scored two touchdowns, so it can be said that Van Noy holds the record for most defensive touchdowns scored. BYU probably holds the team record for most defensive touchdowns scored. BYU scored 20 points in the fourth quarter. That might be the most points scored in one quarter. Unfortunately, the Poinsettia Bowl's online record book isn't very comprehensive; therefore, these other possible records cannot be verified.

December 7, 2012

Poinsettia Bowl records BYU could break or tie
By Scott Rappleye

The last two seasons, the Brigham Young Cougars have played in bowl games with a short history. This has resulted in BYU and its players breaking or tying several records for the respective bowls. In 2010, BYU set or tied 42 team and individual New Mexico Bowl records. Last year, BYU set or tied 17 team and individual Armed Forces Bowl records. The Poinsettia Bowl is another one of the newer bowls, which means the Cougars could repeat the record breaking performances of the last two years.

Here is a list of Poinsettia Bowl records that BYU, somewhat realistically, could break or tie.


Team Records


TEAM RUSHING

Most Rushing TDs

5: Navy, 2005

BYU rushed for 5 TDs against Hawaii, and 4 TDs against Weber State and Georgia Tech.

TEAM SCORING

Most Points

51: Navy, 2005

BYU scored 52 points in a game once this season.

Fewest Points

7: NIU, 2006

The BYU defense has held four opponents to 7 points or less.

Fewest Points (both teams)

33: Boise State vs TCU, 2008

BYU has had three games this season with fewer total points scored.

Largest Margin of Victory

30: NIU vs. TCU, 2006

BYU has beaten four opponents by 30 points or more this season, and BYU has beaten San Diego State by 30 or more many times.

TEAM PUNTING


Highest Average per Punt

48.0 Boise State, 2008

BYU has averaged over 48 yards per punt many times this season.

GAME NUMBERS

Largest Attendance

48,049: Navy vs. SDSU

San Diego State is the hometown team, and BYU usually draws well in San Diego.

Individual Records


RUSHING

Most Rushes

28: Ronnie Hillman, SDSU, 2010

Jamaal Williams carried the ball 28 times at Georgia Tech.

Most TDs Rushing

3: Reggie Campbell, Navy, 2005
3: Jeff Ballard, TCU, 2006
3: Ronnie Hillman, SDSU, 2010

Jamaal Williams had 3 rushing TDs at Georgia Tech.

Longest Run

44: Reggie Campbell, Navy, 2007

Jamaal Williams has a 49-yard run this season.

Longest TD Run

43: Eric Kettani, Navy, 2007

PASSING

Most Attempts

48: Colby Cameron, La Tech, 2011

Riley Nelson and James Lark have both thrown more than 48 passes in a single game this season.

Most Completions

26: Justin Holland, CSU, 2005
26: Jordan Wynn, Utah, 2009

Riley Nelson and James Lark have both completed 28 or more passes in a single game this season.

Most Yards Passing

381: Justin Holland, CSU, 2005

James Lark passed for 384 yards against New Mexico State.

Most TD Passes

3: Justin Holland, CSU, 2005
3: Jordan Wynn, Utah, 2009

Riley Nelson and James Lark have both passes for 3 touchdowns or more in a single game this season.

RECEIVING

Most Pass Receptions

9: David Anderson, CSU, 2005

Cody Hoffman has had double-digit receptions in both of the last two games.

Most Receiving Yards

165: Vincent Brown, SDSU, 2010

Hoffman had 182 yards receiving against New Mexico State

Most Receiving TDs

2: Dustin Osborn, CSU, 2005
2: Reggie Campbell, Navy, 2005
2: Kendrick Moeai, Utah, 2009

Hoffman has caught 3 TDs or more in three games this season, and 3 TDs in both of his previous bowl games.

KICKING & PUNTING

Longest Field Goal

39: Joey Bullen, Navy, 2007

Placekicking has been bad this year, but 39-yards isn’t that long of a field goal. Justin Sorensen's longest field goal this season is 35 yards.

Longest Punt

67: Anson Kelton, TCU, 2011

Riley Stephenson has one 67-yard punt in his career

Highest Average per Punt

48.0: Kyle Brotzman, TCU, 2008

Riley Stephenson has averaged over 48 yards per punt six times this season, including both of the last two games.

PUNT RETURNS

Highest Punt Return Average

14.8: Brian Bonner, TCU, 2006

JD Falslev has averaged 15 yards or more three times this season. The last two bowl games he has averaged 14.7 and 21.0 yards per punt return.

Longest Punt Return

22: Brian Bonner, TCU, 2006

JD Falslev has four punt returns longer than 22 yards this year. He has had one return of 22 yards in each of the last two bowl games.

KICKOFF RETURNS

Highest Kickoff Return Average

38.0: Shaky Smithson, Utah, 2009

JD Falslev averaged 43 yards per kickoff return at Georgia Tech.

DEFENSE

Most QB Sacks

3: Tyler Tidwell, Navy, 2005

Kyle Van Noy had 3 sacks at New Mexico State

Most Fumble Recoveries

1: Jeff Horinek, CSU, 2005
1: Joe Jiannoni, Utah, 2007

Any BYU player who recovers a fumble in the game will tie this record.

Most Interceptions

1: (13 tied)

Any BYU player who intercepts a pass will tie this record.

The complete Poinsettia Bowl records can be found here <http://www.poinsettiabowl.com/bowl-history/bowl-records/>

 

November 7, 2012

BYU Football: Poor Placekicking is a two-way street
By Scott Rappleye



The Brigham Young Cougars have struggled with placekicking this season, but so have their opponents—at least when they play BYU. Surprisingly, BYU has made a greater percentage of attempted field goals than opponents, and the extra point percentage is pretty close as well.


The placekicking situation was dicey to start the year with junior Justin Sorensen taking longer than expected to return from back surgery. Two missed field goals that, essentially, cost BYU a win against Utah, followed by three missed point after touchdown attempts in the next three games exacerbated the situation and fan frustration. Even now, thanks to a very ugly field goal attempt at Notre Dame, confidence is very much lacking.

With the amount of attention focused on the Cougars’ kicking woes, it has been easy to overlook how BYU’s opponents have been equally as bad.

The Cougars have made 53.8 percent of their field goal attempts this season (7-13), and 90 percent (27-30) of their point-after-touchdown (PAT) attempts. On roughly half as many PAT attempts (16), BYU opponents have already missed one kick for a 93.8 percent success rate. BYU is tied for 8th in the nation in field goal “defense.” Opponents have made exactly 50 percent (6-12) of attempted field goals against the Cougars.

The placekicking struggles become even more intriguing considering BYU hasn’t played a lot of teams that are bad at kicking field goals. Only two of the Cougars’ nine opponents have made less than 64 percent of their field goals this season. Yet, when these teams have played BYU, they typically kick worse than normal.

The following is a breakdown of how BYU opponents have fared kicking field goals against BYU compared with their overall success this season.

Attempted zero field goals
Oregon State (Season: 83.3%)
Hawaii (Season: 66.7%)
Weber State (Season: 66.7%)

Better against BYU
Washington State, 100% (Season: 73.3%)
Georgia Tech, 50% (Season: 45.5%)

Average against BYU
Utah, 50% (Season: 50%)

Worse against BYU
Boise State, 0% (Season: 66.7%)
Utah State, 50% (Season: 64.3%)
Notre Dame, 33% (Season: 75%)

Is there a greater meaning to this? Are BYU’s struggles somehow related to the struggles of their opponents? Can watching the opponent’s placekicker struggle cause BYU’s placekicker to struggle, or vice versa?

