Monday, September 14, 2009

What We Learned in the Tulane Game

Prior to the Tulane game, I wrote that weekly improvement was going to be the key to a successful season this year for the Cougars (something we didn’t see last year), and then essentially offered a checklist of areas of improvement to watch for in that game. And, if improvement from game one to game two is any indication, it looks like it may indeed turn out to be a special season. What follows is a checklist review of the areas specified prior to the game and how the team performed relative to each.
  1. One Game at a Time Mentality—Check. The team was ready for this game and appeared focused on the task at hand, rather than looking ahead to FSU. 
  2. Running Game Improvement—Check. After only gaining a net of 28 yards on the ground last week against OU, the team rolled out 206 yards this week. While Harvey Unga did play sparingly in the first quarter (3 carries for 17 yards), the improvement in the running game was primarily at the hands (or legs) or JJ DiLuigi and Brian Kariya. DiLuigi had 71 yards on 12 carries (5.9 yd/car) and Kariya had 63 yards on 12 carries (5.3 yd/car). For DiLuigi, this was a coming out party of sorts, and fans have been hoping to see this kind of a performance from him since his arrival in Provo two years ago. For Kariya, it was a validation of his performance last week. In both cases, it assures coaches and fans that the running back position should be deep enough to last the season. 
  3. O Line Protection—Check. No sacks were given up. Hall had plenty of time. The running lanes were huge. Great game by the O Line. With Braden Hansen going down with a knee early in the game, however, depth could become an issue. 
  4. Ball Distribution—Check. Hall put the ball into 12 receivers hands (as opposed to 7 last week), and five of those were outside receivers (only two last week). A full 50% of his passes were caught by the receivers accounting for 60% of the yardage (only 32% last week).
  5. Punt Return ImprovementTBD. There were no punt returns in the game.  
  6. Quarterback Pressure—Check. The Cougar D recorded two sacks on Tulane’s first drive setting a tone that would last for the entire game.
  7. Points—Check. They needed to hold Tulane to two touchdowns or less to maintain defensive respect nationally and came through with flying colors.
  8. Field GoalsUnsatisfactory. This is really an issue of placekicking in general… PAT’s, FG’s and kickoffs. Although Payne did hit his first field goal in five tries, he missed a subsequent point after. He also kicked another kickoff out of bounds. After replacing Payne, Stephenson did the same thing. The good news is they had got a lot of practice at both PAT’s and kickoffs.
  9. Penalties—Check. Only 5 penalties for 47 yards. None of them were critical. And, considering the number of new players that were able to enter the game late, they played a very clean game.
  10. Turnovers—Check. Hall threw one pick, but the defense was able to take two of its own, along with two fumbles. The turnover margin is now +1 for the season (+0.5/game), and much closer to the team’s 2006 high water mark set at an average of +1.08/game. Turnovers were key to the final score of this one, as each of Tulane’s turnovers led to BYU scores. 
It appears that the coaches and players must be reading this column, as they checked off 8 of the 10 items listed, leaving punt returns for another game, and failing to improve only in the kicking game.

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