Schedule: November 16, 2013
Where: South Bend, Indiana
With the return of QB Riley Nelson, WR Cody Hoffman, DE Ziggy Ansah and OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU hoped the 2012 season would end with a potential BCS bowl bid, but the Cougars fell short of those expectations. After impressive early performances, BYU’s offense stuttered and never fully recovered. The team turned the ball over in key moments against Boise State and Utah, and they failed to execute consistently in close matchups with Notre Dame and Oregon State. The Cougars finished a disappointing 8-5 which included a loss in the Poinsetta Bowl.
If Bronco Mendenhall intends to compete to lead BYU to a BCS bowl, he will need to fix the offensive’s inconsistencies. BYU shuffled three quarterbacks into the starting role last season because of injuries and lackluster performances which limited any chance of continuity. This situation should be resolved with the graduation of Riley Nelson and James Lark, and the assumption of Taysom Hill. Hill needs to hit the ground running as BYU faces one of the toughest schedules in college football.
In September BYU hosts Texas and Utah immediately after a long road trip to Virginia. In the second half of the season they play Wisconsin and Notre Dame away, while welcoming Boise State and Utah State to Provo. In all, BYU plays seven BCS conference teams plus Utah State and Boise State, top mid-majors. If the offense can utilize their talent and the defense plays close to last year, BYU could make a lot of waves as independent in 2013. Let’s take a look what their depth chart will look like.
Last season the offense struggled to gel and turnovers became a problem during key games. During the offseason, Mendenhall completely overhauled his offensive staff with the addition of five new position coaches and the return of long time offensive coordinator Robert Anae (OC from 2005 to 2010) who had been at Arizona.
The lone bright spot last season for the offense was the performance of BYU’s young players, none more important than QB Taysom Hill. After leading BYU to an impressive win over Hawaii, Hill tore his ACL in the last play of the Utah State game which BYU also won. The Cougars will need Hill’s mobility and pocket presence if they are to execute Anae’s high octane offense.
In the backfield behind Hill is Sophmore Jamal Williams, another young player who started only half of BYU’s games last season, but still managed 775 yards and 4.7 ypc. Williams has been listed as the starter on BYU’s depth chart with sophomore Adam Hine backing him up.
With all the talk of the young up-and-comers, BYU’s most important offensive weapon is still their most tenured. Senior WR Cody Hoffman caught 100 balls and racked up 1,248 receiving yards, while also returning punts. Hoffman will provide Hill with a reliable outlet, a god-send for an inexperienced and young signal caller. Hoffman will have some help from senior wide receivers Ross Apo and Skyler Ridley, but, like 2012, he will carry the bulk of the load.
On the offensive line, the Cougars may have four starters with limited to no game experience. BYU graduated C Braden Hansen and RT Braden Brown, players that anchored the offensive line for three years. In the offseason Mendenhall recruited four JUCO transfers to add depth to the line, but LT Ryker Mathews remains the only returning starter with a full season of experience. LG Solomone Kafu (8 career starts), C Terrence Alletto (transfer), G Brock Stringham (3 career starts) and RT Michael Yeck (0 starts) will lean on Mathews for leadership as they learn the new offensive system.
The 2012 BYU defense was an absolute beast finishing 3rd in the nation in total defense allowing only 266.08 ypg and just under 15 points per game. The team loses their most talented player DE Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah to the NFL (fifth overall pick to the Detroit Lions) and their leading tackler, MLB Brandon Ogletree, but the unexpected return of OLB Kyle Van Noy and several other major pieces leaves the defense prepared for another solid season.
On the defensive front, BYU will need to find a way replace Ansah who routinely occupied blockers and allowed Van Noy to rush the passer and roam the field. The Cougars front also loses another space eater in nosetackle Romney Nuga. Eathyn Manumaleuna should fill the void in the middle while sophomore Remington Peck attempts to replace Ansah at the right defensive end. The Cougars do return stalwart LDE Bronson Kaufi (4.5 sacks and 5.5 TFLs in 2012) who will only improve on his production from last season. BYU also added depth with JUCO transfer Marques Johnson.
The linebacker corps begins and ends with Van Noy. Some of the expectations for the senior star (potential Heisman candidate) seem a little unrealistic, but his importance to the defense cannot be overstated. Van Noy totaled 13 sacks and 22 TFLs in 2012 and he routinely caused havoc in opponent’s backfields. His speed and strength created mismatch problems for blocking schemes and forced team’s to change their gameplan. On the interior the linebacker corps loses Brandon Ogletree, the team’s leading tackler, but returns senior Spencer Hadley who combined with Van Noy for 87.5 tackles last season. Senior Uani Unga should replace Ogletree while Alani Fua slides into the other outside linebacker position. All-in-all this unit returns eight players with game experience which adds depth to an already talented group.
At the beginning of camp the secondary seemed ready to replace long time starter Preston Hadley and reload for the upcoming season. However ACL injures to CB Trenton Trammell, Hadley’s replacement, and returning starter Jordon Johnson have left the secondary wearily thin. BYU does return safeties Daniel Sorenson and Craig Bills whose experience will prove vital as JUCO transfer Robertson Daniel and senior Skye PoVey fill the holes at the cornerback position. BYU will also receive a boost from Notre Dame transfer Chris Badger who intends to appeal for immediate playing time.
On offense Notre Dame should establish the running game early and allow the offensive line to set the tone against a depleted BYU defensive front. The 2013 BYU team still has Kyle Van Noy, but much of Van Noy’s success came from teammates like Ansah, Nuga and Ogletree. Their departure now allows offenses to concentrate their schemes to neutralize Van Noy. In 2012, Notre Dame rushed for 270 yards against a much stouter BYU defensive front seven. If the running game gains traction expect Martin to use Rees to audible at the line of scrimmage and throw against the inexperienced corners of BYU’s defense.
On defense Notre Dame’s front seven should cause problems for the BYU’s young offensive line even if they have ten starts together by this time in the season. A combination of blitz packages from the 3-4 and 4-3 alignment should confuse Taysom Hill enough to force a turnover or two in the same way pressure forced Riley Nelson to throw two interceptions in the 2012 meeting. Cody Hoffman may find space against Notre Dame’s soft secondary but I do not anticipate Hill having the time to connect with him on a deep ball.
In the end, Notre Dame will stumble out of the gate as they normally do against strong defensive units. The teams will end the first half in a low scoring affair as both defenses dominant. But in the second half Notre Dame will pull away from BYU with their power running game, efficient quarterback play and suffocating defensive front. At 11-1 Notre Dame will turn their attention to Stanford.