Saturday, November 28, 2009

What to Watch for in the Utah Game

It’s rivalry week. It doesn’t matter who is favored. Home team “advantage” has proved to be mythical. Fans of both teams will be seated alongside each other throughout the stadium like a tossed salad. There are bound to be things said and done both on and off the field that will be regretted on Sunday morning. It will be anyone’s game and this is what fans and players look forward to all year.

A few items to watch for as the game unfolds:

• Passion. The Cougars had it last week against Air Force for seemingly the first time. The Utes seem to have it in all the big games. The team that has more of it will likely be ahead at halftime.

• Turnovers. This game has been decided by 7 points or less for of the last 11 games. Essentially decided on the last play of the game in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Every possession matters. The team that has more turnovers, will likely be playing catch up in the final minutes.

• Touchdowns or field goals. It seems that in games with Utah where BYU has been favored, the Cougars have dominated the stat box, but only come away with field goals at the end of several long drives, leaving it open for the Utes to make one fourth quarter drive to take the lead. They will need touchdowns in order to maintain control of this at the end.

• Relax, Max. When Max is relaxed and having fun, he plays well. Sometimes, when he feels the pressure and forced to come from behind, he forces things and drives tend to end quickly in three and outs or sooner with a turnover.

• Run the ball. The Cougs have a history of successfully running the ball in the Utah game. It is almost as if Utah has given that up in favor of defending the pass, daring our offensive coordinator to go to the run more than is in the game plan. If the Utes do that again, Anae will need to have the courage to take what they are giving. Unga will be relied upon heavily to keep the ball moving. Success in this area will be key.

• Pressure Jordan Wynn. With the Cougar defense, it has been all or nothing as far as pressuring the quarterback. When they have opted to apply pressure, in general opposing quarterbacks have shown cracks and the defense has had success (although a glaring exception is the FSU game). In any case, it is in the best interest of the defensive psyche (and fans for that matter), to make proactive mistakes of aggression, rather than passively sit back and give up essentially the same yardage and big plays by being too conservative. It will be essential to keep the freshman on edge.

Both teams are 9-2. Both teams have shown flashes of brilliance and incompetence at various times throughout the season. This game will be decided by the small things—turnovers, penalties, big third and fourth down conversions, a missed tackle here, a dropped pass there. With all of that in mind, I will refrain from predicting the pace of the game, but only the outcome.

BYU 30  Utah 26

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

BYU-Utah: Battle of Common Opponents

In trying to get a handle on this week’s rivalry game, there are a nearly unlimited number of angles to compare the teams—experience, average statistics, offense, defense, history, coaching, etc. Yet, this rivalry has proven that none of that will mean anything when the game kicks off on Saturday. On the other hand, it doesn’t keep us from taking a look anyway… So, here is a look at how they have fared against the eight common opponents this season:

Utah State
BYU 35-17, Utah 35-17
Both teams played USU at home early in the season and had identical outcomes.
Winner: Even

Colorado State
BYU 42-13, Utah 24-17
Again both teams played CSU early in the season on back to back weeks. BYU jumped out to an early 21-0 lead and cruised to a big win. Utah scored the winning touchdown with 3 minutes remaining.
Winner: BYU

BYU 59-21, Utah 35-15
This was the sixth game for both teams and each game was a runaway for the winner.
Winner: Even

San Diego State
BYU 38-28, Utah 38-7
The outcome was never in doubt, but BYU never really put SDSU away until the fourth quarter.
Winner: Utah

BYU 7-38, Utah 28-55
TCU was clearly better than both teams, as both teams lost by roughly 30 points. In this matchup, BYU’s defense showed better, while Utah’s offense showed better.
Winner: Neither

BYU 52-0, Utah 22-10
BYU dominated the game from the start in Laramie, while Utah struggled at home.
Winner: BYU

New Mexico
BYU 24-19, Utah 45-14
The Cougars could have easily lost this game and never really seemed to engage. The Utes did what they were supposed to do.
Winner: Utah

Air Force
BYU 38-21, Utah 23-16 OT
While the Falcons were able to take Utah into overtime, they never had a chance against a fired up BYU team.
Winner: BYU

Overall it is BYU 3 (CSU, Wyo, AFA), Utah 2 (SDSU, UNM), Even 3 (USU, UNLV, TCU), giving the slight nod in the battle of common opponents to the Cougars.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pitta a Finalist

I am sitting here at the SLC International where the RSL fans are creating quite the energy.  But, just wanted to post that Pitta was named a finalist for the Mackey Award with Dorin Dickinson (Sr. Pitt) and Aaron Hernandez (Jr, Florida) earlier this morning.

