A complete mid-season report card for BYU...
The Cougars have the exact same record through seven games this season as last year.
Looking at the two teams it appears this year’s version is a more complete team. BYU is in a much better position this season heading into their eighth game.
The 2009 Cougars are still undefeated in conference, and control their own destiny as far as winning the conference. This year’s team also has enough games left on their schedule against good teams to get back into the BCS hunt; however, they will still need many things to fall their way.
So far BYU has been impressive. Here is a mid-season report card for BYU.
Offensive Line – BYU was replacing four out of five starters from last year’s team at the beginning of the season. Then in fall camp injuries weakened the offensive line further with injuries to both Reynolds brothers and Jason Speredon looked to cripple any hope which the offense line had for the 2009 season. Yet, the offense line has proven to be one of the major strengths of BYU’s team this season.
Comparing this season’s offensive line to last season’s version through seven games; the 2009 offensive line is giving up more sacks – 1.29 sacks per game compared to 1.14 sacks per game last season. The 2009 offensive line is helping the Cougars to move better on the ground – averaging 163.54 yards per game compared to 116.57 yards per game last season through seven games.
BYU will need the offensive line to continue to progress in order to win the conference this season.
Receivers and Tight Ends—The concern for BYU was to find a way to replace Austin Collie. There has been no single receiver who has equaled Collie’s production; however, the receiving core this season has provided many targets for Max Hall.
McKay Jacobson and O’Neill Chambers have proven to be the anchors of the receiving core. Jacobson emerged early as a deep threat target for Max Hall, but an injury to his Hamstring has sidelined him for a large portion of the season.
While the Cougar receivers continue to be sure-handed when catching the ball, the receiving core has been responsible for costly fumbles at key moments in games. This lack of ball control is out of sorts for a BYU receiving core.
The tight ends continue to be key targets for Max Hall. Dennis Pitta leads BYU in both receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Pitta is Hall’s go-top receiver when the Cougars need a big play. Andrew George has also proved to be a solid pass catching option for BYU.
Running Backs – Harvey Unga is still the best player on the roster for BYU. Unga got off to a slow start this season due to a hamstring injury, but he has raised his average to 95.83 yards per game, which ranks first in the Mountain West.
Unga doesn’t have to carry the load solo, both Bryan Kariya and J.J. DiLuigi have proven themselves to be an adequate change of pace back for BYU.
The biggest support for Unga in BYU’s offense comes from fullback Manase Tonga. Tonga is an emotional leader for BYU, and act like another lineman in the offense. Much of the running backs success this season is due to holes which Tonga opens for them. Tonga is also a sure-handed pass catcher out of the back field.
Quarterback – Max Hall is in the midst of his senior season, and that raises the already high expectations placed on BYU quarterbacks. BYU expects to compete for a conference title every year, but with a senior quarterback BYU demands to win a conference title. Anything but perfection in the conference schedule would be considered a failed season for Max Hall.
Hall drew large amounts of criticism in the early part of the season due to his interception numbers. While it cannot be ignored that the interceptions were unwanted, many of them couldn’t be directly blamed on Hall.
Hall’s quarterback ranking and completion percentage is improved from last season; however, it would be hard for Hall to repeat his touchdown numbers from last season.
While Hall completed a drive which will be ranked among the all-time best at BYU against Oklahoma; Hall was unable to put together a comeback against Florida State at home.
Hall’s numbers are very impressive, and it seems he has cut down on his interception numbers. The more difficult conference games are ahead of Hall and BYU, but it appears Hall is on pace to have an excellent senior season.
Overall Offense – The Cougars are ranked in the top ten in total offense and in scoring offense. It appears like BYU is once again an elite offensive powerhouse in all of college football. Yet, the offense continues to have scoring droughts during games, which could lead to trouble later in the season. At the halfway point the offense looks very impressive.
Defensive Line – Jan Jorgenson and Brett Denney were supposed to be the anchors of the defense, and both players started the season very slowly.
Since the Florida State game the defensive line has been very impressive. Jorgenson leads the team in tackles for loss, and is tied for second in sacks. The two sacks he has this season is incredibly small considering Jorgenson had 14 two seasons ago.
Romney Fuga has also played well this season, especially after he took on a larger role after Russell Tialavea went down due to injury. Fuga fills the middle of the line well. He has 25 tackles, 12 unassisted, three for loss, and a sack on the season.
The defensive line helps the cougars to be ranked 23rd in rushing defense. BYU has held their opponents under a 100 yards rushing in three out of their last four games.
Linebackers—The linebackers have been solid this season. Coleby Clawson has been putting some serious hits on the quarterbacks this season. He leads the team in sacks with three and quarterback hits with five.
Terrance Hooks, Shawn Doman, Matt Bauman, and Jordan Pendleton all play very fast. All have made some spectacular plays this season.
The linebackers have done a better job at being more aggressive and putting more pressure on the quarterback. The linebacker core has also been able to drop back and help in coverage better than last season.
It seems the linebackers have been making more plays this season, and really strengthened a defense which was questionable going into the season.
Yet, like the rest of the defense, the linebackers have made some major mistakes; most notably against Florida State at home. The linebackers need to be more consistent for the remainder of the season.
