Independence is upon us, and it is a new beginning for the team, school, and fans alike. Last year at this time, Jaime Hill was the defensive coordinator. He was fired after the loss to Utah State during the 2010 season, and Bronco Mendenhall re-assumed the dual role of Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator. Robert Anae was released as offensive coordinator at the conclusion of the 2010 season, and was replaced by Brandon Doman, who had been the quarterbacks coach. Joe DuPaix has come over from Navy to coach the running backs, and Ben Cahoon retired from the CFL and became the Cougars’ wide receivers coach. The coaching staff is now defined by young, energetic leaders.
The rocket-man himself
Under the direction of new offensive coordinator Brandon Doman, the Cougars are introducing a pro-style offense, which will feature Jake Heaps more under-center, with drop back and play-action passes. This will allow the Cougars to use a few formations to run many plays, making it harder for the defenses to read the play.
The offense is stacked, returning 4 of 5 offensive linemen, the top 3 passers, receivers, and rushers from 2010.
Jake Heaps threw for 2316 yards, 15 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, with a completion percentage of 57.2. Compared to previous years, the yardage is quite low: between 2005 and 2009, John Beck and Max Hall threw between 3,500 and 3,900 yards each season. But when you consider that Heaps threw for 2300 yards as a freshman, we should be able to expect great things from him this year, and for the next two as well.
In 2010, the Cougars had to find a replacement for the receiving yards vacated by tight-ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George. That replacement didn’t come, and the passing game really suffered for it. The Cougars leading receiver last season was Cody Hoffman, with just 527 yards. Prior to that season, BYU’s leading receiver had caught between 800 and 1500 yards for at least 5 seasons. Hoffman was closely followed by DiLuigi and Mckay Jacobson, who each had more than 400 receiving yards. These three will be joined by freshman Ross Apo, who missed last season due to a broken finger. These four players will be an amazing group to watch.
For each of the five years prior to 2010, BYU had a 1,000 yard rusher. Curtis Brown broke the mark in 2005 and 2006, and Harvey Unga did so in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Last year, JJ DiLuigi came up just short, reaching 917 yards. Bryan Kariya and Josh Quezada added more than 500 yards each, though, and with all three backs returning, this will be an impressive group once again.
Kaveinga the Beast
The best thing to ever happen to this defense was the firing of Jaime Hill halfway through last season. The change was immediate. The defense played with energy and purpose, and the results were seen on the field the very next week as BYU was able to beat a tough San Diego State team. The biggest difference between the Bronco D and the Hill D was run defense. Hill’s defense gave up 242 rushing yards to Utah State. Against SDSU, the very next week, only 53 were given up. Even TCU, who averaged nearly 250 rushing yards per game en-route to a perfect season, only managed 108 yards against Bronco’s defense. And this season, Bronco has had these players under his immediate direction since Spring camp.
The defense lost an amazing leader in Andrew Rich (S), who led the team in both tackles and interceptions, and Vic So’oto who led the team in sacks. This year, the strength of Bronco’s defense will likely be at the linebacker position, where we will see Uona Kaveinga, Brandon Ogletree, Kyle Van Noy, Jameson Frazier, and Jordan Pendleton. Kaveinga is a USC transfer who had previously committed to BYU, went to USC instead, and came back to the Y last year. Reports out of camp have been amazing, and all signs point to him having an amazing year for the Cougar D. Up front, the Cougars will have a talented, experienced trio, led by Eathyn Manumaleuna, Romney Fuga, and Matt Putnam. If there is a weakness in the defense, it will be in the secondary, which graduated most of its starters.
Bronco’s defense will take away the run. They will force your team to become one-dimensional. The front 7 are experienced and have an amazing amount of talent. Teams that rely on the run, teams with inexperienced quarterbacks, will be driven from their comfort zone, and they are likely to flounder against this stout D.
Special Teams was a focus during fall camp. The coaches wore black retro Cosmo shirts, and the players will be wearing black shoes and socks to remind them of the special teams focus this season. Riley Nelson will reportedly be taking a leading role on the special teams this season, and it will be exciting to see his contribution there. Justin Sorensen has returned from his mission, and will resume his kicking duties. He fills the void left by Mitch Payne, who left BYU as the all-time leading scorer. Sorensen has amazing range, easily making field goals of 40-59 yards, but he struggles a bit with the shorter kicks of 20-39 yards.
Bronco has chosen to emphasize special teams this year, and because of that we’re going to see some great plays from these units. Watch out for blocked kicks, more yardage on on kick and punt returns, and (hopefully) more consistency from our kicker.
Season Prediction – 11-2 overall (including bowl)
Last year, I was overly optimistic regarding what the program would achieve, but honestly, who picked BYU to lose to Utah State? Anybody? Bueller? I do feel that a few adjustments earlier in the season would have netted more wins. 1. Heaps as starter from day one. 2. Bronco leads defense from day one. 3. Robert Anae listens to Doman more.
But that was last year. This year, we have another year that has a few difficult games and several cupcakes, and once again a schedule that is front-heavy. The difficulty with picking the wins and losses this season is picking the losses. I feel that we have a very talented team, and they truly could win any game on the schedule. That said, I don’t think BYU goes undefeated this year. I would be overjoyed if they did, but I don’t see it happening. My best guess for losses are @ Texas and the “neutral” game against TCU. I chose Texas because, down or not, winning in Austin is not an easy thing to do. I chose TCU because somehow, Gary Patterson just has Bronco figured out. The short week leading up to TCU doesn’t help either.
Some people have BYU losing to Ole Miss and Hawaii. I don’t think these will be losses because Bronco has shown us that when he has extra time to prepare for a team, he delivers the W. BYU has won four straight season-openers, including Oklahoma in 2009. I also think the two weeks to prepare for Hawaii will be enough for the Cougars to get the W on the islands.
BYU is contracted to play in the Armed Forces Bowl this year, assuming bowl eligibility. They play the #3 team in C-USA. I think that will end up being Houston or Southern Miss (Behind SMU and UCF). For the purposes of the pick, I chose Houston.
Sept. 3 – @ Ole Miss – W
Sept. 10 – @ Texas – L
Sept. 17 – Utah – W
Sept. 23 – UCF – W
Sept. 30 – Utah State – W
Oct. 8 – San Jose State – W
Oct. 15 – @ Oregon State – W
Oct. 22 – Idaho State – W
Oct. 28 – @ TCU – L
Nov. 12 – Idaho – W
Nov. 19 – New Mexico State – W
Dec. 3 – @ Hawaii – W
Armed Forces Bowl Dec. 30 – Houston – W