What We Learned in the Air Force Game

Saturday was perhaps the most solid performance of the season for the Cougs. They played an inspired game against a quality opponent in an Air Force team that had taken two ranked teams into overtime and lost to another by only three points. They boasted the number one pass defense in the country. None of that mattered as BYU dominated from the opening drive. Last week I wrote:

“Hall and his fellow seniors know they only have two games left and will make the most of this one, having fun, playing relaxed, and showing a good first half… BYU 34, Air Force 24.”

They did exactly that, playing with more emotion and fire than in any game since Oklahoma. BYU’s seniors, recognizing the fleeting nature of their remaining opportunities to play the game, made it a point this week to focus on emotion (for the first time in the Bronco Mendenhall era?) and wanted to play fired up. It showed, as they looked almost unstoppable at times. It also showed that “execution” combined with emotion is a potent combination. Here’s to hoping they can duplicate that recipe two more times this season (and against TCU in the next).

What we learned…

• Will BYU’s offensive line be able to open up running lanes on the smaller Falcon D line? Yes, but…. In a rare change-up, the offense came out on the opening drive passing all the way down the field and continued to primarily pass on the second as well. The running game was almost an afterthought. When they did go to the run, it was effective, but the run game was much more limited than in previous years against AFA.

• Will Unga be able to go? Unga played and looked good. He primarily took his reps in the first half and then was “managed,” as Bronco put it, appropriately in the second half. He had a number of pounding tackle breaking runs and even several rare open field bursts into the secondary, but it was on a 4 yard push into the pile that he passed Curtis Brown to become the all-time rushing leader.

• Can the Cougar front 7 continue to contain the run? Yes. Convincingly. It wasn’t until late in the game, when the outcome was no longer in question that AFA was able to string together a drive or two on the ground.

• How much will the team miss Terrance Hooks in the middle? The team seemed to miss Hooks more from a camaraderie standpoint than from a contribution standpoint. Several players were sporting “47” in Sharpie art on the bicep. Doman and Hunter both played well filling in, with Doman doing more of what he has already done this season and Hunter getting more opportunities for the first time.

• Will Dennis Pitta get the big game that he needs to solidify his status as Mackey finalist? Definitely. I predicted that he would need 7 catches, 85+ yards, and a TD, to guarantee a finalist spot. He surpassed that across the board with 9 catches for 111 yards and 2 TDs in what was easily his best performance of the season so far. The finalists were announced this morning and they are Pitta, Hernandez and Dickinson.

• What impact will the weather have? Surprisingly little. Despite the wind, forecasted snow, and low temperatures, the weather didn’t seem to have much impact on the game.

• Can the team come out of this game without any significant health losses going into the rivalry game with Utah? Mission accomplished. There were a few guys that had to be attended to during the course of the game, but nothing serious enough to carry over into next week (at least as far as the team is talking about).

• Will the records finally fall? Many did. Hall is now second to Ty Detmer in just about every quarterback category and leads him in number of wins. Unga leads in rushing and can still get scoring and all-purpose yards before the season ends. Pitta closed in on Collie’s reception mark (needs 2 more to tie) and third in receiving yards (where he will likely finish).

In the books…
o 1 victory for Hall to break a tie with Ty Detmer for all time wins
o 20 yards for Harvey Unga to become the all time leading rusher in program history (67 rushing)
o 203 yards needed by Max Hall to become second all time in total offense (371 total)
o 359 yards needed by Hall to become second all time in passing yards (377 passing)

Almost achieved…
o 105 yards for Unga to move into third in all-purpose yards (only 79)
o 11 catches for Pitta to tie Collie for all time most receptions (9)
o 165 yards needed by Pitta to pass Margin Hooks as the third leading receiver all time (111)

Friday, November 20, 2009

MWC Big Four: The Case for Air Force

It has become increasingly popular to reference BYU, TCU, and Utah as the Mountain West’s “Big Three” football programs. It has moved beyond the media and even coaches are doing it on a regular basis now. However, all of this referencing is a recent development, and with a closer look at what is behind it, you might be surprised.