These are questions that, most likely, don’t have an answer. While it doesn't excuse BYU's struggles, it is interesting, to say the least, that the poor placekicking has been a two-way street this year.

October 31, 2012

BYU linebacker Van Noy close to duplicating rare achievement
By Scott Rappleye



Last year, Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Kyle Van Noy had his breakout season. He displayed a wide array of skills and talents as he made plays all over the field. By season’s end, he was the only college football player to have recorded a stat in all the major defensive statistical categories. With a blocked punt against Georgia Tech, Van Noy has nearly duplicated his rare achievement.

Van Noy’s final 2011 stat line reads as follows:

68 tackles
15 tackles for loss
7 sacks
3 interceptions
3 pass break ups
10 quarterback hurries
1 fumble recovery
3 forced fumbles
1 blocked kick

He also added a touchdown on his one fumble recovery.

Through nine games in 2012, all Van Noy lacks is a fumble recovery to hit for the cycle, to borrow a baseball expression, again. His 2012 stats are as follows:

31 tackles
12.5 tackles for loss
7.5 sacks
1 interception
5 pass break ups
8 quarterback hurries
3 forced fumbles
1 blocked kick

Though not considered a defensive stat category, Van Noy has not scored a touchdown this season.

Recovering fumbles is a challenge for Van Noy. He is usually the one forcing the fumble. His only fumble recovery in 2011 was one of the three that he forced. Incidentally, it was also the play Van Noy scored his touchdown.

In 2011, Van Noy had registered a stat in every major defensive category by game eight. While many stats were easy to come by for Van Noy in 2012, it took him eight games just to get an interception, and nine games to block a kick.

Watching to see if Van Noy will get the fumble recovery he needs to repeat his rare accomplishment is one good reason to tune in for the rest of the season.

October 24, 2012

Mendenhall: Jamaal Williams is on the right track
By Scott Rappleye



The Brigham Young Cougars entered the 2012 season expecting a legion of seniors to lead the team. It was expected that 29 seniors would be on the roster. Their experience and leadership was going to carry the team. There didn’t appear to be any room for a young sapling to grow among this forest of redwoods.

Jamaal Williams, the youngest of BYU’s saplings, has shown otherwise.

With four running backs ahead of him on the depth chart in July, Williams was a prime candidate to redshirt. A surprise move by Joshua Quezada to transfer just before the season started opened an opportunity. However, two backs still stood in the way.

A strong fall camp gave Williams an edge over redshirt freshman Adam Hine. His lack of experience, however, left Williams as the number three running back behind David Foote and Michael Alisa on the roster. Nevertheless, it was certain that Williams would not redshirt. He was going to play.

Eight games into the season, Williams isn’t just BYU’s starting running back; he is taking playing time away from others. When asked why another running back, Paul Lasike, hadn’t carried the ball the last two games, head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Williams’ play could have something to do with it.

“I don’t think you can underestimate Jamaal Williams’ role,” Mendenhall said. “I’m not sure how much you want to give to anybody else right now. He’s doing a really nice job.”

Those are strong words coming from Mendenhall, but It is hard to argue against his assessment.

Against back-to-back top 10 opponents, Williams has had over 100 all-purpose yards each game. Since Williams became the Cougars’ primary ball carrier after Alisa broke his arm early in the Hawaii game, he has averaged 123.8 all-purpose yards per game.

One week ago versus Oregon State, Williams was BYU’s biggest playmaker in the fourth quarter when BYU needed to comeback from a 28-21 deficit. He had a 30-yard reception and an 8-yard rush on BYU’s 69-yard drive that ended in a field goal to cut the deficit to 28-24. The rest of the game, BYU had just 40 yards of total offense. Williams had 31 of those yards on a pass reception.

Williams may not have his name in the scoring summary for the Notre Dame game, but BYU would not have scored its first touchdown without Williams. He had one reception and four rushes to account for 43 yards (50 including a 7-yard personal foul penalty after his final run) on the 56-yard drive.

What Williams has done the last two weeks against top 10 foes, not to mention playing in front of more than 80,000 people in South Bend, becomes even more impressive considering he is just 17-years of age.

Said Mendenhall, “I’m really impressed from just the way he’s managing the settings he’s going in, the touches he gets and how he’s running the ball. He seems confident and I think he’s on the right track.”

Williams is on track to be one of the most prolific freshmen running backs in school history. Thus far, he has 79 carries for 409 yards (5.2 average) and 5 touchdowns, as well as 17 receptions for 172 yards.

With five games to go, Harvey Unga’s redshirt freshman season in 2007 is a little out of reach for Williams. Unga had 1,227 yards rushing, 655 yards receiving, and 17 touchdowns. However, exceeding the standards set by Ronney Jenkins for true freshmen probably are not.

Williams has averaged 81.5 yards rushing the last four games. If he maintains that average for the final five games, then he will finish the season with 816 yards rushing. That is 83 more yards than Jenkins had as a freshman in 1996. At present, Williams is just 17 yards shy of Jenkins’ 189 yards receiving for all of the 1996 season.

Looking at the remaining opponents, Williams' chances look good at topping Jenkins. Just last week, Idaho surrendered 839 yards of total offense, San Jose State gave up 412, and New Mexico State conceded 516. Jenkins did score 14 touchdowns (11 rushing, 3 receiving) as a freshman, which Williams may have trouble matching. However, Williams is just one touchdown behind the six that Jenkins had through eight games.

Only time will tell whether the track that Williams is on leads him past Jenkins. At this point, however, this is a fast track with a trajectory that no one is complaining about.

 

October 17, 2012

BYU Ready for "Business Trip" To South Bend
By Scott Rappleye


The Brigham Young Cougars travel to South Bend, Indiana, this week. South Bend is not only the home of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, it is the home of the College Football Hall of the Fame. South Bend is a Mecca for college football fans. For the BYU football team this won't be a vacation. This is a business trip.

With Notre Dame undefeated and ranked number 5 in the nation, it could be easy to get wrapped up in the mystique of Notre Dame football. It isn't by accident that the College Football Hall of Fame is located in the same city. Few schools can boast the tradition that the Fighting Irish have.

BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall isn't allowing himself, or his team, to be tourists this week. After practice on Monday, Mendenhall said his focus is on the game.

"I think once our players get there they'll realize it's a nice place, it's a historic place to play, full of tradition," Mendnehall explained, "but we just have to play."

Linebacker Spencer Hadley understands that his mentality as a player has to be different then the mentality of a fan. He understands the history of this week's opponent, but can differentiate the awe of a fan from his job as a football player.

"It’s cool," Hadley said. "I don’t really get sucked into the hype of it all. It’ll be fun to go to South Bend and play there. Fans get to approach it that way but as players we don’t really get to look at it like that. It’s a business trip. It’s not like we’re going to Disneyland. We’re going to play a football game and we’re preparing as such. As far as it being historic, I don’t get into it so much."

Playing Notre Dame, in Notre Dame Stadium, does add an element of pageantry for the game that doesn't happen every week.
The pageantry prompted tight end Kaneakua Friel to say, "I think it just makes it for a nice game. We’re going to a stadium we’ve never been to."

Friel also noticed that the Notre Dame tradition isn't something he should let intimidate him.

"They have a lot of tradition kind of like we have traditions here at BYU."

Some BYU players won't be influenced by Notre Dame's history simply because they are ignorant to it.

