Are ya ready for some football? (BYU 2007 preview)

August 22, 2007    By: Geoff J @ 4:40 pm   Category: Sports

In 2005 and 2006 I covered BYU football over at Bloggernacle Times. But since that blog is now defunct, the Thang is launching a new sports category so I can keep my sports blogging hobby going.

2006 Season Recap

BYU started the 2006 season with high hopes but lost two of their first three games in heartbreaking fashion. (They lost at Arizona on a last second field goal and a Boston College in double overtime.) The Cougs then went on to rattle off 10 straight wins including beating top 20 TCU in Texas and crushing the Oregon Ducks in the Las Vegas Bowl. This Spring graduated senior quarterback John Beck was taken early in the second round of the NFL draft by the Dolphins and looks to be the QB of the future in Miami. Several other graduated Cougs are vying for permanent spots on other NFL teams now too.

2007 Outlook

Defense

In 2007 the Cougs return most of what proved to be a very good defense in 2006. The defense lost team leader and middle linebacker Cameron Jensen to graduation but the coaches reportedly believe that their linebacking corps is deep enough to make up for that loss. With 8-9 starters returning on defense there is reason for optimism on the defensive side of the ball. BYU switched from a 3-3-5 defense in 2005 to a more standard 3-4 defense in 2006 with excellent results. With a full year of experience using the 3-4 defense under their belts the odds of BYU being a truly excellent defensive team in 2007 seem pretty good.

The biggest obstacle the defense faces is overcoming injuries suffered over the summer. The starting nose tackle (Tialavea) blew out his knee a few weeks ago and two of the projected starting safeties (Gabriel and Tafuna) were lost for the season to injuries as well. The team hopes to simply reload those positions with other players but only time will tell how much those losses will hurt this year.

Special Teams

There might be cause for concern in the kicking game this year. The team has a new and unproven kicker and as well as a new punter this season and reports from camp indicate their performances have been spotty. You never know when a shanked punt or botched field goal or two will cost you a game…

In theory the coverage teams should be fine, but with the kickoffs starting 5 yards deeper this season there will be fewer touch backs so kickoff coverage will be more important than ever. (With any luck the Cougs will benefit from the new rule in their returns rather that suffer from them in the coverage…)

Offense

Opposing teams are no doubt thrilled that the Cougars no longer have now-NFL-QB John Beck, BYU’s all-time leading rusher Curtis Brown, and All-America tight end Johnny Harline. Those three accounted for something like 85% of the offense in 2006. But opposing teams may find themselves disappointed with the replacements the Cougs have in place 2007. BYU has three bruising running backs ready to rumble this year in Vakapuna, Tonga, and Unga (pictured above). Averaging about 230 pounds, these three Polynesian pounders are likely to deliver the hurt to some unsuspecting opposing db’s this year. Likewise, BYU has three impressive tight ends ready to break out and show their stuff in 2007. Most of the steady 2006 receiving corps is returning and former freshman All-America receiver Austin Collie is back from his mission and looking to pick up where he left off a few years ago. Sophomore quarterback Max Hall will surely not be as good in 2007 as John Beck was in 2006; but odds are that Hall will be better than Beck was as a sophomore. And with what promises to be one of the best offensive lines BYU has fielded in many years, Hall might not need to be great to win a lot of games.

Coaching

I’m sold on head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s approach. Under his leadership the Cougs have come a mighty long way from the downward spiral the program went into at the start of this decade.

So Cougar fans — what has you excited or nervous about the 2007 football season?

(Next post — Season predictions)

[Associated Radio Thang Songs: Fishbone - A Mighty Long Way (Because of the comeback BYU football is making) and Fishbone - Sunless Saturday (In honor of college football game day. (I dig Fishbone -- so sue me!))]

24 Comments »

  1. “kickoffs starting 5 yards deeper this season”

    I hadn’t heard about this. That’s interesting. I wonder why the change? Just to force a little more action into the game?