A little history… In 2005, 2006 and 2007, there was really only a “Big One” as TCU went undefeated in 2005 and then BYU did not lose a conference game for two consecutive seasons. So the concept of a Big Three has really only been in the vernacular for 18 months or less, beginning with the conference’s 2008 breakout season that saw 3 MWC teams ranked in the final BCS standings and in the polls (with TCU and Utah both in the top 10). It was this performance that seemingly separated these programs from the rest. And, perhaps it is only these last two seasons (2008, 2009) that matter, but it would seem more appropriate to look at the last three, four, or five years (since TCU joined the league), since we are talking about a trend (otherwise any two data points will create a trend line). Doing so creates a slightly different picture of the Big Three.

A few assumptions:
• Includes consideration of conference games only (although non-conf games are an important part of a team’s perception)
• No consideration given for extenuating circumstances (injuries, suspensions, etc) although they may directly contribute to a loss
• No consideration is given for OT games, although that would provide perhaps other interesting insights
• No attempt is made to rank the teams within the top four (Air Force may very well be the fourth), but rather look at separation from the rest of the conference and where the division lies

A Look at Total Conference Losses

Conference Losses                 Totals
Team  05  06  07  08  09 **  5yr  4yr  3yr  2yr
BYU      3    0    0    2    1   **   6     3     3     3
TCU      0    2    4    1    0   **   7     7     5     1
Utah     4    3    3    0    1   **  11    7     4     1
AFA      5    5    2    3    2   **  17   12    7     5

This picture shows the overall success the programs have achieved in the Mountain West. And this picture shows the reason for the Big Three talk since 2008, as Utah has narrowed the gap with BYU and TCU. It also reveals a slight gap between the top three and Air Force. But many of Air Force’s losses come to the three teams above it, so to provide a better look, we will take a look at losses to teams from outside this group…

Non Big Three Conference Losses

Non Big 3 Losses                    Totals
Team   05  06  07  08  09 **  5yr  4yr  3yr  2yr
BYU       1    0    0    0    0   **   1     0     0     0
TCU       0    0    2    0     0  **   2     2     2     0
Utah      3    2    2    0    0   **   7     4     2     0
AFA       2    2    1    0    0   **   5     3     1     0

The picture here is now much different with BYU and TCU slightly separated in front (except in the two year view). With this lens, Air Force is actually on par with Utah, or actually slightly above. But some of those conference losses may have come to Air Force, which according to the data above, should be considered as part of the Big Four. If we remove losses to Air Force (TCU and Utah have one each), then the concept of a Big Four is confirmed…

Non Big Four Conference Losses
Non Big 4 Losses                    Totals
Team   05  06  07  08  09  **  5yr  4yr  3yr  2yr
BYU       1    0    0    0    0   **    1     0     0     0
TCU       0    0    1    0    0   **    1     1     1     0
Utah      3    2    1    0    0   **    6     3     1     0
AFA       2    2    1    0    0   **    5     3     1     0

Over a two or three year window, there is definitely a Big Four. Expanding to a five year look, BYU and TCU would appear a tier above Utah and Air Force, which are essentially on par.

So, why has a concept of Big Three emerged rather than Big Four? In non-conference games, Air Force has lost to Navy five years in a row as well as lost its bowl games the last two years. With those two losses in addition to its conference losses the last two seasons, it seems to perpetually find itself just outside of the top 25 rankings.

For Air Force, a win over BYU this season and/or a win in its bowl game, would be big steps forward for its program and begin to open eyes to the fact that in the Mountain West there is really a Big Four.

And, as the media, fans, and coaches begin to refer to the Big Four, rather than just the Big Three, as it is clear that is the case, it will be good for the perception of depth in conference for the rest of the country.

