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BYU Notes: First Look

So its time to think about BYU. Before getting into the current day BYU I want to share couple of personal notes on this Saturday matchup at the Rose Bowl:

  • My First Game As A UCLA Student: A BYU-UCLA match-up at the Rose Bowl was the first game I ever watched in person as a UCLA student (1991). It was a close against Lavell Edwards/Ty Detmer coached BYU team which the Bruins of course won. But what I still haven't figured out till this day (and I profusely apologize for my ignorance here) is whether the thousands of BYU fans who showed up at the Rose Bowl were wearing ties to honor their Heisman contending QB or was it due to some kind of church thing? Still don't know.

  • The Card Show Freak-out: The second BYU-UCLA game I got to watch was the 1993 game at the Rose Bowl in which we (the student section) went bezerk with all the cards we were holding on to for the half time card show. All I remember was that Bruins passed the 60 point mark, and all on a sudden everyone started launching cards in the air. I mean they were flying everywhere. It was finally brought under control. But IIRC the card show never came back during our time at UCLA. Not sure if its back yet. You guys can fill me in on this.
Also FWIW the last three years we played BYU (beating them in every game), we beat the TrOJIes in each of those three seasons. Yeah, I am totally superstitious when it comes to sports and believe in all the little omens, so this may be something worth keeping an eye on.

Now enough of BYU from the 90s. Lets talk about the currant batch of Cougars, Bruins are taking on this Saturday. They are a pretty solid team, but a team that the Bruins should be able to handle at the Rose Bowl this Saturday.

The Cougars had a pretty good season last year, going 11-2, finishing the season with a 38-8 whooping of an uninspired Oregon Ducks at the Las Vegas Bowl (then again most Pac-10 teams tend to be uninspired at those games. Thanks a lot Hansen). Their 2 losses came against Arizona at Tucson (a team they exacted their revenge on past Saturday) and to BC at Chestnut Hill.

They started this season with a nice win over an Arizona team. Here are the highlights from their 20-7 win against Stoops' Mildcats:

That was the second consecutive win over a Pac-10 team following up their aforementioned win against Oregon in the famed Las Vegas Bowl last December.

They come into this season with fairly high hopes, but they are replacing a boat load talent and experience at the skill positions at their offense. Starting with QB Max Hall, a transfer from ASU is taking over for John Beck, who piled up some Drew Olson like numbers (almost 3900 yards and 32 TDs) last season.

In his first game Hall did a pretty solid job of managing the game against Zona, letting the game come to him, completing 26 of 39 passes (66.7%) for 288 yards, 2 TDs and 0 picks. Something to note is that he did turn the ball over (fumble) once in the red zone.

More on Hall's performance from Provo Pride:
I will be honest I was expecting to see Hall struggle at times during this game.  But he was very calm, and collected.  Had a Ty Detmer-type of presence in the pocket when watching him.  He is a natural born leader, willing to do anything to win and very confident.  He was very accurate from the get go and had an outstanding 66% completion rate.  26-of-39 for 288 yards and zero interceptions in his first start was really impressive.  Hall has studied well and his patience is showing immediately.  Had that fumble early on a huge hit that almost any Quarterback would of lost in any setting.  But besides that it was a great opening game performance for Hall. He did have some over-thrown passes but other than that I was greatly impressed. He is only going to get better, and there is still room for improvement and he even made note of that in his post-game interview.
Hall is not the only player having to replace studs at BYU skill position. This year BYU running backs are having to step up for Curtis Brown, who was the all time leading rusher at Provo. CFN had this preview on the BYU backfield:
Projected Starters: It'll be up to junior Manase Tonga to replace BYU's all-time leading rusher, Curtis Brown, and while he doesn't have the same sort of speed, he's quick, consistent, can catch, and is big. At 234 pounds, he provided a nice pop rushing for 197 yards and four touchdowns while catching 23 passes for 230 yards and two scores. He's a banger who can be used as a workhorse.

