Making the Grade: Cougars Beat Blue Raiders

USA TODAY Sports

After giving BYU fans a bit of an anxiety attack during the first quarter, the Cougars grinded out the win with decent play on both sides of the ball.

Offense B

Hill and Co. improved drastically this week (of course the competition was not at the same level as UTAH).  It all started with the O-Line as they consistently proved that they can be real road graders as the offense averaged 5.6 yds pc and also proved they could give Hill a little bit more time to pass.  RB's were solid and Hill's passes had a lot more touch on them.  The offense rolled to 486 total yds in this game.  The most important offensive statistic was the vast improvement on 3rd down.  The offense was 7-13 on 3rd down, that stat gives Cougar fans some comfort as they have missed the days of Beck and Hall when converting a 3rd down was expected, not a cross your fingers behind your back kind of thing.

As much as the offense had improved from last week to Friday night, the fumbles inside the redzone were quite alarming.  Against a team as good as Utah State or against Utah last week, you fumble in the redzone like that and the odds of winning the game drop drastically.  Ball security is KEY, especially against a really strong Aggie team in what might be one of the most hostile environments the Cougars will experience this season.  Want to quiet the crowd?  Offense needs to be consistent and also open things up with some big plays.

Quarterback B-

Just a couple of quick stats to throw out, Taysom Hill threw for 177 yds (not eye-popping), 9.3 ypa, 0 TDS and 1 INT (which should've been easily caught by Paul Lasike). The most important stat was Hill's efficiency 14/19 or 74%. That is what we are looking for in a BYU quarterback is CONSISTENCY. It showed out on the field as Taysom looked more patient and let routes develop. It appeared as if the game slowed down for him (this can be credited to better O-Line play as well). Hill also ran fairly well, scoring 2 TDS (one a 50 yd sprint). However in the run game there were some ball security issues, specifically when Hill fumbled the ball within 5 yd of the end zone. Ball security is not only key for an offense, but especially for a good QB. I know Hill knows that already too as he acknowledged after the game that it was "inexcusable" and couldn't "happen in a close game."

Next week don't expect Hill to be as efficient as Utah State's defense is much better at applying pressure to the QB and forcing him into bad throws (SJSU's David Fales threw 2 interceptions vs USU). He will see a much better coached, experienced and nastier defense up in Logan. If Hill can pass for even 60% vs Utah State the passing game will be a factor and will also free the running backs up in the running game.

Running Backs B-

Tonight the running backs showed some encouraging play. Alisa, Lasike, Brown and Hiné all got time carries to show what they can do. Alisa was a factor in the game as he had two TD's on the ground. Lasike also provided some good bruising carries as well. Brown looked like an emerging option at RB as his bruising style might make some reminisce of the days of RB's such as Fui Vakapuna and Manase Tonga. While Alisa led RB's with 2 TDS, Brown led RB's with 68 yds on 11 carries. While the backs punished MidTenn State throughout the night with tough north, south game, they lacked the explosiveness that Williams brings from the backfield.

Running backs will again need to be able to pound it out on the ground next week but having a healthy Jamaal Williams will go a long way in the running game against the stout front seven that they will see from the Aggies.

Receivers B

Obviously, as stated before, Hill's completion percentage was much more efficient, also meaning that receivers caught most of the balls that were thrown their way.  Because there was only 14 passes caught out of 19 attempted, there isn't too much to say about the passing game.  However it was actually effective this week.  Hill was able to look to receivers on 3rd downs and receivers came up with the catches.  The receivers that stood out most tonight were Apo (4 catches 38 yds) and Mathews (3 catches 47 yds).

While receivers were effective and consistent (something Cougar fans everywhere have anxiously been awaiting this season) they were not an X-factor in this game.  BYU still lacks big play ability from the receivers.  For BYU's offense to be able to put points on the board against the Aggies the receivers will once again need to be a consistent option for Hill, will also need to find the end zone, and be able to stretch the field to keep that Aggie defense honest.

Offensive Line B

The O-Line responded well against the Blue Raiders as they dominated the line in the run game allowing Hill and the RB's to run for 309 yds at 5.6 yds pc and 4 tds.  Also Hill had more time to pass then we've seen all seasons.  He looked COMFORTABLE dropping back to pass.  And he was able to show doubtful fans everywhere how good he can be when he has time.  Also the O-Line got that NASTY back.  However there was at least one sack in this game.  If Mid Tenn State can get to the QB, don't be surprised to see Aggie defenders spending some time in the backfield as well.  The O-Line's really gotta lock it up.

