Last season’s offense was terrific. A healthy Pitta, Unga and hopefully a more experienced Max Hall should continue the trend. Despite the loss of Austin Collie to the NFL, the receiving core looks fine. The return of FB Manase Tonga to the program, replacing Fui Vakapuna, should help as well. There are some doubts however about the offensive line. Oklahoma’s defense respectfully compares in talent, at the very least, to TCU and Utah of last season. That could spell trouble for the Cougars, no matter how many returning skill position players and no matter how much media hype behind Hall and co. What will it take for the Cougar offense to succeed Saturday and make for a competitive contest with the Sooners?
Here’s with the projected offensive depth chart to open the season:
LG: Marco Thorson, (Braden Hansen)
RG: Terence Brown, (Ryan Freeman)
RT: Nick Alletto, (Braden Hansen)
Due to the season-ending injuries suffered OL Jason Speredon and OL Houston Reynolds (Matt’s brother), BYU is traveling just seven O-lineman to Dallas. This is actually good news – it could have been much worse if their best, LT Matt Reynolds, had been medically cleared to play. Reynolds missed nearly all of Fall Camp after breaking his hand. Without him the Cougars really would have been in trouble. As is, they still have a major chore in keeping Max Hall off his back and trying to create holes for Harvey Unga. OU’s D-line is a wonder to behold. There will be nobody better in the NCAA this season.
DT Gerald McCoy is superb and a future 1st round NFL pick. Junior Jeremy Beal is also one of the best DE’s in the country. It is going to be a long, tough evening for the Cougar O-line. This years O-line isn’t as deep or as experienced as last season’s that was among the nations Top-10. Matt Reynolds would start for program period, but the rest are largely unproven – with any starting experience being before their LDS missions. In short, don’t expect Unga and Manase Tonga to have too much success up the middle and be grateful for each down that pieces of Hall aren’t plastered all over Arlington.
Pitta and George are the finest pair of tight ends that the Cougars have fielded jointly since the mid-90’s with Chad Lewis and Itula Mili. Both look healthy and should create some match-up problems for the OU linebackers in the flats. Each should have fantastic seasons in 2009.
McKay Jacobson is reportedly healthy after a minor injury in Fall Camp. He returned earlier in the year from an LDS mission but has picked up right where he left off and is ready to fly. Expect the Texas-native to return kicks and punts as well. While Jacobson has major shoes to fill (Collie), special teams is at least one area where Jacobson should exceed Collie in productivity. If he can and O’Neill Chambers can provide the offense with good field position that would take further stress off the offensive line. It will be interesting to see Chambers in an increased role after seeing only marginal playing time last season. He is bigger and more talented than Michael Reed as a sophomore and could develop into something special. The other receivers could have a tougher time with such an athletic secondary in OU, but H-back Matt Marshall could be a bit of a secret weapon that the Sooners haven’t seen much of…
Unga has also battled injuries and Tonga has only been back with the team for a couple of weeks. Of course, Tonga’s first day he delivered a hit on DB Scott Johnson that left him seeing birds. That’s a great sign – not just in terms of short yardage situations and blocking for Unga, but for protecting Hall from DT Gerald McCoy, DE Jeremy Beal and other Sooner playmakers. Because of the situations with Unga and Tonga, Bryan Kariya and J.J. DiLuigi each saw significant field time with the first unit offense in camp. Whether they’ll see any kind of significant minutes on Saturday however remains to be seen. The highly touted DiLuigi had a bit of a disappointing first season in Provo last season, but the coaches have repeated remarked how they liked what he brought to practice in August.
And finally there was the QB. Hall doesn’t exactly have a good track record against marquee opponents. A particular game in Salt Lake last November comes to mind. Supposedly he has put that all behind him. We’ll find out right away. Hall has an opportunity to enter Cougar lore for all-time. If he can pull out a win against this Sooner team he will have directed the team to its biggest win to nearly two decades. I want that to happen. I want it badly. Do I think that’s going to happen? In the words of the late George Carlin, "'No comment' is a comment." Right?
Overall the Cougars cannot afford to turn the ball over. If they do, they’ll be done. Of course, with all of these veteran skill-players you’d think that would be less of an issue. OU’s defense is going to be excellent. BYU’s offense will be excellent this season. BYU’s offense should score against the Sooners enough to keep the game relatively close. Hopefully, fantastically close.