Blue Blood: Grading out the season for the 8-4 BYU Cougars

COMMENTARY — The BYU Cougars ultimately finished their regular season on a high note, beating the Nevada Wolf Pack on the road 28-23, but they must greatly improve to compete against another Pac 12 opponent in their 2013 Bowl game.

It has definitely been a season full of ups and downs, but this was another game that was not an impressive win for the Cougars. Yes, a win is a win, but I believe BYU played down to the level of their competition again last Saturday.

BYU’s first half of play resembled much of the Virginia and Utah games earlier this season. The Wolf Pack ended up proving they were a very tough match-up for BYU, giving them big problems on offense through the entire first half. Nevada held the Cougars to no points through the first and second quarters. All the way into the locker room, Nevada had BYU’s offense shaking its head in disbelief as Nevada was on top 7-0.

120px-BYUlogoSlow starts, inconsistency and penalties all contributed to BYU’s near-loss last week and hopefully the Cougars can sort out these issues and get some good practices in over the next two weeks. BYU has done a good job all season when it comes to not getting in a rut or losing back to back. This even holds true to them in games quarters or halves. They typically dig holes, but ones that are not too deep.

This was the case for the second half as BYU rolled up 342 yards and 28 total points in the final two quarters vs. Nevada.

On offense, Jamaal Williams ran for a career-high 219 yards and one touchdown. Taysom Hill had a solid day passing with 14 completions off 18 attempts for 98 yards, with no interceptions. He also contributed with 154 yards on the ground and one rushing touchdown. On defense, there were several standout performances including Uani Unga’s 11 tackles, and Bronson Kaufusi’s two sacks, plus three tackles for loss.

Overall it was a tale of two different halves and BYU did come out on top with its eighth win of the season. It is a good feeling that BYU is representing our state with another winning season, unlike other programs. I kept my recap of the Nevada game very short and sweet so I could fit in some stats and my grades for the Cougars and their 2013 regular season.

What’s next for the BYU Cougars is the Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 27, at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. In 2013, just like in so many previous years with Bronco Mendenhall’s leadership, BYU will end its 2013 season a few weeks later with yet other bowl appearance. This game is set up to be a great match-up for BYU, likely playing the 8-4 Washington State Cougars. There is also the possibility that BYU could face Arizona, but the decision will not be made and announced until Sunday from the Fight Hunger Bowl committee. Either way, BYU will have its hands full with another really solid Pac 12 team to end 2013’s season. Stay tuned for my Bowl week article as well as bold prediction on the outcome.

Now, on to my 2013 regular season BYU grades:

Coaching – B+

broncoAll the way around this year, coaching reflected better on the field and gives BYU something to move forward with into 2014. Mendenhall showed us he can repeat good solid defensive fundamentals again this year. While the defense won’t end up ranked third nationally again this season, it still had a great year considering the tough level of competition on the schedule. It was nice to see a new level of emotion shown by Mendenhall through both victories and losses and good plays and bad. I believe the best is yet to come from him and his staff. BYU was 5-1 at home this year and that is a great thing for the home environment. You always want to win at home in front of your crowd. Beating teams like Texas can go a long way. One area that needs some work from the coaching staff is winning on the road. The Cougars were only 3-3 on the road this season and just could not go into a big time environment and win. BYU needs to prove they can go into places like Wisconsin and Notre Dame and beat them on the road.

Offense – B+

BYU outscored its opponents with a total of 376 points to 256. The Cougars averaged 31.3 points per game. Coach Robert Anae’s return as offensive coordinator was very much needed, and his fast pace, go hard style was implemented very nicely. BYU’s ground attack led the way and racked up 3,295 total rushing yards this season. With veteran players like Taysom Hill, Jamaal Williams, Mitch Mathews, Ross Apo and Paul Lasike returning next season, the Cougars will have good depth.

