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1. Progressing toward the mean
On Tuesday, we talked about a Navy team that benefited severely from close-game bounces; the Midshipmen went 4-0 in one-possession games to finish 8-5 despite looking pretty awful on paper.
Today, we talk about the opposite effect. On paper, BYU was a Top 25 team. The Cougars had one of the best defenses in the country, replete with an absolutely terrifying front seven, and thrived despite a directionless offense. But they lost nearly three points per game to turnovers luck, lost three games by three or fewer points, and went 1-4 overall in one-possession games. With Navy's luck, BYU might have gone 11-2 or 12-1 in 2012. Instead, the Cougars finished with Navy's record (8-5) despite finishing 74 spots higher in the F/+ rankings.
Of course, it's only fair, I guess. In 2011, BYU went 4-1 in one-possession games and finished 10-3 despite a No. 40 F/+ ranking. Like Navy, the Cougars simply got their records reversed. Whereas 2012 should have been seen as the culmination of a three-year rebuilding process for head coach Bronco Mendenhall, it was instead seen as one big pile of frustration. With a defense that allowed its fewest points in 33 years, BYU was great at staying close and terrible at closing the deal, losing by three points at rival Utah, by one point at Boise State, by three points at Notre Dame, and by six points at San Jose State. So close.
In 2013, we'll see if the luck stabilizes a bit. We'll also see if BYU can figure out what the hell it wants to be on offense, and if a couple of stud sophomores are ready to have their names on the marquee.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 23|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|30-Aug||Washington State||30-6||W||29.9 - 12.5||W|
|8-Sep||Weber State||45-13||W||33.0 - 18.3||W|
|15-Sep||at Utah||21-24||L||20.1 - 16.6||W|
|20-Sep||at Boise State||6-7||L||18.4 - 9.5||W|
|28-Sep||Hawaii||47-0||W||43.8 - 12.9||W|
|5-Oct||Utah State||6-3||W||29.8 - 10.4||W|
|13-Oct||Oregon State||24-42||L||26.9 - 35.1||L|
|20-Oct||at Notre Dame||14-17||L||23.6 - 29.1||L|
|27-Oct||at Georgia Tech||41-17||W||29.2 - 8.1||W|
|10-Nov||Idaho||52-13||W||29.8 - 23.4||W|
|17-Nov||at San Jose State||14-20||L||29.7 - 22.7||W|
|24-Nov||at New Mexico State||50-14||W||28.8 - 18.1||W|
|20-Dec||San Diego State||23-6||W||17.6 - 10.9||W|
|Points Per Game||28.7||65||14.0||3|
|Adj. Points Per Game||27.7||70||17.5||5|
2. Rallying behind Taysom Hill
BYU cycled through the quarterbacks in 2012. Riley Nelson, finally getting a chance to prove himself as a starter for an entire season, instead struggled with injuries. Taysom Hill, Nelson's anointed successor, directed BYU's best performance of the season (against Hawaii), then bowed out with a knee injury on a play that was supposed to be in victory formation. Nelson returned despite a back injury, then got knocked out with rib issues. James Lark finished the season.
Adj. Points Per Game with Riley Nelson at quarterback (9 games): BYU 26.7, Opponent 19.5 (plus-7.2)
Adj. Points Per Game with Taysom Hill at quarterback (2 games): BYU 36.8, Opponent 11.7 (plus-25.1)
Adj. Points Per Game with James Lark at quarterback (2 games): BYU 23.2, Opponent 14.5 (plus-8.7)
The injuries left BYU headless for a good portion of the year. The Cougars were far from bad on offense, but they were directionless and, at best, mediocre to decent. And it probably goes without saying that you are more likely to lose close games if you have no idea what to expect from the quarterback position.
We do, however, know that BYU's best game of the season came with Hill at quarterback. We also know that Hill is both healthy and the only one left from last year's QB battle. The backup is an untested walk-on, and former blue-chipper Tanner Mangum is going on a two-year mission. Hill is the man in Provo. Now he just needs to remain upright.