    Thanks for the overview.

    Comment by Eric Russell — August 22, 2007 @ 6:09 pm

  2. I was really excited about the defense, but those three injuries were pretty significant. I’m curious to see how they’ll do.

    Special teams is a huge worry. Which sucks because I suspect special teams will be the deciding factor in Arizona and will be hugely significant if we’re to have a hope against UCLA.

    Our O-Line is awesome from everything I’ve heard – which is important as it’ll give Hall a bit more time to do his stuff. I am worried about the running game though.

    I just hope the play calling for the first few games isn’t quite as conservative as last year.

    Comment by Clark — August 22, 2007 @ 6:22 pm

  3. Eric,

    I guess the goal of the new kickoff rule is to get more run backs on kickoffs which should lead to better field position which should lead to higher scoring games which theoretically will lead to more fan interest/excitement which theoretically will lead to more $$. (It always gets back to the money it seems…) Bronco and several other coaches have been critical of the rule change because they fear it will lead to more injuries from the high-impact hits that happen on kickoffs.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 22, 2007 @ 6:39 pm

  4. Clark,

    We’ll have to see how crucial losing the projected starters at noseguard and katback will be. I am not convinced it will be that big of a deal.

    I agree with you that special teams are the most worrisome aspect of the BYU team heading into the season. I won’t be surprised if a game or two are lost because of special teams this year.

    However, I don’t see a lot of reason to worry about the running game this season. We lost Curtis Brown but he was excellent more for his consistency than for his flash. I suspect the 3+ running backs the Cougs have in 2007 will be more productive than the 2006 crew was — especially if the O-Line is even almost as good as fans hope this year.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 22, 2007 @ 6:45 pm

  5. Yee-Haw. I have cable this year so I may actually get to watch some games. I’m looking forward to it.

    Comment by Jared* — August 22, 2007 @ 7:19 pm

  6. My understanding is that we didn’t have depth at noseguard. Am I wrong in that? (Sorry, just haven’t had the time to look it up)

    My running game worries comes from talking to a few people who attended the public practices. Plus the suspension for the Arizona game. Plus the weight problem and recovery from injury for V. (I’m not even going to attempt to spell his name by memory)

    The two downsides (virgin QB, weak special teams — some of the stories I heard about kicking weren’t encouraging) may be enough to cost us a few games. We have a fairly tough start with Az that could easily go against us. (Especially with the rookie QB) UCLA will be very tough as with TCU. We may loose at least one game we shouldn’t and then there is the Utah game. (We’ll see if the hype there for their QB pays off)

    I’m hoping for a repeat of last year, but I could easily see us loosing 4 games if not 5. And that assumes Bronco can calm the team over any early season loses. (He did fantastic that way last year – so coaching isn’t my big worry except for perhaps the offensive coach who has been pretty conservative the first games of the year)

    Comment by Clark — August 22, 2007 @ 9:01 pm

  7. Good questions Clark.

    On the nose guard issue: They have three guys they plan to run at noseguard now. A prety highly regarded freshman (the D-Line had two freshmen start last year very effectively), a JC transfer, and an O-line conversion. I think they have some of the D-tackles available to rotate over too. The main thing they want from a noseguard is a big strong body to plug the running game up so with any luck the committee will do that.

    On the running game: Practice reports I have seen have the RB’s doing a nice job punishing the defense. Not having Tonga will hurt in the first game but the zealous fans have been high on Vakapuna and Unga in Fall camp this year. I have high hopes for them because I think we are deep at the RB position with Semanoff and Latu backing up the three I mentioned. (There is a little concern about Fui not being 100% yet after that ankle injury last year but I suspect he will be just fine come game time. At worst, Unga seems to be impressing spectators so far. Still I won’t expect a ton of offense in the first game…)

    On play calling: I suspect coach Anae has learned some valuable lessons since the start of last season. I expect the Cougs will pick up this season pretty close to where they left off last season (keeping in mind the new personnel of course.)