"I never grew up really a Notre Dame fan or anything like that," said quarterback Riley Nelson. "It’s going to be a big noisy stadium and they are No. 5 in the country. Other than that I don’t know much about it."

As many BYU fans expect to learn first hand this weekend, there is a lot for football fans to see and do in South Bend to make their time there memorable. For the BYU football team, they aren't going to South Bend as sightseers. This is business. They will be there for one reason only: to win a football game.

 

September 27, 2012

Ezekiel Ansah Is Becoming A Monstah
By Neal Rappleye

 

Two years ago Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah didn’t even know how to put on football pads. Now, he is popping pads like a pro.

Ansah came to BYU in 2008 from Accra, Ghana, with hopes of being a track star. Despite being a complete novice to the game, his 6-foot-6, 270 pound frame and sprinter speed earned him a spot on the team as a project player at linebacker and on the defensive line. It also helped that team leaders liked his attitude and told the coaches they wanted him on the team. 

Once word about Ansah got out, it was impossible for fans not to conjure up in their imaginations that one day he would be an one-man wrecking crew on defense. A guy with his combination of size and speed would create all sorts of mismatches for opposing offenses. It turns out, fans weren’t the only ones drooling over Ansah’s possibilities. 

Ansah was limited mostly to special teams play as a sophomore in 2010, but as the 2011 season approached, his position coach Kelly Poppinga gushed that Ansah could, easily, be an NFL player. As the 2011 season unfolded, Ansah didn’t play a major role on the Cougar defense. 

With just one year of eligibility left, and the hype still unfulfilled, Ansah’s story didn’t appear that it was going to have a fairy tale ending. It didn’t help that depth on the BYU defensive line and linebacking corps was getting better and better. A ray of light shown, however, after spring practices earlier this year. 

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has been known for downplaying the potential of really good players. In interviews he has been prone to point out their weaknesses and curtail any complimentary comment. When Mendenhall jumped on the “Ansah has NFL potential” train at the end of spring camp, it was a clear sign that Ansah’s role would be different in 2012. 

Ansah still plays on special teams, but that didn’t stop him from making the first big defensive play for BYU in the 2012 season. 

On its first possession of the game, Washington State was steadily moving the ball down field. The red Cougars had reached the blue Cougars’ 18-yard line. On 2nd and 6, Washington State threw a screen pass to a running back. Ansah had sniffed it out, and was there to make the tackle, but it was no normal tackle. 

Ansah showed of his super strength and speed. He had slightly overrun the play, so when he collided with the ball carrier, his feet were way out in front of his body. Rather than hold onto the ball carrier and bring him down with him as he fell to his back, Ansah defied the laws of physics. He dug his heels in, stood himself back up, turned the ball carrier around, and slammed him to the ground. 

The play was a five-yard loss.

Ansah finished the season opener with a career high in tackles (3), and tackles for loss (2). He also had one pass break up. 

Ansah continued to contribute in the next two games with six tackles. Solid, and definitely more active than his first two seasons, but nothing spectacular, yet. Then came game four against Boise State. 

Against the Broncos in Boise, Ansah played like a "monstah." He made his presence felt several times. 

With two minutes to play in the first quarter, Boise State dialed up one of their specialties: a fake punt. All the Broncos needed was two yards. The snap went to the upback. He was stopped cold at the line of scrimmage by big no. 47.  

Had that been the only tackle Ansah made, he still would have had an impact on the game. Unfortunately for Boise State, Ansah was just getting warmed up.

The Boise State offensive line had not allowed a single sack all season. That ended with 3:22 to play in the first half when Ansah took down the Broncos’ quarterback for a 5-yard loss.  

In the middle of the third quarter, Boise State was starting to pull away from BYU. Three straight turnovers by BYU had given Boise State a 7-0 lead, and put the Broncos in a position to really put the hammer down on BYU with a touchdown following Michael Alisa’s fumble at the 1-yard line. Ansah was the answer for BYU’s turnover woes.  That is when Ziggy went beast mode on Boise State. On first down he got into the back field and tackled the ball carrier for a one-yard loss. On second down he did it again, this time with the help of Brandon Ogletree.  

By this point, Boise State had learned its lesson, and ran away from Ansah on third and fourth downs. It was too late, however, Ansah’s clutch plays had given the momentum back to BYU and the Broncos turned the ball over to the Cougars without scoring a single point.  

Although BYU came up short on the score board, Ansah played the game of his life. He displayed the skills that his coaches had seen in practice that made them utter “Ansah” and “NFL” in the same breath. He had a career high 8 tackles (6 solo), 1 sack, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1 pass break up. All of these stats were team highs. 

On the year, Ansah has just as many tackles as Kyle Van Noy (17, seventh highest on team), and an equal number of tackles for loss as Spencer Hadley (5, second highest on team). 

With an unfortunate injury to defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna, Ansah is sure to see his playing time rise. Of course, the way Ansah played like a “monstah” at Boise, he would have seen the field more, regardless.

 

September 25, 2012

BYU vs. Boise St: Mo Moments
By Neal Rappleye

With such little scoring in the Brigham Young Cougars game against Boise State, it felt like the momentum was stagnant most of the night. Nevertheless, there were still seven moments when momentum shifted, swung, or boosted during the game.

Mo Moment 1
After both teams started without gaining a first down on their first offensive series, Boise State started driving the ball on series number two. The Broncos moved the ball to the BYU 16-yard line where the drive stalled with a 4th and 5. Boise State attempted a 33-yard field goal. It missed wide right.

Momentum swing! That miss gave BYU momentum. The defense stopped the Broncos offense cold the next two series. More importantly, Boise State coach Chris Petersen lost all confidence in his place kicker. Boise State would move into field goal range four other times in the game, but would not attempt another field goal. The BYU defense stopped Boise State on all four fourth downs.

Mo Moment 2
Boise State has built a reputation of taking daring risks, and catching opponents off guard with rarely used plays. With about two minutes left in the first quarter and facing a 4th and 2 at their own 22-yard line, Boise State lined up for a punt. The snap went to the up back who tried to run for the first down. Ezekiel Ansah stuffed him for no gain.

Momentum boost! BYU now had the ball just 22 yards away from the end zone. It was still a 0-0 game. BYU was poised to make the first score of the game and force a young Boise State offense play catch up.

Mo Moment 3
BYU had moved the ball to the 2-yard line following the fake punt stop. The Cougars were just about to take a 7-0 lead. A 1-yard rush appeared to give BYU a first down at the 1-yard line. An illegal blocking penalty on the BYU offensive line negated the play and the first down. That gave BYU a 3rd and 16 at the 17-yard line. Riley Nelson dropped back to pass, and threw an interception.

Momentum shift! Boise State had dodged a bullet. The Broncos had gone from defending against a 1st and Goal at the 1-yard line to having possession of the ball at the 8-yard line. BYU had been unable to muster much offense in the game and could not afford to squander such a golden opportunity.

Mo Moment 4
BYU received the ball on the first possession of the second half. The game was still tied 0-0. After Cody Hoffman returned the second half kickoff to the 34-yard line, BYU had 3rd and 6 at the 38. Nelson dropped back to pass and had his pass intercepted by the Boise State defensive end.

Momentum boost! Not only did Boise State get another turnover, the interception was returned for a touchdown to give the Broncos a 7-0 lead.

Mo Moment 5
BYU got the ball back immediately after the pick-6. After gaining 10 yards in three run plays, Nelson threw a pass that was tipped by the intended receiver, and Boise State intercepted it.

