The smartest, most well-researched college football writer in the country dropped his SB Nation BYU preview piece today. In his preview, Bill Connelly, also of Football Outsiders fame, takes an in-depth look at the Cougars heading into the 2015 season.
Bill C's BYU Preview
Bill C's BYU Preview
With an ambitious schedule and a generational talent at quarterback in his senior season, it's always interesting to see exactly how people nationally view the program and its prospects for the upcoming season.
Now before I get to the commentary, I wanted to give props to Jason Kirk, SB Nation's CFB editor. He's the author of what is probably my all-time favorite tweet about BYU from a non-BYU/Utah person:
As soon as Bill's preview piece dropped Thursday, Jason chimed in:
BYU preview's up and compliments their schedule, so HEEEEEERRREE COMEEEEE FURIOUSSSSS UTAH FANNNNNNNS http://t.co/Am8t6SSyxu
— Jason Kirk (@JasonKirkSBN) May 7, 2015
"WWRAAAAAARHRRRRWRRRR UTAH SUDDENLY HAS A 4-YEAR SERIES AGAINST COLORADO WHICH MEANS BYU IS IRRELEVANT FOREVER" -- inbound
— Jason Kirk (@JasonKirkSBN) May 7, 2015
Thanks for the chuckle, Jason.
Anyway, here are thoughts from a BYU fan perspective on the preview, breaking it down section by section.
Bill begins by relaying BYU's record against current Power 5 opponents in Bronco's tenure, which is 22-22. For a team in BYU's position, that's not bad at all -- and certainly a better win percentage than many teams who enjoy the money and status of actually being in those conferences. To wit:
BYU has more wins against current P5 teams over the past 9 years than Boise State has in their entire history http://t.co/dNG1xyCjUV
— Vakaviti (@vakaviti) May 7, 2015
Now obviously Boise has scored a couple high-profile wins more than BYU, and its accomplishments in reaching and winning big games are worthy of praise. But, for Boise being the favorite non-power darling, it's still an interesting comparison. If BYU could cash in on some of it's almosts and should haves, it will get to that pinnacle Boise has enjoyed.
So the "Now what?" is breaking through the 8-5 plateau. As Bill notes:
BYU has been consistently decent, but it has to be disconcerting that, since peaking at 18th in the 2012 F/+ rankings, the Cougars fell to 27th in 2013 and 46th in 2014. Sure, there was context -- for instance, last fall, they fell apart in the wake of quarterback Taysom Hill's injury, then rallied -- but the offense has only improved in small increments, and the defense trailed off dramatically.
The 4-0, 0-4, 4-0 season splits were sure striking and full of anxiety for fans. First, we were worried whether or not BYU beat Houston by enough. Then, we wondered if BYU could ever pull out of the tailspin after a massive beatdown in Boise State.
His offensive footprint graph is somewhat interesting. It shows BYU runs the ball 85% of the time in wins during garbage time, compared to 70% on the national average. So Robert Anae is either really responsible or maddeningly conservative, depending on how you feel this week.
Also, look at that adjusted pace. If you didn't remember, BYU's tempo is really fast.
To summarize Taysom's stats presented here: 7.4 non-sack yards per carry is insane, and Hill's completion rate drastically improved in 2014. But I agree with Bill that BYU needs to uncork the deep ball to open up the field. BYU will be able to run the ball well, but if you can go over the top to Nick Kurtz or Devon Blackmon a couple times per game, the run game really opens up.
And let's all say an "amen" to this prayer:
But we won't think about Hill going down. In the last two seasons, we've lost three exciting Utah quarterbacks to serious injury four times (Hill, Utah's Travis Wilson, Utah State's Chuckie Keeton twice). No more, please. These guys are too fun to watch.
Aside from Charles West not playing this season (the only way I can see him playing in 2015 is if the judge throws out the case before it officially goes to trial, and BYU having zero suspensions for him), Bill lists a lot of weapons that should make the offense quite good this season. Mitch Mathews has developed into quite a go-to threat, and all accounts are that he is ready to ball this season.
As he notes, the other Mitch -- Juergens -- had a way of sneaking through secondaries for huge plays. We saw it against Virginia, Cal, and Memphis. Juergens has ample speed and can definitely make defenses pay in a big way if they miss an assignment. I also expect Terenn Houk to play a bigger role in the passing game as a flex tight end type of receiver.
The backfield stands to be a question with Jamaal Williams recovering from a brutal knee injury. Algernon Brown was the most effective positive-yard gainer out of the backfield after Hill and Williams were hurt.
Building a stable, capable offensive line has been BYU's battle offensively for several seasons, and last season we saw some progress to that end. Hopefully 2015 -- with a senior Hill and Williams -- is the year it all comes together. With the big defensive lines BYU will face against Nebraska, UCLA, Michigan, and Missouri, it would be good timing.
Tejan Koroma is still a frightening man and is a mortal lock for center, and it seems Ului Lapuaho will be moving to the right tackle position. It's expected Brad Wilcox will take over the left tackle spot. Ryker Matthews has been moved around, and the two guard spots will probably be landed between him, Kyle Johnson, and Tuni Kanuch.
Guess what: Bronco Mendenhall defenses still shut down the run at an elite level. BYU allowed only six rushes of 20+ yards last season, which was the fewest in the country.
The problem was that usually, BYU builds a solid, assignment-sound secondary behind that front seven. But 2014 saw injuries to Jordan Johnson and Craig Bills, Rob Daniel is a prototypical safety forced to play corner for two seasons because of injury, and, according to guys like Skye PoVey, there was a lot of freelancing and trying to be a hero instead of playing your role.
That, along with a lackluster pass rush, meant teams could pass at will against BYU, which we saw in losses to Boise, Nevada, Utah State, and Memphis.
Hopefully a permanent return to defensive end for Bronson Kaufusi helps solve some pass rush issues. But the secondary is still a question, which we'll touch on later.
BYU's d-line recorded only 2.5 sacks in 13 games last season. WOOF. Save us, LeBronson.
With Kaufusi back at DE and demanding attention, I suspect Bronco, now back at the defensive controls, will utilize outside backers Sione Takitaki, Fred Warner, and Troy Hinds in a big way in the pass rush effort. All three have fantastic pass rush skills.
So, the secondary.
I actually think the safety spots will do quite well this season. I expect Eric Takenaka to step in and be that Andrew Rich-type JUCO success. Kai Nacua will play the other spot (if/when not suspended?), and Chris Badger and Kavika Fonua will serve as capable backups.
So, as usual, the question is at corner. Michael Davis has lots of experience but reportedly looked a little rough this spring. Jordan Preator has started several times, but missed all of spring due to academics.
New names who might very well vie for time at corner, supplanting experienced starters, would be Dayan Lake, one of BYU's most talented signees of the 2015 class, and Michael Shelton, a speedster who redshirted last season.
As Bill points out, Trevor Samson is back to lock down place-kicking duties after a record-setting year (posted the highest Made FG% in BYU history). While punter Scott Arellano is gone, who was actually very good, the Cougars should have an ace in the hole to surprise the hell out of Nebraska. So that could be fun.
Bill raises an interesting question: BYU's September slate is really tough, but will any of Nebraska, Michigan, Boise State, and UCLA be able to exploit BYU through the air if the passing defense still struggles? UCLA may be in play for Everett Golson, who is transferring from Notre Dame, but BYU could do quite well against those teams.
"Pass defense and health are the two issues in the way of a brilliant BYU season . . . In theory, anything between about 11-1 and 6-6 is possible with a slight variation in quality and luck."
Here's to a healthy set of star players and in improved pass defense. We're ready for the breakthrough.