    I’ll put up a predictions post soon too so I’ll save my predictions for 2007 until then.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 22, 2007 @ 10:27 pm

  8. Vakapuna was huge in terms of giving the team energy last year. Indeed I think in terms of that he was key to our successes. However I think he’s somewhat overrated as a RB judging from last year. Now to be fair part of that was teams planning their defense to counter him. But even when there were opportunities he didn’t always do that well. He’d have a couple of break out plays and then a whole bunch of mediocre or worse ones. (IMO)

    Now what my friends were all yelling was that they just weren’t giving him the ball enough. I’m not convinced that’s true. But hey, I never played football in HS or college so what do I know.

    I hope our running game is strong. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it isn’t. I’m not saying it’s going to be bad, mind you. Just that it might not be strong enough to make up for a green QB and bad special teams. Hopefully our O-Line which is supposed to be incredible can make up for a lot of that. And of course they definitely help make the openings for the run.

    Comment by Clark — August 23, 2007 @ 9:35 am

  9. I’m excited, but my expectations are low. Breaking in a new QB can be bumpy, though if it must be done, doing it with a fantastic, veteran O-line is the way to go. Go Cougs!

    I’ve heard a lot of talk that the 5-yard kickoff difference will make more than a 5-yard difference in the average return. Anyone know why?

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — August 23, 2007 @ 10:14 am

  10. virgin QB, weak special teams — some of the stories I heard about kicking weren’t encouraging

    I’ve heard that Hall is a real risk-taker. Couple that with him being inexperienced, and we’re going to have to expect to see some interceptions. I’ve also heard that our kicking is lousy. We should probably expect that the other team will start with an advantage in field position in most of our games.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — August 23, 2007 @ 10:16 am

  11. So this all amounts to EA’s ncaa 2007 is going to be more fun than EA’s ncaa 2008, eh? too bad 2007 isn’t on the Wii…

    Comment by Matt W. — August 23, 2007 @ 10:26 am

  12. Adam, I heard distance was lousy initially but has been good the past few weeks. The problem has been accuracy. i.e. for those three point attempts.

    Comment by Clark — August 23, 2007 @ 10:43 am

  13. I am just excited that the Cougs are coming to Tulsa to take on the Hurricane. It has been a long time since I’ve seen them live.

    I also think its really great how Bronco has players do a fireside the night before the games. I definitely plan on going.

    Comment by Katie — August 23, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  14. Adam: I’ve heard a lot of talk that the 5-yard kickoff difference will make more than a 5-yard difference in the average return. Anyone know why?

    With the ball being kicked off at the 35 a lot of kickoffs ended up landing 5+ yard past the goal line. That almost always resulted in a touch back and the ball at the 20. The extra 5 yards means that in all likelihood a lot fewer kickoffs will result in touch backs. So if the returners are catching the ball at their 5 yard line and defenders are starting further back it will presumably be much easier to find an open running lane and get much better starting field position. I suspect it won’t be uncommon for teams to be starting at their own 30 or 40 yard line this season. That will, of course, make scoring much easier.

    Couple that with him being inexperienced, and we’re going to have to expect to see some interceptions.

    Good observation. I think you are right on here. I expect there will be a lot more turnovers this year. In my opinion John Beck’s greatest asset in 2006 was his accuracy. He hardly ever threw costly interceptions. The Cougs reportedly had the fewest turnovers per game ever last year (or something like that).

    Comment by Geoff J — August 23, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

  15. Clark: However I think (Fui’s) somewhat overrated as a RB judging from last year.

    I think he averaged something like 5 yards per carry last year and he was pretty well hobbled by that ankle injury for the last several games. If you paid closer attention to the end of the season I can understand your impressions of him — he was not the same back late last year as he was the first half due to the injury. But early on he definitely looked like the best RB on the field — even better than Curtis for a while. We’ll see though. Rumor has it he is still a little gimpy.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 23, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

  16. Katie,

    That is cool that you get to see them out there. The fireside thing the team does has been a huge hit with the fans from the reports I have read.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 23, 2007 @ 12:43 pm

  17. 12-0 this year.