Momentum boost! Back-to-back interceptions by the Broncos, and three total for the game. They took possession at their own 43-yard line. Boise State wasn’t able to turn this turnover into points, but the great field position allowed Boise State to pin BYU at the 1-yard line following a punt.

Mo Moment 6
Boise State forced a fumble at the 1-yard line, and recovered it there. They ran the ball in for a touchdown on first down. The officials, however, had stopped the play for an official review of the fumble call. The fumble was confirmed, but Boise State’s touchdown didn’t count. The BYU defense moved Boise State back on first and second downs. Boise State got back to the 1-yard line on third down, and the quarterback sneak was stuffed on fourth down.

Momentum shift! The stalwart Cougar D exerted their dominance on the Boise State offense once again. It was an incredible goal line stand. Boise State would not threaten to score again for the rest of the game.

Mo Moment 7
From 6:27 in the third quarter when BYU made the fourth down stop to 8:03 in the fourth quarter, the two teams battled for field position. Boise State punted the ball 51 yards and out of bounds at the 5-yard line. Although BYU had switched quarterbacks, the offense had still been lackluster. There was no reason to believe that the Cougs could put together a 95-yard drive.

On first down, Taysom Hill found Richard Wilson for 21 yards. Couple that with a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Boise State, and BYU had picked up 36 yards in one play.

Momentum boost! That pass play plus penalty was a breath of life for the BYU offense. Ten plays later, BYU scored to pull within one point 7-6.

As we all know, Bronco Mendenhall chose to win the game with a two-point conversion rather than tie the game and try to win in overtime. Just as a quick reminder, here is what was explained last week about momentum carrying over from the end of regulation into overtime.

From past observations, including the 2009 BYU-Utah game and a game last week between Auburn and Louisians-Monroe, momentum doesn’t carry over very well, or at least not consistently, from the end of regulation into overtime. The break in play to have a coin toss and starting at the 25-yard line are possible contributing factors for momentum being lost.

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email atbluecougarfootball@gmail.com

Bringham Young Cougars in the NFL, Week 3: Pitta continues hot start, Collie injured again
By Neal Rappleye

The former Brigham Young Cougars in the NFL had their ups and downs this week, as Dennis Pitta continued his hot start to the season and Dallas Reynolds made his first career start, but Austin Collie once again finds himself injured.

Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens, Tight End

In his third season in the NFL, Pitta is now showing Baltimore fans what made BYU fans love him; Pitta is a big target who can haul in passes. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has seemed to notice Pitta this year, targeting him more than any other receiver so far this season. Last night, Pitta was targeted seven times, second most on the team, and brought in five catches for 50 yards and a touchdown, where he dodged one tackler and hurdled over another. The touchdown gave Baltimore its first lead of the game, as they started out giving New England a 13-0 cushion. The Ravens went on to win with a last second field goal, making the final score 31-30, giving them a 2-1 record.

Stats
This week: 5 receptions, 50 yards, 1 touchdown
Season: 18 receptions, 188 yards, 2 touchdowns

Baltimore Ravens: 2-1
Next: Cleveland Browns

Brett Keisel, Pittsburgh Steelers, Defensive End

Keisel started at defensive end for the Steelers, but had little impact, not recording any tackles or stats in the game. The Steelers held a 10 point lead going into the fourth quarter, but Oakland scored 13 unanswered to end the game to win 34-31.

Stats
This week: 0 tackles
Season: 6 tackles (2 solo)

Pittsburgh Steelers: 1-2
Next: Philadelphia Eagles

John Denney, Miami Dolphins, Long Snapper

Denney saw considerable action on crucial plays in the Dolphins’ loss to the New York Jets. Denney snapped five punts and two successful extra points. He also snapped four field goal attempts by the Dolphins, but only two were successful. The attempt with under one minute to go in regulation tied the game for Miami and put it into overtime. In overtime, the Dolphins had another field goal attempt but missed. The Jets then went down the field and put in a field goal of their own for the win.

Miami Dolphins: 1-2
Next: Arizona Cardinals

Dallas Reynolds, Philadelphia Eagles, Center

Reynolds made his first career start at Center for the Eagles on Sunday, in their 27-6 loss to the undefeated Arizona Cardinals. Reynolds recorded a tackle, also the first of his career, after a Philadelphia fumble and an Arizona recovery.

Philadelphia Eagles: 2-1
Next: New York Giants

Austin Collie, Indianapolis Colts, Wide Receiver

Collie cannot seem to catch a break. After missing the first two games with a concussion, Collie finally made his first appearance against the Jacksonville Jaguars. After making his first catch of the season, Collie suffered a knee injury and had to limp to the sideline with the help of others, and then was carted into the locker room. The Clots announced today that Collie will miss the rest of the season. The Colts would go on to lost the game, 22-17.

Stats
This week: 1 catch, 6 yards
Season: 1 catch, 6 yards

John Beck, Houston Texans, Quarterback

Did not play in the Texans’ 31-25 win over the Denver Broncos.

Stats
No stats recorded yet.

Houston Texans: 3-0
Next: Tennessee Titans

In other news, Harvey Unga was not promoted from the Chicago Bears’ practice squad to the roster, even while Matt Forte sat out with an injury in Sunday’s game.

 

September 5, 2012

Pleasant Surprises Abound in BYU Season Opener
By Neal Rappleye

The season opener always has a few surprises for players and coaches, as well as for fans. These surprises can be either good or bad things. Fortunately, this year, the first game of the season for the Brigham Young Cougars offered several positive surprises. Here at Blue Cougar Football, we have already discussed the biggest surprise, the emergence of Kaneakua Friel at Tight End. Here are three more surprises that make the rest of the season look promising.


1. Skyler Ridley

Seeing Cody Hoffman limp off the field in the first quarter was not a promising sight to see. Up to that point he had already made three big catches for third down conversions, and there were naturally big expectations for him starting this season. Hoffman would not re-enter the game, but it didn’t matter. Just four plays later, junior receiver Skyler Ridley made the first reception of his career – a seven-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone. Ridley went on to make several more big catches, finishing the game with 6 receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown. Often Ridley took a big hit after the catch, but hung on to the ball.

While fans hope to see Hoffman back as soon as possible, it is good to know that other guys among the receivers corps can and will step up when need be. This is especially so since the receivers have been a point of frustration for fans in recent years. I look forward to watching Ridley and others this year to see how they continue to make important contributions.

2. Taysom Hill

Naturally, most of the excitement at quarterback this year has revolved around senior Riley Nelson. Everyone has been eager to see how he performs this year after his stellar play in the second half of 2011 earned him the starting spot. While Nelson did not disappoint, the real surprise at quarterback was freshman Taysom Hill. Hill only took a small handful of snaps, being used as a situational quarterback, but his singular performance on his very first collegiate snap was more than enough to give fans some assurance about the future of BYU football.

After failing to get the 1st down on 3rd and 1 18 yards away from the end zone, Hill was sent in to get the extra yard on 4th down. With BYU only up a touchdown, it was an important moment in the game. The true freshman handled the pressure like a champ – taking the snap, Hill faked the reverse and then scrambled to his right. While he had a clear path for the 1st down, Hill set his gaze up field where he found Friel open at the goal line for the touchdown.

While we should be careful not to draw any firm conclusions or set our expectations too high from this one play, it is very promising to see Hill step-up like that on his very first snap in a pressure packed situation.