What to Watch for Against Air Force

At 7-4, Air Force will become only the third team BYU has faced this season that currently has a winning record (TCU at 10-0 and Oklahoma at 6-4 are the others; Wyoming and Florida State are 5-5). This very well may be the second or third most difficult game of the year. The Academy held TCU to 20 points and only lost by 3 (20-17). They took Utah to overtime before losing (23-16). They also went into overtime with a good Navy team (8-3) before giving up another close one. The Cadets mean business and they are desperate to break through into the top tier of the MWC. They will come not only with talent, but with motivation. Despite having Air Force’s number for the last several years, it is going to take everything the Cougars have to pull this one out. Saturday will be a good one.

What to watch for…

• Will BYU’s offensive line be able to open up running lanes on the smaller Falcon D line? The first two series should be an indicator of how this game will go. The running game from BYU will be essential to winning this game. The size could become more of a factor as the game wears on and Air Force’s lighter line begins to tire.

• Will Unga be able to go? And, if not, will Kariya and DiLuigi be up to the task of filling in for him. Last week, without Unga in the game, the running game suffered. That won’t cut it this week.

• Can the Cougar front 7 continue to contain the run? For most of the season, the specialty of the defense has been limiting opponents running games. That will be key this week, as Air Force is fourth in the country in rushing offense (and 118th in passing).

• How much will the team miss Terrance Hooks in the middle? Will Shawn Doman be able to hold it down solo? Will Shane Hunter be able to spell him sufficiently to be effective? Defending the wishbone option will require all players to know their assignments, and a lack of experience could cost the Cougars.

• Will Dennis Pitta get the big game that he needs to solidify his status as Mackey finalist? He has historically had a big game against the Falcons, but opponents are much more aware of him this season. With 7 catches, 85+ yards, and a TD, Pitta would likely be in.

• What impact will the weather have? Friday night has a 20% chance of rain. On Saturday there is a 30% chance of snow. Highs are forecast to be 44 degrees. The team has been doing some practicing outdoors this week, ostensibly in preparation for Saturday’s conditions. A wet field might favor a passing game, but a cold precipitation would swing in favor of a running game. In any case, should rain/snow arrive before or during the game, expect the field to be sloppy.

• Can the team come out of this game without any significant health losses going into the rivalry game with Utah? Last year, Air Force’s chop blocks and low hits took a toll on Dennis Pitta specifically, as he was only a limping shell of himself in the Utah game (and played anyway) and was worse than a non-factor as he probably hurt the team by playing.

• Will more records fall? Last week, Hall moved into second in touchdowns, Pitta second in receptions.  By the numbers this week…

o 1 victory for Hall to break a tie with Ty Detmer for all time wins
o 11 catches for Pitta to tie Austin Collie for all time most receptions
o 20 yards for Harvey Unga to become the all time leading rusher in program history
o 105 yards for Unga to move into third in all-purpose yards
o 165 yards needed by Pitta to pass Margin Hooks as the third leading receiver all time (Collie, Drage)
o 203 yards needed by Max Hall to become second all time in total offense
o 359 yards needed by Hall to become second all time in passing yards

How do I see this playing out? BYU got a wake-up call last week against New Mexico and will put in some extra effort this week in preparation and game planning. The Falcons will have the Cougars attention and there will not be any problem with losing focus. Hall and his fellow seniors know they only have two games left and will make the most of this one, having fun, playing relaxed, and showing a good first half. The defense will play well enough to give the Cougars a small lead at half-time. The second half will likely have AFA gaining some momentum out of the gate to make it look like a game, only to begin to tire going into the 4th quarter and BYU pulling out a two score win. BYU 34, Air Force 24.

Leave your own predictions in the comments below...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dennis Pitta Remains Mackey Award Front Runner

With week 11 in the books, the Nassau County Sports Commission, released its list of 8 semi-finalists for the Mackey Award given to the nation’s top tight end. Despite stringing together a number of quiet games over the past couple of weeks, Dennis Pitta is still very much in the mix, and must be considered at least a favorite to be included in the list of three finalists to be released on Monday, Nov 23. A big game against Air Force (9 catches, 113 yards last year) could be what puts him over the top.