QB – B+

Taysom Hill grew drastically throughout the entire season and matured from an athletic and very talente freshman from last year. He battled through a serious knee injury to come out and sett a couple of single-season records. He is now touted as a legitimate NCAA college football player and on all teams’ radars after rushing for 1,438 yards. I can’t wait to see if Taysom Hill can have another big leap in overall maturity and QB play in 2014. He has endless amounts of potential at BYU with a chance to set many more records over the next two seasons. Hill ended the regular season passing for 2,649 yards and 19 touchdowns, with a 120.48 pass efficiency. Room for improvement still comes in the area of the occasional bad pass that contributed to his 13 interceptions this season.

Running Back – A-

BYU now officially has a couple of running backs to be feared by all opposing defensive coordinators. Jamaal Williams had a very impressive true freshman season in 2012, but just had a coming out party in 2013 with 1,225 yards rushing, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Hill had more rushing yards, but this was made possible by the threat of handing the ball off to good running backs like Williams, Lasike, Alge Brown and Adam Hine. On the ground, BYU totaled 3,624 yards off 617 attempts, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and 23 touchdowns.

Receivers and tight ends – B+

For the most part, this group had a solid season while Hill developed his QB mechanics and throwing skills. Cody Hoffman has broken and set about every receiving record at BYU with his All-American camping. Skyler Ridley, JD Falslev, Mitch Matchews, Kanaeku Friel and Ross Apo all had some great performances. This core-receiving group caught 212 passes, averaging 12.5 yards per catch and 19 touchdowns.

Offensive line — B-

All that rushing yardage certainly earns the offensive line a ton of credit, maybe even some extra credit. But the truth is, there were times this season when the BYU O-line was dominated. In fact, two of those games were in the last few weeks as both Notre Dame and Wisconsin won the battle in the trenches. Plus, lowly Nevada beat up the BYU offensive line just last week. The potential is there, but the technique and strength need to continue to improve.

Defense – B

BYU averaged giving up 21.3 points per game and that just wasn’t good enough to win a couple of their specific games this year. That seems a little high, but knowing the level of competition was higher this season, it’s not too bad. The Cougars had 33 QB sacks, 12 interceptions, and 15 fumbles. They were plus-2 in takeaways, giving them the upper hand on turnovers vs. their opponents. There we so many great individual performances on the defensive side of the ball. Some of the top and most consistent performers weekly include Uani Unga, Daniel Sorensen, Kyle Van Noy, and Ethan Manumaleuna.

D-Line – B+

Bronson Kaufusi
Bronson Kaufusi

The D-line play was consistent, but they struggled at times vs. bigger offensive lines like Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Manumaleuna was a strong point and held down the middle with six tackles for loss and 46 total tackles. Kaufusi made his way into the spotlight and backfield frequently with seven tackles for loss, four sacks, and interception and 36 tackles. Bronson will have a very bright future at BYU and I am excited to see him over the next couple of years as he takes over Van Noy’s leadership role. I do consider Van Noy a lineman as well as a linebacker and he is good enough I will grade him in both categories. Van Noy caused many double teams, mismatches and headaches for opposing offensive coaches. He finished the regular season with 61 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 2 interception, 2 fumble recoveries and a touchdown.

Linebacker – B-

This group had a couple of lowlights and highlights this season that had some big impact on key games. Not to beat a dead horse, but losing Spencer Hadley from a suspension (honor code violation) and injury hurt them in the middle. Two bright points were Unga (who recorded 136 tackles) and Alani Fua (63 tackles and 3 sacks).

Cornerbacks and safeties – C+

This is one area that does give BYU 100 percent of its effort, but needs some added attention for 2014. There were way too many blown coverages that cost huge chunks of yardage. This hurt BYU in too many games.

Special teams – A-

Adam Hine

Adam Hine led the kickoff returns with 26 total gaining, 723 yards and averaging 27.8 yards per return. His longest of the year was 90 yards. His returns helped set up many scoring drives with good starting field position. JD Falslev had a solid season returning punts with a touchdown and a 10.2-yard return average. Punting is not something to be proud of, but when you do having Scott Arellano on your side it is a good thing. Arellano punted 74 times, averaging 41.6 yards per punt. Justin Sorensen really solidified the kicker position in 2013, making all of his 44 PATs. He also was 81% successful and went 18 for 22 on field goals.


Scott Young is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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