Taysom Hill. Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE.
|Q1 Rk||49||1st Down Rk||47|
|Q2 Rk||43||2nd Down Rk||101|
|Q3 Rk||106||3rd Down Rk||48|
3. Wanted: an identity
BYU's offense was decent at most things and good at almost nothing in 2012. The Cougars were well above average in terms of converting passing downs (usually by way of an eight-yard gain on third-and-8), but they fell into too many passing downs to be consistently solid. Their running game was relatively explosive but prone to losses. Their passing game was perfectly efficient but less than explosive. And their identity changed based on who was behind center. With Taysom Hill, BYU averaged 50 rushes and 30 passes per game. With Lark, it was 33 rushes and 47 passes (despite holding a lead through most of each game). And with Nelson, it was 38 rushes and 42 passes.
Naturally, these changes happened because of the skill sets of the QBs at hand. But you get whiplash looking at the twists and turns in BYU's 2012 identity.
There is hope in this regard, however, and part of this hope comes in a complete lack of options. Hill is the guy, and his ability to run (and his inability to, as of yet, pass consistently or avoid sacks) pretty much ends the search for an identity. With Hill as signal caller, expect a run-heavy attack, which suits the personnel well. Hill was explosive, and Jamaal Williams, a freshman thrust into action with the transfer of Josh Quezada, at the very least held his own. With a limited passing game, BYU has no choice but to lean on its backfield. And it might pay off.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Taysom Hill||6'2, 218||So.||*** (5.6)||42||71||425||59.2%||4||2||6||7.8%||5.0|
|Ammon Olsen||6'3, 209||So.||NR|
|Jamaal Williams||RB||6'0, 190||So.||*** (5.5)||166||775||4.7||4.4||12||+0.4|
|Michael Alisa||RB||6'1, 220||Sr.||** (5.4)||58||222||3.8||2.8||1||-3.9|
|Taysom Hill||QB||6'2, 218||So.||*** (5.6)||49||373||7.6||6.4||4||+13.3|
|Paul Lasike||RB||6'0, 227||Jr.||NR||33||129||3.9||1.5||2||-2.8|
|JD Falslev||SLOT||5'8, 184||Sr.||NR||18||109||6.1||11.5||0||+2.3|
|Iona Pritchard||RB||6'0, 244||Jr.||** (5.1)||13||39||3.0||1.9||0||-2.1|
|Adam Hine||RB||6'1, 202||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Cody Hoffman||WR||6'4, 215||Sr.||** (5.0)||145||100||1248||69.0%||8.6||31.7%||60.0%||8.6||160.8|
|JD Falslev||SLOT||5'8, 184||Sr.||NR||61||37||274||60.7%||4.5||13.3%||52.5%||4.6||35.3|
|Ross Apo||WR||6'3, 207||Jr.||**** (5.9)||55||31||311||56.4%||5.7||12.0%||65.5%||5.4||40.1|
|Kaneakua Friel||TE||6'5, 250||Sr.||** (5.4)||51||30||308||58.8%||6.0||11.2%||76.5%||5.7||39.7|
|Jamaal Williams||RB||6'0, 190||So.||*** (5.5)||36||27||315||75.0%||8.8||7.9%||52.8%||8.9||40.6|
|Skyler Ridley||WR||6'0, 182||Sr.||NR||29||20||206||69.0%||7.1||6.3%||48.3%||7.0||26.5|
|Devin Mahina||TE||6'6, 247||Jr.||**** (5.8)||12||8||128||66.7%||10.7||2.6%||50.0%||9.6||16.5|
|Richard Wilson||TE||6'3, 240||Sr.||*** (5.7)||12||7||102||58.3%||8.5||2.6%||83.3%||10.6||13.1|
|Michael Alisa||RB||6'1, 220||Sr.||** (5.4)||9||6||23||66.7%||2.6||2.0%||77.8%||1.8||3.0|
|Austin Holt||TE||6'5, 250||Jr.||*** (5.7)||4||2||22||50.0%||5.5||0.9%||25.0%||9.0||2.8|
|Mitch Mathews||WR||6'6, 213||So.||*** (5.5)||3||2||27||66.7%||9.0||0.7%||100.0%||5.4||3.5|
|Brett Thompson||TE||6'3, 220||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Eric Thornton||SLOT||5'9, 170||So.||NR|
|Talon Shumway||WR||6'3, 190||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
4. Grading Cody Hoffman on a curve
Because Hill only really played about 2.5 games (he was used quite a bit against Boise State), BYU's full-season stats skewed toward the pass. That was a problem, as really only Cody Hoffman provided any value in the passing game.
