We did it, folks. College football officially starts tomorrow with Miami-Florida kicking things off before BYU takes on Utah next Thursday at LES. BYU stayed relatively healthy during fall camp, which is always one of the top goals. With camp now in the rearview mirror, we look at 5 of the biggest takeaways.
Zach Wilson is (*fingers crossed*) good to go and improved from last season
Zach Wilson’s surgically repaired right shoulder was the number one question heading into fall camp. After Wednesday’s scrimmage, Wilson declared himself 100% going into the season. All signs point to Wilson not being limited at all as to the throws he can make, but until he takes that first big hit — and more hits during the course of the season — we won’t know for sure how he’ll hold up for a full season.
As it stands now, Wilson is the unquestioned leader of the team and has brought an elevated sense of confidence. BYU’s success most depends on Zach.
The secondary is not as deep as we initially thought
Coming into the year, this looked like one of the deepest secondaries BYU had in years. Over the course of the offseason, however, BYU has seen a lot of defections. Seniors Chris Wilcox and Troy Warner did not participate in Fall Camp and are likely to redshirt. Cornerbacks Trevion Greene and Isaiah Armstrong transferred. Austin McChesney medically retired. 2019 JUCO signee Eric Ellison won’t enroll until 2020 semester. Keenan Ellis likely won’t play due to academics. If you lost count, that’s seven guys that would have contributed in 2019.
With all that turnover, Dayan Ghanwoloku moved from safety to CB to shore up depth there. Safety Austin Lee is one of the most important defensive players, but outside of those two there is a lot of youth and question marks. BYU’s two deep looks pretty solid at CB and safety, but a key injury or two will really hurt the defensive backfield.
Ty’Son Williams and Lopini Katoa will take the bulk of the carries
BYU’s running back group is the strongest its been since Jamaal Williams graduated in 2016. Sophomore Lopini Katoa looks to build on a promising freshman season when he ran for 423 yards and 8 touchdowns. Katoa has been overshadowed at times by the two graduate transfers, but he has put in work this offseason and all indications point to him being a big part of the offense.
Speaking of graduate transfers, South Carolina transfer Ty’Son Williams made a name for himself during Fall Camp and will no doubt be a key component of what BYU does. Williams may be the most explosive back in the group, and he is a good receiver and pass protector. Like Katoa, health is a concern for Williams, but he has the talent and opportunity to make a big impact.
Not to be slept on is Rice transfer Emmanuel Esukpa, who is a big, powerful back that can get those tough yards.
This could be BYU’s best offensive line of the Independence Era
BYU returns four main starters from 2018 and six guys total who started games last season. James Empey and Tristen Hoge look like future NFL guys on the interior of the line, and sophomore left tackle Brady Christensen brings experience to protect Wilson’s blind spot after starting all 13 games last year. Harris LaChance and Kieffer Longson figure to start at the other two spots, and Keanu Saleapaga and Thomas Shoaf each bring with them loads of starting experience. Chandon Herring also figures to factor in after playing in 12 games last year, meaning BYU looks to be comfortably 8 guys deep. This may not be one of the top offensive lines in the country, but compared to what BYU’s had the past 10-15 years, it is a quality line.
Pass rush is still a question mark
The sometimes lackluster pass rush may have been overblown last season — BYU did, after all, have a top 35 defense — but a consistent rush from the front four makes life for the whole defense easier. The interior of the line looks good with Khyiris Tonga, Lorenzo Fauatea, Bracken El-Bakri and Earl Tuioti-Mariner, but there are still questions on the outside. Corbin Kaufusi is gone, and BYU will have to find other guys to fill the pass-rushing void. The ever-steady Trajan Pili is back for his senior season, but he’s not a guy that’s going to consistently get after the QB. Zac Dawe, Devin Kaufusi and Uriah Leiataua have all shown flashes, but they are all largely unproven and will be asked to take on a bigger role.
Realistically, the interior of the line will have to generate more of a pass rush if BYU is to get more pressure on the QB.