Next week the O-Line will face a much tougher test as they go to war in the trenches against a strong front 7 that features some very good players such as: BJ Larsen, Jake Doughty, the Vigil brothers, and of course Kyler Fackrell.  If the O-Line wants to show what they can really do, they'll have a chance to prove it this week.

Defense B+

The defense put out a solid effort Friday night against the Blue Raiders.  Last year Chuckie Keeton was one of the most productive QBs in the country and their toughest night came when they only scored 3 points against a stingy BYU defense.  If they want to give the offense a chance, putting pressure on Keeton will be the key.  If Meeton is comfortable, its gonna be a long night. If he is constantly hurried, hit, and even sacked a couple times, the defense will provide the offense the opportunity it needs to invade Cache Valley and come away with a big win.

D-Line B+

The player that stood out most was Eathyn Manumaleuna.  He played with great force along the D-Line Friday night as he made play after play at or behind the line of scrimmage.  The D-Line allowed only 107 total rushing yds from MTSU and held their big play RB Whatley in check (40 yds).  The most important thing in the 3-4 defense is that  the D-Line takes on and eats up blocks so that the LB's  can make plays. When D-Lineman like Manumaleuna make plays behind the line, it's icing on the cake.  D-Line does need to improve on getting to the quarterback and forcing him to make bad throws.

Next week the D-Line faces a tough test as they face a veteran O-Line (5 starters returned from last year, even though one of the Whimpey bros. went down with an injury vs. SJSU).  The D-Line will need to eat up blocks allowing the LBs to get to Keeton, Hill, and DeMartino in the backfield.  Last year the D-Line did a great job of containing Kerwynn Williams and Chuckie Keeton so we can be hopeful it will happen again.

Linebackers A-

If Kyle Van Noy were a villain he'd be the Joker.  No matter where he lines up he is constantly a disruptive force that wreaks havoc.  The safety Friday night is just another example of his elite defensive ability.  Although Van Noy is not racking up the sacks many have hopped he would this season, he is as disruptive as ever.  He never disappoints to provide some type of highlight reel play on the defense.  Other linebackers provided solid play as well as the MTSU running game never took off.

The defense needs an explosive, smash mouth performance from this LB unit vs. the Aggies.  Last year Chuckie Keeton repeatedly looked like he would not be able to get up as the front seven pounded him into the ground.  The LB's will, however, need to force turnovers as they face one of the most efficient QB's in the country.  The pressure the LB's are able to put on Keeton will greatly affect the secondary's play against a very talented USU receiving corps.

Secondary B:

The DB's provided good solid play Friday night and were able to come up with a pick.  That pick by Sorensen in the endzone proved the resilient, hard nose attitude of this secondary.  Plays like that are huge momentum swings that really change the outcome of the game.  There were several other opportunities for interceptions that the DB's need to come up with.

USU's receivers are very talented and Keeton finds all of them.  He will find holes in the Cougar defense, he just will.  This unit needs to be able to contain Keetons throwing ability.  They will throw at the secondary, so this unit best bring their A game.  Keeton is currently #2 yds passing in the country and #1 in passing tds with 17.  If this unit wants to prove themselves, the Aggies are the team to do it against.  If the secondary is able to pick off Keeton just once that will go a long way in deciding the momentum swings that both teams will surely face on Friday.

Special teams B-

Let's talk about the bad first.  First the kickoff team let up a 49 yd return to MTSU to start the game.  Also on the play was a penalty against BYU which put the Blue Raiders offense starting BYUs 40 yard line.  One of the most important things special teams can do is control field position.  This obviously gave MTSU a great place to start the game from.  Also Falslev fumbled two punt returns.  He just needs to secure the ball.  Also the punt team had a chance to pin the MTSU offense deep but miscommunication between 3 BYU players saw the ball go into the endzone for a touchback.  Now the good stuff!  Hiné finally broke a big return (90yds) that wasn't called back because of a penalty.  Falslev also added an electrifying pr 71 yd for a TD.

Even though the special teams had the two big returns it gets a B- because of those turnovers.  The special teams will be huge next week against USU, this units ability to manage field position will be an important factor in the game.  It would be nice to see some more big returns, turnovers liked muffs punts simply cannot happen against an Aggie team this good in a very hostile environment at Romney Stadium.

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