The slot receiver averaged 7.4 yards per catch, which is fine as long as you've got about an 80 percent catch rate; Falslev's was only 60 percent. Former blue-chipper Ross Apo contributed very little. The tight ends were decent but didn't stand out. Williams and Skyler Ridley at least contributed decent catch rates, but it is a bit of a miracle that Hoffman was even able to average 8.6 yards per target considering the attention defenses were able to give to him.
The receiving corps has plenty of former three- and four-star recruits in it, and if players like Apo or tight end Devin Mahina (who did pretty well with his one target per game) were to suddenly play like they were supposed to coming out of high school, then Hill might begin to get the help he needs. But that's a pretty big if.
|Braden Hansen||C||49 career starts|
|Braden Brown||RT||41 career starts|
|Ryker Mathews||LT||6'6, 292||So.||**** (5.8)||13 career starts|
|Houston Reynolds||C||6'2, 305||Sr.||** (5.4)||11 career starts|
|Manaaki Vaitai||C||6'3, 317||Sr.||*** (5.6)||9 career starts|
|Solomone Kafu||LG||6'2, 305||Jr.||** (4.9)||8 career starts|
|Blair Tushaus||C||7 career starts|
|Brock Stringham||RG||6'6, 290||Jr.||*** (5.5)||3 career starts|
|Famika Anae||LG||1 career start|
|Michael Yeck||RT||6'8, 288||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Tui Crichton||LG||6'3, 343||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Terrance Alletto||C||6'3, 285||So.||*** (5.7)|
|De'Ondre Wesley||OL||6'6, 310||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Edward Fusi||OL||6'1, 285||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Josh Carter||OL||6'5, 290||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Brayden Kearsley||OL||6'5, 295||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Brad Wilcox||LT||6'7, 285||Fr.||** (5.3)|
5. The line needed help
The BYU offensive line certainly wasn't bad in 2012 ... but it wasn't very good, either. The Cougars were right at about the middle of FBS in terms of run blocking and pass protection, converting pretty well on short-yardage situations but struggling with breakdowns, especially on standard downs. Opponents were able to make a lot of stops in the backfield against both the run and pass (particularly when Hill was at QB).
And Bronco Mendenhall clearly thought of the line as an issue, bringing in three junior college transfers, plus a four-star freshman in Brayden Kearsley, to plump up the depth chart. The reinforcements better be ready, because BYU now faces replacing a three-year starting tackle (Braden Brown) and a four-year starting center (Braden Hansen). BYU is bereft of experienced Bradens in 2013; perhaps a young Brayden, and maybe a De'Ondre, an Edward, a Tui, or a Terrance can keep BYU's line afloat.
|Q1 Rk||62||1st Down Rk||9|
|Q2 Rk||2||2nd Down Rk||19|
|Q3 Rk||9||3rd Down Rk||1|
6. Damn, was this a good defense last year
I in no way grew up a BYU fan, but it was really, really frustrating watching BYU's offense falter in 2012 and waste some of the opportunities presented to it by a defense that was aggressive, fun, and remarkable. The talent in the front seven was unmatched by just about any school in the country not named Alabama, and while it took a little bit to find its rhythm (BYU saw some slow starts at times) and the passing downs defense could be a little bit leaky at times, if you enjoy attacking defenses, BYU's was for you.