3. The Offense as a Whole

The only other time the BYU Offense has scored 30 or more points in a season opener during the Bronco Mendenhall era was in the 41-17 victory over Northern Iowa in 2008. The average points scored by BYU in season openers since Mendenhall took over the team in 2005 is 19.75, which includes 4 games where BYU scored only 2 touchdowns or less. So it was nice to see the BYU offense get to end zone 3 times in the first half. While the offense did stall in the red zone in the second half, the success getting to the end zone in the first half was a welcome surprise.

Scoring wasn’t the only thing the offense did well. Given some of BYU’s struggles with turnovers in recent years, it was good to see the BYU offense play a turnover free game to start the season. Hopefully, the BYU offense will continue to take care of the ball and put points on the board as the season wears on.

We are surely in for several more surprises as the season rolls on. Inevitably, some of those surprises are going to be less-than-pleasant, but for now we can take comfort in the fact the season opener was full of pleasant surprises.

August 20, 2012

BYU Fall Camp: Week 3 Recap
By Scott Rappleye


The highlight of week 3 was the Brigham Young Cougars’ second scrimmage last Thursday. Two more days of fine tuning followed the scrimmage, and camp was officially over. With just 10 days remaining until the season opener againstWashington State, BYU will start preparing for that game.

The major storylines, in addition to the scrimmage, during week three were the offensive line, wide receivers, and injuries.

Offensive Line
The offensive line gained three players, and lost two on Tuesday. Back from injury were Ryker Mathews, Braden Brown, and Brock Stringham who were held out most of week two for minor injuries. Their return brought the first unit offensive line back to full strength, much to the relief of quarterback Riley Nelson.

The same day these three returned, BYU received word that two offensive linemen would not suit up for 2012. Senior Walter Kahaiali’i would hang up his cleats due to a knee injury. He will remain with the team as a student assistant. Sophomore Fono Vakalahi chose to transfer.

The overall health of the offensive line has been very good during camp. That is probably largely due to head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s decision to not wear full pads and hit. Offensive line, however, seems to be one of the positions that really needs to practice with full contact to properly evaluate their progress and preparation, especially for run blocking.

Wide Receivers
The top three wide receivers for this team were well established before camp opened. Behind them was a long list of exciting hopefuls. Several of the hopefuls have had their moments, but none are satisfying receivers coach Ben Cahoon enough to guarantee playing time. Cahoon sounds like he is holding all receivers to a high standard for pass catching, route running, and everything else the receivers have to do. It was refreshing to hear him say that he was not satisfied and would not reward unsatisfactory play with playing time in games.

Two hopeful receivers have moved their names close to the top of the list: Dylan Collie and Alex Kuresa. Collie has been all that was expected as the younger brother of BYU’s all-time leading receiver. Kuresa is capitalizing on the opportunities given to him through his athleticism.

Scrimmage No. 2
The second team scrimmage was held Thursday, August 16, exactly one week following the first and two weeks before the first game. The scrimmage much more resembled a real game than the first scrimmage. There were two distinct teams, and the coaches were wearing headsets.

Most of the defensive starters did not play, but most of the offensive starters did. That led to more offensive firepower in this scrimmage. The two offenses score five touchdowns. Two were touchdown passes (Riley Nelson to Cody Hoffman, James Lark to Kurt Henderson). David Foote rushed for two touchdowns, and Adam Hine produced the other.

Hine had a huge day with 13 carries for 117 yards and one touchdown. He busted a 50-yard run that led to another touchdown. Hine also had one fumble; the only turnover during the scrimmage.

Nelson led three touchdown drives, and finished with a stat line of 10-16, 169 yards, 1 TD. Lark led the other two TD drives. His stats were 6-8, 60 yards, 1 TD. Taysom Hill and Jason Munns also got some reps. Both saw their only drives end in a sack, but Munns had more success moving the ball.

Injury Report
On the good side, linebackers Kyle Van Noy and wide receiver Ross Apo were cleared by team doctors to play in every aspect. The news wasn’t so good for two other Cougars.

Ian Dulan was expected to be a key cog on the defensive line this year. He missed the whole week with back pain. He hasn’t been ruled out for the opener, but this is less than desirable news.

Freshman running back Jamaal Williams had turned everybody’s head the first two weeks. Two days into week three he turned his ankle. That caused him to miss the scrimmage, but it appears the ankle injury isn’t severe, and he should be back to 100 percent well before the season opener.

Place kicker Justin Sorensen was yet to return. Not a good sign.

Other comments
The slow progress of Sorensen is a major concern. It is definitely time to move on, for this season. BYU needs to work Riley Stephenson and Taysom Hill and get them ready to place kick in the games. Maybe mid-week, Sorensen will be back and kick the ball better than ever. Until then, coaches should be taking the “worst case scenario” approach. The last thing I want to see is another missed field goal cost the Cougars a win in Boise.

Will the defense disappoint us this year? Maybe it is the no contact practice structure, but I have been under whelmed by the defense during fall camp. I expected much more big plays by the defense and for the offense to have a much harder time moving the ball. Instead, it has been a sack here and an interception there, while the offense has one big play after another.

 

August 8, 2012

BYU Fall Camp: Week 1 Recap

By Scott Rappleye

Visit http://bluecougarfootball.blogspot.com/ for more BYU football information

The Brigham Young Cougars opened fall football camp Thursday, August 2. Practices were held three straight days before taking a break on Sunday. While it is just the beginning, the first three days have been jammed packed.

The only gear BYU has worn in practice is helmets (NCAA bylaws mandate helmets only the first two days). They are expected to wear helmets and shoulder pads on Monday (NCAA bylaws mandate no more than this for days three and four).

When camp opened some noticeable names were not strapping it up. Defensive lineman Jordan Richardson’s career is done, due to back problems. The senior wasn’t expected to have a major role this year, but he would have made a contribution. This opens the door for another underclassman to get more experience and address that dire need to develop replacement defensive linemen for 2013.

O’Neill Chambers was not invited to attend camp. It is an unfortunate end to his turbulent career. This was shocking news after he had worked for over a year to return to the team.

Speaking of shocking news, wide receiver Cody Hoffman and defensive back Joe Sampson did not participate with the team on Friday and Saturday, and they are expected to miss Monday as well. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall cited discipline for breaking a team rule as the reason for their absence. On the surface, this didn’t seem concerning. It was originally announced as a one day absence, but the longer it plays out the level of concern rises.

The timing is not good at all. As explained already, the NCAA mandates players practice for four days before dressing in full gear. By missing days 2-4, these players will still be going through the acclimation period while the rest of the team is fully dressed. In effect, they will miss more than three days, since Hoffman and Sampson won’t be able to practice in contact drills for three additional days. The thought that one more slip up during the season could result in a full week punishment (“progressive discipline”) and a game is very concerning. Hopefully, four months from now, Hoffman and Sampson’s absences are a distant memory that we give no thought to.

After asking the question, “Should Mike Hague move back to running back?” on the eve of camp, it is now clear that he is better off, and needed more, at defensive back. With Chambers no longer being with the team, and cornerback Robbie Buckner not expected to join the team until the season starts, the defensive backfield is suddenly a lot thinner.

A few new players have already started to stand out. Whether they can continue this trend and be significant contributors this season is yet to be seen. True freshmen Dylan Collie (WR) and Jamaal Williams (RB) are the two most notable from the 2012 signees. Redshirt freshman, return missionary Remington Peck has gotten some quality reps with the second string defensive line.  