As we have been following this race on this site, it is worth mentioning that of the eight semi-finalists, three had appeared in my front runner list, two as contenders, and three as darkhorses (see

Here is how they stack up:

name, yr, school (record)        G   rec   yds  TD  rec/g   yds/r  yds/g
Dennis Pitta, Sr, BYU (8-2)       10    45   624    5    4.50    13.9    62.4
Cody Slate, Sr, Marshall (5-5)   10    50   607    4    5.00    12.1    60.7
Aaron Hernandez, Jr, Fl (10-0)  10    46   571    2    4.60   12.4     57.1
Dorin Dickerson, Sr, Pitt (9-1)   10    43   496   10   4.30    11.5    49.6
Ed Dickson, Sr, Oregon (8-2)    10    37   488    5   3.70    13.2     48.8
Anthony McCoy, Sr, USC (7-3)   8     17   382   1    2.13    22.5     47.8
Kyle Rudolph, So, ND (6-4)        9     33   364   3    3.67    11.0     40.4
Tony Moeaki, Sr, Iowa (9-2)      7     26   302   4    3.71    11.6     43.1

This is a great group of tight ends and it will be difficult for the commission to narrow this field down to just three. All of them except Aaron Hernandez have been named Mackey Tight End of the Week at least once, with Pitta (3—2009, 2008x2), Slate (3—2009x2, 2007), and Moeaki (2—2009, 2007) with multiple recognitions. I am going to go ahead and take a crack at narrowing this down (prior to this weekend’s pivotal games)…

First we will eliminate the last three on this list. McCoy only has 17 catches (though a high 22.5 yds/catch average) and USC has suffered a few embarrassing losses of late. Rudolph is only a sophomore and is a notch below the other five in stats; Notre Dame is also in a funk. Moeaki has only played in 7 games so far, and Iowa’s season has also lost a bit of its early luster, which would have helped his cause.

We will call the first five, then, the front runners and can make a case for each of them.
Dennis Pitta leads in yards and yards/game. He is tied for second in TDs and right at the top (third) in receptions. He has been named TE of the week 3 times and voters will remember his clutch 4th down catch against Oklahoma.

Cody Slate has also been named TEOW 3 times, including twice this season. He leads in catches and is right in the mix in yards and TDs. His liability is his team’s 5-5 record in CUSA.

Aaron Hernandez is right near the top in just about every category and is a key player on the number one team in the country. With only two touchdowns this season and also being a junior, it is somewhat easier to find reasons to leave him off the list of final three.

Dorin Dickerson immediately stands out for his 10 touchdowns. His yards and receptions are also comparable. However, he racked up 4 of those TDs against Yougstown St and Buffalo. With Pitt enjoying a breakout year, he has been the beneficiary of some additional media love.

Ed Dickson has quietly been a big part of Oregon’s comeback this season. His yards and touchdowns have been on par with this group, although his number of receptions lags just a bit.

Narrowing the field of five-I think that Hernandez will be the first one left off the list of five for the reasons mentioned above. Of the remaining four, it will depend somewhat on this weekend’s performance. Pitta has less to prove and with at least an average game, will likely be in; a big game could solidify his finalist status. For Slate (due to 5-5 record) and Dickson (late bloomer), I believe that it will come down to their game this weekend vs. SMU and Arizona, respectively. Dickerson has a bye, but could slip in should neither of the other two impress. But should they both have big games, either Pitta or Dickerson could find themselves without a chair when the music stops on Monday.

Dennis Pitta (big game against Air Force, make-up for not including him as a finalist last year)
Cody Slate (high NFL potential, big game over SMU)
Ed Dickson (will have a chance to impress vs AZ, while Dickinson has bye. Also, was initially listed as a front runner in this column, so he gets the nod)

On the other hand, a few minutes on the website of the award and it is obvious that they are big on NFL potential and validation, and at the end of the day, that may be the unspoken, but final, criteria. In that scenario, where stats don’t matter, how will Pitta Stack up? Feel free to share your thoughts…

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What We Learned Against New Mexico

Yes, I did. I opted for Football Bingo last week. I am not sure that it was entirely in line with the more analytical and objective approach that this site has been trying to develop, but it seemed like a nice distraction at the time. Unless there is public outcry (doubtful), then I will resume the regular game preview and assessment with Air Force coming to Provo this weekend. But first, a few things that we learned in the New Mexico game and a check of the Bingo Card:

What we learned:
• On any given Saturday, anyone can win a game

• BYU was lucky to come out with a win

• Where was the running game? Even with Unga out, the Cougs should have been able to move the ball.