The unit's depth has taken a hit heading into 2013, but the star power is still certainly there in the form of linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Spencer Hadley, corner Jordan Johnson, and perhaps a sophomore or two up front. I cannot guarantee the unit will be quite as effective this fall, but it should be just as aggressive and fun to watch.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Bronson Kaufusi||DE||6'7, 270||So.||**** (5.9)||13||17.0||2.7%||5.5||4.5||0||1||0||1|
|Eathyn Manumaleuna||NT||6'2, 288||Sr.||** (5.3)||4||8.0||1.3%||4||2||0||1||1||0|
|Remington Peck||DE||6'4, 250||So.||*** (5.5)||9||6.0||1.0%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Austin Holt||DE||6'5, 250||Jr.||*** (5.7)|
|Marques Johnson||NT||6'2, 321||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Logan Taele||DE||6'2, 240||So.||NR|
|Michael Doman||DE||6'4, 240||So.||NR|
|Tuni Kanuch||NT||6'1, 285||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|JonRyheem Peoples||NT||6'6, 298||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
7. Reloading up front
First, let's say this: there is hope. In losing Top 5 draft pick Ziggy Ansah, tackle Romney Fuga, and backup end Russell Tialavea, BYU finds itself in need of replacing three of the four primary members of last year's stellar line. Ansah made Kyle Van Noy's job pretty easy at times and occupied blockers like the perfect 3-4 end, while Fuga was a lovely space-eater.
But there is a load of potential in players like end Bronson Kaufusi, who could be ready for a major star turn, 2011 starter Eathyn Manumaleuna, who missed nine of 13 games last year (and put up similar numbers in 2011 to what Fuga posted last year), and newcomers to the rotation like end Austin Holt and redshirt freshman Tuni Kanuch. This unit is not very proven at this point, but the ceiling is high. And if it can simply remain competent, the linebackers could do the rest.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kyle Van Noy||WLB||6'3, 235||Sr.||**** (5.8)||13||45.0||7.2%||22||13||2||5||6||1|
|Spencer Hadley||SLB||6'1, 227||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||42.5||6.8%||9||3.5||0||1||1||2|
|Uani' Unga||MLB||6'1, 233||Sr.||NR||13||22.0||3.5%||3||1||1||1||1||0|
|Alani Fua||SLB||6'5, 215||Jr.||*** (5.7)||13||10.5||1.7%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Manoa Pikula||BLB||6'1, 235||So.||*** (5.6)||12||7.5||1.2%||1.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Austen Jorgensen||MLB||6'2, 239||Sr.||** (5.4)||4||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyler Beck||BLB||6'1, 220||Sr.||** (5.3)||4||1.0||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jherremya Leuta-Douyere||WLB||6'0, 236||So.||** (5.3)||10||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Toloa'i Ho Ching||MLB||6'0, 225||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Kalolo Manumaleuna Utu||LB||6'2, 250||Jr.||** (5.4)|
His supporting cast will change, and that is a little bit scary, but Kyle Van Noy was either the best or second-best playmaking linebacker in the country. Only Georgia's Jarvis Jones could challenge him for that title. In Ansah, he had a fantastic setup man up front; and in Brandon Ogletree, he had the perfect tackling machine next to him at inside linebacker. Van Noy was free to take chances because these two guys could help to cover for him. Without them, his production could slip unless players like Kaufusi and new BLB Manoa Pikula step up. But he set the bar so high in 2012 that 18 tackles for loss, five passes defensed, and five forced fumbles would represent slippage.
