BYU spoiled the Washington State debut of famed head coach Mike Leach tonight, dominating both sides of the ball and becoming the first team to deny a Leach-coached squad a touchdown for the first time since 2006.
In the spirit of the political season, I am using tonight's game as evidence against which to fact check a number of assertions made throughout the offseason and fall camp. Granted, it is only one game, but I would like to evaluate where we stand on some of the more anticipated issues now that we have some tangible evidence.
Claim: BYU's 2012 defense will be great.
As I noted above, BYU's prevented a supposedly prolific offense from gaining a single touchdown, and a number of Washington State's yards, including many of those that led to two field goals, resulted from BYU penalties. The secondary in particular held up well against an attack designed to stretch the field vertically, and BYU's defense forced two turnovers. Tonight's effort was more than enough. This defense appears to be capable of doing great things. Rating: true.
Claim: Riley Nelson still plays QB like a linebacker, including his throws.
I sometimes think Riley takes Bronco's "He who sheds his blood with me" Shakespeare quotes literally. One moment he is lowering his shoulder into opposing linemen; the next he is literally bleeding onto the field. I don't know how long he will remain healthy, but until he goes down, he will do more to inspire his teammates than any man reasonably should.
As for the Hail Mary passes, Riley did have several tonight, but he was lucky enough to see them dropped. His decision making and accuracy do appear to have improved. Even his questionable throws made some sense, which is an improvement over last year's "I regret nothing!" heaves. Rating: mostly true, though he is getting better.
Claim: BYU's slimmed-down offensive line will be a run-blocking force.
BYU's linemen protected Nelson adequately, but their run blocking was poor. BYU's running game was much more successful tonight than it was early last year, but Washington State is not known for their defense either. BYU particularly struggled in the "blue zone," where they left points on the field, and that was in large part due to BYU's inability to make progress on the ground. That element will need to improve for BYU to score consistently enough against the teams they will face later this year. Rating: false.
Claim: A fall camp light on contact will produce a team that can't tackle.
BYU's biggest struggle with tackling - even hearkening to last season - has to do with the angles they take in the open field. They overpursue, bite on fakes, and give up yards they could otherwise prevent. That was true tonight - mainly on special teams - but I don't see tackling itself as an issue stemming from fall camp. When players were in position to make tackes, they did for the most part. Rating: false.
Claim: BYU fans aren't coordinated, informed, or passionate enough to pull off a decent whiteout.
It wasn't perfect, but it was very good. The whiteout created a strong visual. Good job, fans who attended the game. It made reading all those online threats of physical and emotional violence against those who don't follow the crowd seem worth it. Rating: false.
Claim: Taysom Hill will get meaningful playing time this year.
Throwing a touchdown pass on fourth down early in the game with just a seven point lead is a pretty meaningful opportunity for a true freshman. He got several other "blue zone" opportunities as well, but they were less successful. Overall, we didn't see enough of Hill to get a strong impression of his talent or skill, but hopefully that experience prepares him for when he inevitably takes over as BYU's starting quarterback. Rating: true.