Tight end Devin Mahina continues to have bad luck with his health. After missing all of last season with a neck injury, Mahina broke a bone in his hand and will be out 3-5 weeks. That will put him further behind juniors Marcus Mathews, Austin Holt, Richard Wilson, and Kaneakua Friel. Fortunately for Mahina, after redshirting last year he is just a sophomore. If he can figure out to stay healthy, he will have one season of eligibility left when these others leave.

The Cougars will have three Student Assistant Coaches. Richardson is one, and so is Jray Galea’i. Like Richardson, Galea’i had his career cut short due to injuries. The most notable student assistant coach is former quarterback Max Hall. After spending two seasons in the NFL, he can provide some much needed help for quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman who also has offensive coordinator responsibilities.

 

August 4, 2012

Reaction to the Rankings:
2012 Pre-Season USA Today (Coaches) Top 25

The Brigham Young Cougars squeaked into the final USA Today Top 25 rankings for 2011. It allowed BYU to claim a fifth season with a national ranking in the past six years.

The coaches weren’t so kind in the 2012 preseason poll.

BYU did not make the Top 25, but the Cougars were one of 22 schools grouped into the “Others receiving votes” category. Extrapolating the numbers, BYU is “ranked” 36 with 10 points. Number 25 Auburn had 66 points.

With today’s debut of the USA Today Preseason Top 25 comes this special edition Reaction to the Rankings (R2R).

I am on record saying I would have put BYU on my ballot if I had a vote in the polls, which makes me a little disappointed that the coaches didn’t feel the same. With a slew of experienced, talented players returning this team should be much improved over 2011. However, I am not surprised the Cougars didn't make the cut. Every outlet, that I have seen, doing preseason rankings has BYU as top 30-40 team. Why would the coaches vote otherwise A compelling case can be built to justify including, or excluding, BYU.

The opponents in all four of BYU’s big road games received more points than BYU. Using the logic that the higher ranked team would win head-to-head, that gives BYU an 8-4 record, and that record will not be good enough to get BYU into the Top 25 at season’s end.

In the end, this is just the preseason poll. Winning games still matters the most, and if BYU can win, especially those four road games, then the ranking will come.

 

July 25, 2012

The Juice is Loose: BYU Running Back
Joshua Quezada Will Transfer


Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall announced on July 20, 2012, that junior running back Joshua “Juice” Quezada had decided to transfer and would not play the 2012 season in Cougar blue. No details were given regarding why he decided to transfer or to what school he might transfer.

The announcement came as a shock to Cougar faithful. For the third consecutive season, BYU has lost a running back who was expected to heavily contribute to the run game. Harvey Unga in 2010 (withdrew from school) and Iona Pritchard in 2011 (broken leg) are the other two.

Quezada made a bold decision to come to BYU in 2010 from LaHabra, California. Attending the Y would require Juice to cut his extremely long hair to comply with the school’s honor code.

During his two and a half years since enrolling at school in January 2010, Quezada had been an honorable representative of the University and complied with the honor code.

On the first play of his career, Quezada scored a touchdown. It was a 9-yard catch from quarterback Riley Nelson against Washington in 2010. Quezada saw his workload increase as the 2010 season progressed. He finished the year with the fourth most rushing yards in BYU history by a freshman, 505, of which 461 yards came in the final eight games. His average yards per carry as a true freshman was 5.1. He broke the 100 yard mark twice in games against New Mexico (107) and UTEP (101, New Mexico Bowl). Quezada scored five touchdowns, including 3 in one game against UNLV.

Quezada had gained a strong following among fans, and the final three years of his career were highly anticipated.

An ankle injury sustained shortly before fall camp was set to start in 2011 was the first problem Quezada encountered during a turbulent sophomore season. He suited up and played in the season opener, but it was clear the first few weeks that something wasn’t right. He also started having headaches. His best game as a sophomore came against Idaho State: 11 carries, 59 yards, 1 TD.

The lowest point of the season came after a 42-7 win against New Mexico State. That same night, Quezada’s brother Joseph died from injuries suffered in a hit-and-run car accident.

When his sophomore season ended, Quezada had 298 rushing yards, over 200 yards less than a year before, and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. However, his 298 yard total matched that of teammate Bryan Kariya, who had a similar rushing output (537) in 2010.

Despite the disappointing sophomore season, Quezada was expected to be a heavy contributor in 2011. He showed well in spring practices and showed no signs of lingering health problems.

Quezada’s two year stat totals were: 185 carries, 803 yards (4.3 YPC), 6 TD; 12 receptions, 67 yards, 1 TD. He played in all 26 games.

BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL is grateful for Quezada’s efforts and contributions the last two years.  May he find happiness and success in all his future endeavors both on and off the field. 

July 25, 2012

Brigham Young Cougars 2012 Season Preview

This offseason has been the most subdued offseason for Brigham Young Cougars football in several years. A spectacular finish to the Armed Forces Bowl gave BYU its first ever three bowl-game win streak, and got the Cougars into the final USAToday Top 25 poll. The pain and agony, however, of the three losses left a cloud hanging over BYU football. 

The 2012 season couldn’t come fast enough. 

The offseason was long and difficult for fans. The bad seemed to far outweigh the good. During spring practice it didn’t seem BYU would have enough healthy bodies to field a team come fall. 

While fans may have found it hard to stay optimistic, those inside the program didn’t. At BYU’s Media Day, players and coaches made it clear that none of the challenges or negative reports had dampened their determination. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall is still shooting for a top 10 finish. Quarterback Riley Nelson said the team “just love[d] the opportunity to play football again,” and “all I want to do is win football games.” Linebacker Kyle Van Noy explained, “The work we’re doing is getting put in right. It is getting put in constructively. We are getting smarter and faster and stronger.”

This team isn’t about to make any excuses. There are 29 seniors on the team. “This is our last hurrah. We want to take full advantage,” said Nelson. 

In Mendenhall’s eighth season, BYU has a lot to take advantage of. Seven starters return on both sides of the ball, as well as both the punter and place kicker. A slew of experienced players are ready to fill in the four open spots on both offense and defense. 

On offense, BYU returns 63 percent of its rushing production, including three players who had 298 yards or more. Over 78 percent of BYU’s receiving yards return, as well. Replacing the lost yards will depend largely on the two new offensive linemen. The Cougars have experienced skill position players returning who can handle increased volume.

On defense, the top five leading tacklers return. In 2011, they accounted for nearly 40 percent of all tackles made. Four other expected starters combined for 126 tackles. The 2012 defense is expected to be just as good, if not better, than a year ago when the Cougar D finished 13th in the nation in total yards allowed per game. 

The schedule is manageable. Games against Washington State, Oregon State, and Utah State may be closer than some would like, but should come out as wins. The four challenging road games (Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech) aren’t so daunting that the Cougars can’t come away with a win in each of them. How much character this team has will determine the outcome of these games. 

Whether BYU has the character to beat the better teams on its schedule isn’t the only question on people’s minds going into the season. The answers to ten other questions will go a long way in shaping the season. 

1. How will the new coaches do in year two? 
Following 2011, offensive coordinator Brandon Doman openly assumed blame for many of the offensive struggles early in the year. With a year under his belt, how much improvement will be seen Joe DuPaix needs to get his running backs picking up ground whether a hole is there or not. They also need to be more involved in the pass game. Ben Cahoon has a ton of raw talent to work with. He needs to develop Ross Apo and make him just as unstoppable as Cody Hoffman.

2. How will having 29 seniors impact the team’s performance?
Cougar squads heavy with upper classmen have done surprisingly well over the years. The 1996 and 2001 teams immediately come to mind. Will this year’s group of seniors be the catalyst to another special season? 