    Comment by California Condor — August 23, 2007 @ 12:53 pm

  18. California Condor, You gotta come back in soon for my season predictions post. (I optimistically predicted 9-3 last year and the Cougs outdid me!)

    Comment by Geoff J — August 23, 2007 @ 12:57 pm

  19. I’m going 8-4 although I really am hoping that 10-2 is possible.

    Geoff, regarding RBs, I have heard that Unga is pretty good, if quite inexperienced. Some are comparing him with Curtis Brown, which seems more than a little premature. So that may take some of the burden off of Vakapuna. Then there is Tonga who I felt actually at times played better than Vakapuna, although perhaps that is, as you said, due to injuries later in the season.

    But of course Tonga is out for the Az game for being an idiot to a cop.

    BTW – trying to spell a name? Here’s a good roster of players.

    Comment by Clark — August 23, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

  20. Geoff, the one thing Hall has that Beck didn’t is confidence. I think we’d have picked up the Az and BC games last year had Beck just had a touch bit more confidence. There were a few important plays when you could just see it in his eyes.

    Being cocky has its own sets of problems of course. And interceptions may result. Although that’s why having RB who can catch the ball is important. BYU’s strength under Bronco has been the short throw to a RB. A sort of workman kind of moving down the field. It was hugely successful. However V, whatever you say, simply can’t catch the ball that well. He’s got an amazing attitude that is contagious and he’s a bruiser, but he’s not Curtis Brown in terms of being that flexible. Hopefully Unga and perhaps Tonga can replace part of what Brown did. But I’m not confident. (Although I do hope)

    Comment by Clark — August 23, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  21. I think you are right about Fui’s hands, Clark. They aren’t as good as Curtis Brown’s or as Tonga’s. Unga reported has excellent hands though and has been a favorite target of Hall so far. Getting the ball to those bruising backs in open space leads to good things for BYU.

    Like you, I keep hearing how confident/cocky Hall is. But I won’t know what to make of that until I see him in a real game.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 23, 2007 @ 1:55 pm

  22. The worry a lot have with Unga is the blitz. Although hopefully our O-line is strong enough if reports are to be believed that they can makeup for his inexperience.

    If I’m wrong and the RB situation is strong then that’ll open up the passing game and make defenders lives more difficult. In turn that’ll make Hall’s life easier. However the Az game will be tough as will the UCLA game due to strong defenses.

    What I worry about is a shell shocked Hall who loses his confidence. I don’t want a repeat of what happened with Crowton. (Who, as I’ve said, I felt got a bit of a bum rap)

    BYU’s success really depends upon the running game opening things up. And, I think at this stage, the success or failure of the running game ends up hanging on whether Unga can replicate what he did in camp. He doesn’t even necessarily have to be making big plays on the field. Just so he’s enough of a threat to make the defense work more because they don’t know what he’s going to do.

    If BYU can have two strong RBs on the field at any time then that’ll divide the defense: doubly so if Hall can pass to them rather than handing off to them.

    Comment by Clark — August 23, 2007 @ 2:01 pm

  23. Cougar Blue has a good summary of things as they stand.

    Comment by Clark — August 24, 2007 @ 3:19 pm

  24. Geoff,
    I am not that interested in BYU football, my husband, however, is a nut. I’ve sent him the link to your site, he may comment, we’ll see . . .
    I do think I remember you saying you live in Arizona (back on a guitar player thread some time ago)
    Anyway, if you do, are you planning on attending the AZ snacker?
    If so, I could tell my husband that another Cougar football fan will be there and he may be a better sport about coming. (no pun intended, well maybe a little)

    Comment by jessawhy — August 26, 2007 @ 10:25 pm

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