Van Noy was just so fun to watch in 2012. He logged 4.5 tackles for loss against Utah alone, then threw in two sacks for a loss of 24 yards against Hawaii. After a relatively quiet October, he erupted late: three solo tackles for loss against San Jose State, three more against New Mexico State (all sacks), and 3.5 TFLs, a pick-six, and a blocked punt touchdown against San Diego State in one of the most dominant bowl performances you'll ever see.
BYU's success will depend as much on its offense and its defensive newcomers as it will on Van Noy. But in KVN, BYU has a player for which opponents absolutely must gameplan against and account for on every single play. That is an extreme luxury.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Daniel Sorensen||KAT||6'2, 215||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13||54.5||8.7%||2||0||3||5||2||1|
|Jordan Johnson||CB||5'10, 185||Jr.||** (5.3)||12||41.5||6.6%||1.5||0||1||15||0||1|
|Craig Bills||FS||6'2, 209||Jr.||**** (5.8)||13||39.0||6.2%||0||0||0||5||1||0|
|Mike Hague||CB||5'10, 190||Sr.||** (5.4)||4||4.5||0.7%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Skye PoVey||DB||5'11, 200||Sr.||NR||3||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Adam Hogan||CB||5'11, 180||Sr.||NR|
|Blake Morgan||FS||5'11, 184||Sr.||NR|
|Michael Wadsworth||KAT||6'1, 182||So.||NR|
|Trent Trammell||DB||5'11, 180||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Samuel Lee||DB||6'0, 180||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Jacob Hannemann||CB||6'1, 190||Fr.||** (5.2)|
|Dallin Leavitt||DB||5'11, 202||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Justin Sorensen||6'1, 232||Sr.||63||62.4||26||41.3%|
|Justin Sorensen||6'1, 232||Sr.||27-30||6-10||60.0%||0-2||0.0%|
|JD Falslev||KR||5'8, 184||Sr.||11||26.0||0|
|Cody Hoffman||KR||6'4, 215||Sr.||3||24.0||0|
|JD Falslev||PR||5'8, 184||Sr.||26||9.5||0|
|Special Teams F/+||71|
|Field Goal Pct||113|
|Kick Returns Avg||19|
|Punt Returns Avg||65|
9. Riley Stephenson was a weapon
As good as the BYU defense was, it was done some serious favors in the field position battle. Punter Riley Stephenson was just about as good as it gets, averaging over 45 yards per kick and rarely allowing for a good return opportunity. His isn't the biggest departure BYU must account for in 2013, but he's an important one, especially considering how iffy BYU's special teams play was outside of the punting game (and kick returns).
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|4-Oct||at Utah State||46|
|23-Nov||at Notre Dame||8|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||30|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||70|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-3 / +4.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||14 (8, 6)|
10. Hello, spotlight
Since BYU's move out of the Mountain West and into independence, I've considered it an honorary BCS-level squad, right alongside Notre Dame. The Cougars have never had any major-conference affiliation, but they have a national title and a Heisman in the trophy case, and they have played at a reliably major level through most of the last four decades.
And with 2013's schedule, they are certainly acting like a major program. Holy moly. In a month's span late in the season, BYU visits both Wisconsin and Notre Dame and welcomes Boise State to town. They host Texas and Utah in September, make an early trip to Virginia, and, in all, play seven BCS conference teams, plus Utah State and Boise State, 2012's two best mid-majors. In all, only two opponents are projected worse than 75th, and seven are projected 52nd or better. That is a very impressive slate, better than that of a lot of BCS teams.
BYU could be ready for it, too. It's difficult to make an outright guarantee of that with an all-sophomore offensive backfield, new faces on the offensive line, and new players complementing Van Noy. But the Cougars still have Van Noy, Cody Hoffman, an active secondary, and a world of potential on the defensive line. And they might have an offensive identity to boot.
All bets are off if Taysom Hill gets hurt, but I see BYU as a legitimate Top 20-25 team heading into 2013. And if the Cougars are ready to actually close games this time around, they could escape from a tough schedule with a lot of tough wins. I like this team a lot.