3. Who will be the surprising newcomers? 
Even with 29 seniors, 16 starters, and several key contributors returning, there is still room for newcomers to make an impact. Jordan Johnson’s name has come up more than once in interviews with coaches and players. Ezekiel Ansah has a great story and could finally be ready to bloom. Paul Lasike or Iona Pritchard could be primed to play a key role in the offense. 

4. Will the injured players be able to return to pre-injury form?
Three tight ends saw their 2011 season end early. Several players had surgery following the season and were kept out of spring practices. A great number more were injured during spring practices. The whole time, Mendenhall tried to assure everyone that all players were scheduled to be back and ready when fall camp started. 

5. Will some players have NFL caliber seasons? 
Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman are the ones fans will be watching the closest, and judging whether they will leave a year early or come back for their senior seasons. However, offensive lineman Braden Hansen, linebackers Uona Kaveinga and Brandon Ogletree, and several defensive linemen could play their way into the NFL with superb seasons. 

6. Can BYU continue to oppress the option? 
Air Force isn’t on the schedule, but another option team is: Georgia Tech. For decades, BYU prided itself on being able to shutdown the option. Shutting down the Yellow Jacket’s version of the option would really catch people’s eye and is essential to get a win in Atlanta. 

7. Will we witness the start of a new rivalry? 
During the months of uncertainty over the continuation of the series with Utah, fans started preparing to find a new rival. BYU’s long term series with Boise State starts this year, and many have identified the Broncos as a prime candidate for a rival. Will this year’s game be rivalry-worthy material?

8. Will the investment in a nutritionist pay off? 
BYU took the time and money to invest in better nutrition for its players. How soon will this investment start paying dividends? Will those dividends show up in the win column?

9. What will year two on ESPN bring? 
The first year of independence saw unprecedented coverage of BYU football on ESPN. Only twice did ESPN not broadcast a Cougar game. ESPN has already announced that it will carry five of the first six BYU games. Will they do the same over the second half of the season? Will ESPN make an extra special effort to publicize BYU if they are undefeated or have one loss late in the season?

10. How big of a presence will BYU have in the polls?
BYU was a mainstay in the polls from 2007-09. Since that time, the Cougars have been lucky to find themselves ranked. Being ranked is a big measuring stick in how a season is perceived. Can BYU get some impressive wins early that will get them ranked most of the season?

Over the next two weeks, BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL will preview each position group. Several other intriguing storylines will be covered in these previews, including: 

Ezekiel Ansah.
The return of O’Neill Chambers.
Riley Nelson’s development as a passer.
Riley Nelson’s ability to avoid injury.
A leaner, meaner offensive line?
Justin Sorensen’s progression.
What should be done with Taysom Hill?
Will Cody Hoffman get more help?
Can Kyle Van Noy score a third touchdown?
Developing defensive linemen for 2013.
The return of the 1,000 yard running back.

 

July 18, 2012

Poll Results: Which BYU road game
do you most want to attend?

By Scott Rappleye

Visit http://bluecougarfootball.blogspot.com/ for more BYU football information



South Bend, Indiana, home of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish was easily the one Brigham Young Cougars road game that fans most want to attend. Sixty-two percent (62%) of poll voters selected this game over Boise State (16%), Utah (12%), Georgia Tech (7%), San Jose State (2%), and New Mexico State (1%). 

This might sting for the folks at Notre Dame, but I am going to pick the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Notre Dame has the most mystique and tradition, but the deciding factor for me was that this may be the last chance I would get to see BYU play at Georgia Tech. Earlier this year, the 2014 and 2017 games between the two schools were cancelled, and who knows if the schools will ever meet again after 2013. BYU is scheduled to make three more trips to South Bend. The odds of Notre Dame canceling games in this series are unlikely since the Fighting Irish are also independents. However, even if Notre Dame does cancel a part of the six-game series, I don’t think they would cancel more than three games, which means another game would still be played in South Bend.

As for the tradition and mystique, the Yellow Jackets have their fair share. Georgia Tech plays in Boddy Dodd Stadium. It is the oldest stadium in the football bowl subdivision of college football. Georgia Tech has been playing there since 1905, and a stadium structure has been in place since 1913. Since that time, Georgia Tech has won four national championships. This is the site of the famed 222-0 game against Cumberland College in 1916. Tech’s coach that year was none other than John Heisman, the namesake of the most prestigious award in college football. The stadium’s namesake, Bobby Dodd, coached at Georgia Tech (1945-66), as well. His impact on the game was so great, that the Boddy Dodd Coach of the Year award was instituted in 1976. BYU head coach LaVell Edwards was the recipient of this award in 1979. 

The stadium also provides a beautiful view of downtown Atlanta. It is conveniently located to make it easy to enhance the trip with some site seeing and tourist attractions, including Centennial Olympic Park. 

Notre Dame might have a bigger stadium, and be a bigger name in college football, but this might be the last chance I would ever get to see BYU play in Atlanta at the home of the Georiga Tech Yellow Jackets. Home of great history, both football and American. Every other road game, BYU is scheduled to repeat (Notre Dame, Boise State, Utah), or they are against opponents that I really have no desire to see (San Jose State, New Mexico State). It would take something like being from one of those places, having served my mission there, or marrying a girl from there for one of those two games to move to the top of my list.

Thank you to everyone who voted. Don’t forget to vote in this week’s poll: “Which position group will be the most improved in 2012?” 

July 11, 2012

Frustrated with Bronco Mendenhall? Read This.

By Scott Rappleye

Visit http://bluecougarfootball.blogspot.com/ for more BYU football information


Raise you hand if you have heard a Brigham Young Cougars fan say one or more of the following about head football coach Bronco Mendenhall:

“Tired of the same results each year.”

“Just not doing enough with the players we have or the players a good aggressive coach could get.”

“He refuses to admit that there’s anything wrong.”

“A little sick of losing big games regularly.”

“We’re not winning a national championship with him as coach.”

I think I see several hands raised. I know I have heard Cougar fans express these sentiments more than once.

The truth, however, is that these quotes are from Virginia Tech fans about their head coach Frank Beamer.

After hearing the complaints grow following the 2011 season about BYU football plateauing under Bronco Mendenhall, I couldn’t help wonder if Virginia Tech fans felt the same.

The Hokies have won 10 or more games every year for the last eight seasons and 11 of the last 13. Despite this impressive string of 10 win seasons, Virginia Tech is just 1-5 in six BCS bowl appearances, their only victory came in 2008 against Big East Champion Cincinnati. Since 1999, the Hokies have often been ranked in the top 10, and even top 5, but they have just one win against a top 5 ranked team and lost nearly a dozen.

Sounds like a plateau to me.

Noticing Virginia Tech’s struggles to take the next step under Beamer, I ventured to Hokie land (TechSideLine.com) and asked three questions:

1. Do Virginia Tech fans feel Virginia Tech has plateaued under Beamer?

2. Do Virginia Tech fans want Beamer to be replaced?

3. If you are happy with Beamer as coach and don’t want him to leave, why?

My inquiries were well received by Virginia Tech fans. They were cordial and provided great feedback. (You can read the entire thread here.) There were over 80 total responses to my thread. I tallied the responses and found these results:

Question 1: 12-8 in support of the idea that Virginia Tech football had plateaued, with three “maybe/undecided” responses.

Question 2: 22-1 in opposition to replacing Coach Beamer.

Translation: Although a majority thought Virginia Tech football would not get any better with their current coach, it was almost unanimous to keep him.