• A rather sloppy performance. Dropped balls, critical penalties at the wrong times, poor throws, missed blocking assignments. It would appear that despite players maintaining that they don’t overlook an opponent, this was a case of doing just that. Hopefully, it also will provide a little extra motivation to prepare going into these last two games

• Even with that performance on Saturday, the team moved up 4 spots in the rankings (from 22 to 18) and by winning out the season will finish in the top 15, and possibly even top 10 depending on the bowl opponent, which would still be a significant accomplishment for the program.

• Bowl Game talk—it looks like the Vegas Bowl is back on the table after all. And there is a possibility that the bowl will take the winner of the BYU/Utah game next week. However, should BYU win its way into that game, fans and players shouldn’t be too disappointed. And should they still end up in San Diego, it is hard to not be ok with that as well (as long as they beat the Utes).

Football Bingo—filled in squares in Bold on the previous post. Overall a pretty quiet bingo game for the Cougs (as was mentioned by a UNM fan in the comments to the last post).

Friday, November 13, 2009

What to Watch for Against New Mexico--Football Bingo

Given that the outcome of the game this weekend is not in question and that the quality of the opposition will make it difficult to really learn much about the play of the team, I thought I would mix it up this week and introduce the pregame review as football game bingo. Here is how this works:

1. I will list a number of things that I think might happen (with about a 50/50 chance or so)
2. They are listed in 5 groups of 5
3. Each group of 5 must have something offensive and defensive
4. Center of group three is a Free
5. You can get “bingo” three ways
    a. Getting all five in one group
    b. All the first entries in each group, or all the second entries, etc.
    c. A “diagonal” getting the 1st item in group one, 2nd in group two, etc. or in reverse (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)

Max throws for 300 yards
Unga runs for 100 yards
Pitta gets 5 catches
Jorgenson gets sack
Riley Nelson completes 1 pass

Max throws for 2 TDs
Unga gets 1 TD
Jacobsen gets 1 TD
Clawson gets sack
Defense holds to 10 pts or less

DiLuigi does a jig (TD)
Defense gets 2 turnovers
Jacobsen gets 75 yards
Pitta gets 65 yards

Hall throws no picks
Johnson gets pick
Pitta gets 1 TD
George gets 2 catches
Pendleton gets sack

Kariya gets 25 yards
Max gets 20 yards rushing
Logan gets pick
Offense goes over 40 pts
Defense gets 2 sacks

Create your own football bingo in the comments below (I will follow up… bragging rights will come). In the event that more than one person gets Bingo, we’ll go with whoever has the most. Feel free to use mine and rearrange them (to save time), or to create your own (try to stick with things that aren’t a given). Go Cougs! Bingo!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

This Week's Assault on the Record Books

The fact that Max Hall is only one win away from tying Ty Detmer for the most wins as a starting quarterback in BYU history (with 29) has been well-publicized elsewhere. What has not been mentioned much is that Unga is likely to become the all-time leading rusher this week. Pitta is also making a move. As fans, it should be viewed as both a tribute to these players themselves as well as to the coaching staff. It should also be viewed as an outcome beyond what was thought possible just a couple of years ago. Remember 2004 and the missed field goals against New Mexico (and Boise) that ensured a third straight losing season? What would you have thought if someone told you that the next starting quarterback would get more wins than any other in BYU history? That the current running back (Curtis Brown) would eventually become the all-time leader in rushing yards and that the one after that would break his record? These are good times indeed, and yet with prospects for an even brighter future, it has been easy for fans to get distracted by the glare. Here’s a small effort toward appreciating the present.