Secondary—This year’s secondary might be the best secondary BYU has had in the last ten years. Yet, in looking at the current secondary that might be saying more about the poor tradition of BYU’s secondary in the past.
Andrew Rich and Scott Johnson lead the team in tackles. Both are hard hitting members of the defense, and both are defensive leaders on the field. Johnson is a key player in calling out the defensive audibles on the field. Rich leads the team with forced fumbles with two on the season.
Brandon Bradley, Brian Logan, and Robbie Buckner are all improvements over last year’s cornerbacks. Logan leads the team in pass break-ups with nine, and has two interceptions on the year. Both Bradley and Logan are sure-tacklers, both proving they can make big unassisted tackles in the open field.
The Cougar defense is giving up more passing yardage through seven games this season—238.57 yards per game, compared to through seven games last year – 184.57 yards per game. One could argue the 2009 team has faced better passing teams through seven games, but the fact remains that BYU is ranked 89th in pass defense.
The talent is improved, and the secondary is making plays this season; however, there are still some problems that BYU will need to address in the second half of the season to help the team succeed.
Overall Defense—The defense is a big surprise this season. The secondary was supposed to be a huge weakness for this year’s team, but the secondary has proven they will be able to make plays to win games.
The real problem with the defense this season has been the lack of consistency from game to game of each defensive unit. The Oklahoma game is the only game this season it seemed all members of the defense were on the same page.
There is run for improvement for BYU’s defense which is currently ranked 48th in total defense.
Kicking—This is a huge weakness for BYU. The kickoff defense has been a serious problem, and BYU’s opponents have ended up with great starting field position this season. BYU’s kickers have had trouble getting distance on their kicks, and haven’t shown enough control for directional kicks.
BYU currently ranks 83rd in kickoff defense, giving up 22.59 yards a return. Those yards are added to short kickoffs. Riley Stephenson is averaging just 65 yards per kickoff, with just six touchbacks. That means teams are starting their returns on their own five yard line.
The containment by BYU defenders on kickoffs has also been suspect at times. Too often the defenders are slow to breakdown the opposing teams wedge, and fill the lanes on the coverage.
The PAT and field goals were a real concern for the team early in fall camp. Mitch Payne is 36-37 for PAT-attempts this season, and 4-5 for field goal attempts. While his numbers are solid, BYU would rather not have to rely on him hitting a big field goal.
Punting – While BYU’s kickoff coverage has been poor, the coverage on punts has been excellent. BYU is ranked 7th nationally in punt return defense, allowing a mere 2.20 yards a return. Stephenson is averaging a respectable 40.9 yards per punt, has kicked four punts over 50 yards, kicked four punts inside the 20 yard line, and hasn’t given up a blocked punt all season.
Stephenson could improve his punting distance; however, the punting game seems to be working well the few times (17) they have punted the ball this season.
Kickoff and Punt Return—Chambers, Jacobson, and Di Luigi have been the return men of choice for BYU. O’Neill Chambers promised the BYU coaching staff and BYU fans that he would return a kickoff while he was at BYU. He is currently ranked 10th in kickoff return yardage averaging 30.89 yards per game; however, he has not been able to take a kickoff to the end zone quite yet.
Punt returns have been nothing special for BYU this season. BYU is averaging 8.58 yards per return, which ranks them 65th in the nation. After the first game this year, the Cougars haven’t had any major punt return turnovers. BYU would rather just hand the ball to their offense than try to risk getting a few more yards per punt return.
Coaching—It seems as if the BYU coaching staff has really improved from last season. The play calling has improved this season, and the offense is more balanced. It also appears as if the team is better able to make adjustments during the game.
The major changes which were made in the off season seem to be paying off. Bronco Mendenhall has removed himself further from the defensive play calling, and Robert Anae has left the sideline and move to the coaching booth. Both changes have allowed the coaching staff to see the bigger picture in games, and not get so caught up in the minor battles which take place every down.
BYU was not prepared for Florida State. The blame for any team not being prepared for play falls squarely on coaching staff. Yet, the team has been able to bounce back better this season after an embarrassing loss.
Overall—BYU’s win over Oklahoma is being discredited by many due to Oklahoma’s 3-3 record; however, the three losses which OU suffered this season is by a combine five points. All of their losses were to ranked opponents, and even without Bradford at quarterback OU will compete in the BIG 12.
The win over Oklahoma, in the new Cowboy Stadium, is still an impressive win for BYU not only this season, but in the history of BYU.
The win over Oklahoma was great for BYU; the loss to Florida State was embarrassing. Those two games are the two extremes of the 2009 BYU season.
It is hard to think a team could play so well on the road against a top level team, only to play so poorly at home against a lesser opponent.
Before the season the consensus feeling among media members and BYU fans was: If BYU could start the season 2-1, with a win over either OU or FSU, then the season could be very special. Once BYU beat Oklahoma the expectations for the season was raised to the possibility of playing in the National Championship Game.
Overall BYU is better than most predicted before the start of the season. Even with the horrible loss to Florida State BYU is a good football team, and has shown moments of greatness. There is room for improvement, but if BYU makes the needed changes they will really have a great second half of the season.