Part of the reason for the strong support to keep Beamer, I learned, was that he is the LaVell Edwards of Hokie football. However, there were several explanations for keeping him (question three) that also echo what many in the BYU fan base have said to support and defend Mendenhall.

“He has a great philosophy regarding the character of the kids he recruits and brings out the best in each of them. He has established a 'family' concept in our program.”

“Everything that he stands for.”

“He’s a class act, has a program with impeccable integrity.”

“Does things the right way (no NCAA issues, doesn’t berate or mistreat players, and disciplines players appropriately).”

“VT has a very tough road to play for a national title.”

“Most around here have some EXTREMELY unrealistic expectations for Virginia Tech football. … The reality is, based on [coach’s salary, average revenues, stadium size, and attendance], Beamer has VT playing well above its head by having us annually lurk around the top 5, 10, or 15.”

“Do you have any real idea how hard winning the BCS championship is?? You have to have that perfect mix of talent, experience, luck, team chemistry, schedule, lack of injuries, composure, team leadership, etc. in order to have a chance!”

“That plateau is pretty amazing considering what he has to work with.”

“You could be a program like say Vanderbilt and hope for a winning season every now and then.”

“If you are not sure you can make an improvement, and improvement from our current perches is extremely difficult, then don’t screw up a good thing.”

“It is going to be tough to follow up Frank Beamer with another guy who can win every year.”

“Every football fan in America, except for a few of ours, would love to plateau at 10+ wins per season.”

“Priorities placed in character first always wins.”

The comment that best describes my feelings on Bronco Mendenhall and the state of BYU football comes from BayouGobbler: “I’m not saying we should let him continue to coach until he dies but regardless of whether we have plateaued it is way to early in his career to push him out the door.”

Mendenhall has, by no means, earned the right to “quit on his own terms” like LaVell Edwards did, and like many Virginia Tech fans feel Beamer has. However, BYU’s 66 wins, five 10-win seasons, five bowl victories, and nine national rankings in the two major polls during Mendenhall’s seven seasons should give him a certain measure of job security. That security only strengthens considering Mendenhall rescued BYU from three consecutive losing seasons and some of the biggest honor code scandals the school has ever seen.

If you are frustrated with Bronco Mendenhall, take some comfort in knowing your are not alone. Hokie fans feel your pain. Maybe BYU football doesn't significantly improve during the next decade, but don’t let this deprive you of enjoying the high quality football that should come.

After all, it could be worse, much worse.

June 7, 2012

Who Replaces Utah as BYU’s New Archrival?

By Scott Rappleye

Visit http://bluecougarfootball.blogspot.com/ for more BYU football information


It is sounding more and more likely that the Brigham Young Cougars and the Utah Utes will not continue their rivalry on the football field after the 2012 season. While the Cougars and Utes will continue to be rivals off the field, BYU and Utah can’t be considered archrivals if they don’t play each other every year. Who will become BYU’s new archrival?

Three schools quickly come to mind: Boise State, Hawaii, and Utah State. The Cougars do have an annual game scheduled with Hawaii for several years, and the Polynesian ties for each school raise the stakes, but the geography makes it too difficult for BYU and Hawaii to be archrivals. That cuts the list down to two.

Utah State
The Utah State Aggies are the obvious first choice. BYU has played the other in-state school 81 times dating back to 1922—the first year BYU played football. History is a very important element to a rivalry. The history between BYU and Utah State goes way beyond the final score of the football game.

Two of the most important coaches in BYU football history were players at Utah State. Alvin Twitchell was the head coach of the first BYU football team in 1922. Before that he played football for the Aggies. Half a century later, the BYU football program was still struggling to find an identity and sustain success.

That’s when LaVell Edwards was hired as football coach. Edwards played football at Utah State from 1949-51. His achievements as an Aggie pale in comparison to what he did at BYU. Edwards turned BYU into a football powerhouse; a powerhouse that dominated Utah State nearly every year.

During Edwards’ tenure, BYU stopped waiting until Utah State players had finished their eligibility to steal them away from the program. James Dye was named second team All-Big West as a kickoff return specialist in 1993. He was wearing Cougar blue in 1995 and led the nation in punt returns with a 21.9 yard average. When the Cougars and Aggies faced off in 1996, Dye tortured Aggie fans as he returned a punt 79-yards for a touchdown. Dye also had key touchdown receptions for BYU in the two biggest wins of the season (Texas A&M—Pigskin Classic, Kansas State—Cotton Bowl).

Even after Edwards retired following the 2000 season, the rivalry continued to flourish. Boasting a 27-point halftime lead in 2002, the Aggies must have been all smiles in the locker room. The Utah State cheers had turned to tears by game’s end as BYU mounted the largest come-from-behind vicotry in school history to beat Utah State 35-34. BYU also kept stealing players.

Kelly Poppinga was a key member of the Utah State defense in 2004. He finished third on the team with 61 tackles. When BYU and Utah State played in 2006, the first game since the 2002 classic, Poppinga was popping Aggie ball carries. His senior season, 2007, he led BYU in tackles with 113 tackles. That was more than future NFL linebackers Bryan Kehl and David Nixon.

Most recently, quarterback Riley Nelson did not return to Utah State in 2009 following his missionary service. Utah State did not take kindly to BYU swiping away this Cache Valley icon. They petitioned the NCAA to change its transfer rules regarding missionaries. Nelson and BYU, however, may have gotten the last laugh. With Utah State leading BYU 24-13, just last year, and in complete control of the game, Nelson came off the bench and guided the Cougars to victory in stunning fashion. He took over the starting duties the next week and became quite the sensation in Provo.

This history has created some bad blood between the fan bases, another key ingredient for a rivalry. Throw in the fact that Utah State head coach Gary Anderson has the Aggies competitive with BYU again, and this rivalry is as heated as it has ever been.

Boise State
One thing that BYU and Boise State do not have is a lot of history on the field. The Cougars and Broncos have played just twice, and the Broncos won both. Yet, animosity already exists between the fan bases.

Maybe it is the royal blue that Boise State wears and that many BYU fans wish the Cougars would return to. Maybe it is the similar acronyms—BYU and BSU. Maybe it is that both schools are nestled away in the Rocky Mountains.

The most likely reason fans on both sides are anxious to square off every year is the way Boise State rose to prominence in the 2000s much like BYU did twenty years earlier in the 1980s. Conveniently for Boise State, the first two meetings on the gridiron occurred when BYU was suffering its first back-to-back losing seasons in over 30 years. As a result, the Broncos threatened, and then overthrew, BYU as the most nationally respected mid-major football program. Bronco Mendenhall has gotten BYU back on the right track, which makes it the perfect time to renew the series and determine who is the better program.

Much like with Utah, religion compounds these factors. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is responsible for founding many cities in Idaho. There are hundreds of thousands of Church members in the state today. No doubt several of these Church members are BYU graduates and probably encounter Boise State fans daily at work and school. In the last decade, some BYU families have probably become divided as a son or daughter chose to attend Boise State. Church members in Idaho who were BYU fans by default may have switched allegiances to cheer for the home team.

Geographically and culturally, BYU and BSU are a natural fit for a rivalry. The absence of history head-to-head is partially offset by other similarities.

Who is the archrival?
The number one rule for rivalries is they can’t be forced. The current relationship BYU has with Utah State and Boise State are good foundations to build on. Competitiveness will be the key. BYU’s new archrival will be the school that is more competitive. As long as there is no shared conference affiliation, there will be little more than bragging rights to play for in these games, and a one sided series will get old fast.

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