Here is the latest on Max, Harvey, and Dennis’ assault on the BYU career records:

Against TCU and Wyoming—
• Hall passed John Beck (79) for third in touchdowns with 82
• Unga passed Jamal Lewis for second all time rushing with 3,151
• Pitta moved into fifth in total receiving yards with 2,620, passing Phil Odle (65-67)

Likely to Happen Against New Mexico
71 yards--Unga should become the all-time leading rusher, passing Curtis Brown
2 TDs--Hall will move into second place with Jim McMahon in passing TDs
15 yards, 4 catches--Pitta will move into fourth and second in receiving yards and receptions, respectively, overtaking Matt Bellini in both categories (2,635 yards on 204 catches)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What We Learned in the Wyoming Game

Wow. I didn’t see that one coming, but if that is how it’s going to be, then I hope I’m off every week. The first half of that game was perhaps the best and most complete football BYU has played since the UCLA game last year and was a fine reward for fans. It even looked like the players themselves were having a good time. And once again, the team, with a near flawless game, has done a good job of raising expectations for the next three games to a level that may be hard to meet. As we witnessed in the aftermath of the FSU and TCU games, it can be dangerous to set such high expectations for fans (although fortunately it appears as if the players themselves have been more grounded), but at the same time, it will ensure that BYU football is the topic of conversation in meetinghouse hallways on Sunday mornings across America once again.

What we learned:

Which team will show up? This was answered quickly and decisively, and as mentioned, perhaps beyond anyone’s expectations.

Will BYU finally resolve to disrupt an opponent’s quarterback? Yes they did. And it worked like a charm. ACS was on the run nearly every play ensuring insufficient time to throw downfield and limiting his accuracy. Let’s hope this continues for a few more games…

• How much will the return of McKay Jacobsen impact the game? As expected. Jacobsen returned and promptly made one of the first big plays of the game, then broke out his 80 yard TD reception outrunning the defender for the final 20-30 yards. BYU really needs another one or two fast/impact wide receivers.

• Can the secondary (or the defense as a whole for that matter) limit the big plays? YES! Other than one scoreless drive at the end of the first half, Wyoming didn’t really have any plays.

• Will the team succeed on its first drive of the second half? Yes and Yes. After losing the coin toss and taking the ball on the opening kickoff, the Cougars to set the tone early and never slowed down. In opening the second half, the defense held and then the offense promptly scored again. It was Wyoming, but Bronco must be reconsidering his preference to defer.

• Will the running game be more than adequate? This was the Max Hall show, but the running game was a big part of making that happen. Harvey Unga had several nice 7, 8, and 9 yard runs. Riley Nelson also showed some ability to pick up yards, practically running the same play all the way down the field at 10 yards a pop.

• Will we finally see a non-offensive touchdown? Not this time, but there has to be something left to next time.

• Weather. Beautiful. Other than the coats worn by the few fans in the stands, it could have been Palo Alto.

A few other thoughts:

• I wrote last week that Wyoming was probably the fourth or fifth best team in the conference. But after Saturday’s game, I sure hope not.

• Wyoming did not look very good, but played Utah tight last week. What does that say about the Utes’ chances against TCU on Game Day on Saturday?

• What was up with the call of 12 men on the field? Thanks to the magic of DVR, those of us following along at home were able to do our own version of the ‘review’ and came up with a different conclusion. Does anyone have any more info on that? (Wrubell on call-in show, etc?)

• Back in the BCS at #22. It is nice to be able to appreciate the little things again.

• It was good to see the second and third teamers get some game time in the third and fourth quarters. There hasn’t been as much of that this season as was expected.

• Kudos to the offensive line, which had a great game in pass protection and opening up running lanes.

• Another shout out to the defense--across the board a job well done.  They looked good while turning in lopsided efforts in the turnover (2) and sack (3) departments.  Jan Jorgensen was named conference defensive POW for his 1.5 sacks (the first mulit-sack game he has had going back at least to last season).

• Max Hall was unreal. Only two incomplete passes (20 of 22)—one of which he threw away to avoid a sack and the other was dropped by Pitta. Only one game in BYU history has seen a quarterback with a higher completion percentage—Steve Sarkisian was 91.2% on 31 of 34 against Fresno State in 1995, which is an NCAA record (for more than 30 attempts). There may not be a game next season that we don’t think back with fondness for the days of Max Hall. Oh, and it appears he figured out how to ‘fix’ that interception thing he had going on…

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What to Watch for Against Wyoming

Given what happened in the TCU game, it could be argued that this has been a great time for a bye week or that it was terrible timing. But in either case, being focused back on the field this week will be great not only for the team, but also for the fans. Let’s be honest, even though last week was likely the most productive week many of us have had since early August, two weeks in a row of such productivity and people would begin to expect that kind of performance week in and week out… what do they think this is—the SEC?

On to the game. Wyoming is coming off of a confidence building performance against Utah. It is still hard to tell just how good Utah is, but in any case, Wyoming managed to lead for three quarters, so they can’t be far behind. They have been improving nearly every week and we all remember their first half against Texas. Their freshman quarterback, Austyn Carta-Samuels, is mobile and has been a spark for the offense and now has a number of games under his belt (becoming the starter in game 4). Their defense is very similar to the 3-3-4 that BYU runs and has been efficient. With a couple of days extra for BYU to prepare, the bye week may have been pretty good timing in any case.

A few things to watch for:

Which team will show up? Will it be a team on a mission, ready to take out an opponent early, and vindicate its futility of two weeks ago? Or will it be a team that has been put in its place, and is now scrapping with its peers for the conference leftovers? The half time score may tell us all we need to know.

• Will BYU finally resolve to disrupt an opponent’s quarterback? It seems the last few games, BYU’s defensive philosophy has been to dare an opponent’s average to below-average quarterback to play like an All-American, and has decided that it is only a fair dare if they give him at least seven seconds to prove it. And we know how that has turned out. Pressure good. No pressure, bad. Another lack of pressure first two quarters and Wyoming will be very much in this game at the half.

• How much will the return of McKay Jacobsen impact the game? Jacobsen would have been a great asset in the TCU game, and hopefully will be able to contribute fully on Saturday and help stretch a field that has seemed increasingly crowded in his absence.

• Can the secondary (or the defense as a whole for that matter) limit the big plays? In the TCU game, it was really only 3-4 big plays that determined the outcome of the game. But it was 3-4 plays. Can the defense keep that to one or less?

• Will the team succeed on its first drive of the second half? There has been a disturbing trend this season to squander offensive opportunities to open the second half. Coming out of the locker room with a score, will either put a dominating game out of reach quickly, or will help take control of a close game taking some pressure off of our defense and placing it on their offense—either way, has a clear impact on the direction of the game. Failing to score in that situation achieves just the opposite for the other team.

• Will the running game be more than adequate? In both of the last two games, the running game as been OK. Adequate. Serviceable. A nice distraction from the passing game. But it has not been reliable or able to make a big play when it was needed. Three or so yards per run is not going to do it. Harvey, JJ, Bryan, and Manase need a big game. Let’s hope they bring it.

• Will we finally see a non-offensive touchdown? It has been way too long. When was the last one—Tulane? I miss David Nixon.

• Weather. You can’t mention Laramie in November without discussing the weather. You can’t play a football game in Laramie in November without being impacted by the weather. Perhaps it will be the wind, or some sleeper snow, but at the minimum there will be the cold. Good luck Cougs.

Wyoming is playing good football right now. They are probably the fourth or fifth best team in the conference right now (battling for those honors with Air Force and San Diego State). BYU has a game on its hands, but should be the better team. I think BYU comes out focused and plays a good first half, but finds itself only up by a small margin (3-10 points) at the half, due to inspired play by Wyoming as opposed to poor play by BYU. The blue and white come out in the second half and take that opening drive the distance. Finally. Then pull away. The cold weather and some wind impacts the passing game and the Cougars run the ball out in the fourth quarter, while Wyoming gets some points it should not have been given. Final score: BYU 37 Wyoming 24.

What else are you watching for? How do you see the game playing out? Reactions? Leave your thoughts and predictions in the comments below…

Back from My Own Bye Week

I am back.  You may or may not have noticed that I was ever gone (but I hope you did :). Anyway, with the team having a bye week, and on the heels of a big enthusiasm-dampening loss, I took a few days off.   I am by no means down on the Cougs (despite what you are hearing from seemingly all of the major media sources these days) and am looking forward to a hard fought remainder of the season.  Perhaps now that expectations have been grounded a bit, we can all enjoy the wins along the way a bit more.   Here's to Saturday being the beginning of a bunch of new streaks.  Keep an eye out for an article or two before Saturday's game...

Go Cougs!