Helping out will be junior Fui Vakapuna, who's achieved cult hero status among the Cougar faithful for his tough style. A fascinating talent with 4.4 speed in the body of a 234-pound fullback, he led the way with eight rushing touchdowns while catching three short scoring passes. More than just a short-yardage runner, he can line up at tailback if needed.
Well guess what none of those guys saw any action against Arizona. Tonga was sitting out the game due to a suspension, while Vakapuna still is recovering from a leg injury he suffered in the off season. So their replace Harvey Unga stepped up big time. He came up with 67 rushing yards and a score in 15 carries, while also catching the ball 9 times for 127 yards and another TD. Not bad at all.

Another note worth keeping is Provo Pride anointed Vakapuna as their number 1 player for BYU to "raise the bar" in 2007. From Provo Pride again:
#1 Fui Vakapuna, Running Back

Here is our #1 player for BYU to "Raise the Bar" in 2007.  Fui has all the talent in the world to be a great Running Back at BYU there is question marks though around him.  Can he stay healthy?  Can he be the every-down back?  It's important for Fui to elevate his game this season with the RB unit being very unproven, Fui needs to stay healthy and become a more polished running back.  From seeing a video on YouTube he looked has really hit the weight room hard.  If I was an opposing Linebacker I sure wouldn't want to mess with Fui.  If he stays Fui is going to have an outstanding season.
So the Bruin DL is going to have a challenge on their hand having to stop the BYU rushing attack. Meanwhile, you'd expect a passing factory such as BYU to have some players in their receiving corps. Again from CFN:
Projected Starters: While the Cougars lost their top three pass catchers from last year, they get back a key target in sophomore Austin Collie, who's been out of the mix for the last two years on a church mission. He's 6-2 and 212 pounds with excellent hands, but he has to show he can regain the form from his freshman season when he caught 53 passes for 771 yards and eight touchdowns. If he doesn't win the starting spot a the Z, he'll be the first reserve in the mix.

Likely to start at the outside X position will be 6-1, 202-pound junior Michael Reed after catching 25 passes for 339 yards and three scores as a ten-game starters. While he's not a blazer, he can get deep enough to make several big plays.

The smallish Bryce Mahuika will be used as an inside possession receiver at the H. He's only 5-9 and 185 pounds, but he can move averaging 15.2 yards per catch on his five grabs last season.

The biggest issue will be replacing All-American Jonny Harline and his 58 catches for 935 yards and ten touchdowns. It'll take several players to get the job done with 6-5, 230-pound sophomore, Dennis Pitta, likely to get the starting nod. Coming off a mission, he needs to regain his 2004 form when he caught 17 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. He has great hands and solid route running ability.
Reed, Collie, and Pitta each caught 4 passes against Zona combining for 115 yards. Pitta scored the other TD besides Unga. As mentioned above Unga caught the ball 9 times, which led all Cougar receivers. So their production was somewhat modest. I would imagine our secondary is going to be really fired up for this game considering their less than averaging showing against the Stanford passing attacks last Saturday.

As for BYU offensive line, it's a solid front anchored by senior center Sete Aulai. Sete is going to be flanked by LG 6-5 322lb Ray Feinga and RG 6-5, 314-pound junior, Travis Bright. Feinga seems to be the only guy in this line who lacks enough starting experience, however he is a pure talent who will like get better as he gets more action under his belt. It seems like the line held up really well in giving Hall enough time to manage his first game. It will be up to our front-7 to generate intense pressure on these guys to disrupt the young Cougar QB's timing and break up the rhythm of their prolific offense.

On the other side of the ball, the Cougar defense had a great start in 2007 by dominating an anemic Arizona offense. Bruin Roar had this preview of the Cougar defense before the start of this season:
Things look a lot better on the other side of the ball for BYU fans. The cougars return 7 players with some really athletic and talented guys in the mix. The Cougars moved to a 3-4 last season after using a less orthodox 3-3-5 back in 2005. The 3-4 works if you have good linebackers and BYU has some very good ones. Against that defensive configuration, running the ball can be easier; however, blitzing linebackers can come from all directions and that can cause a lot of confusion for the quarterback. Ben got thrown-off last season when the Bruins played the Rice Owls because they used a defensive scheme with a lot of DBs and LBs. The Bruin O-line will need to be well prepared and make sure they don't miss their blocking assignments.

Up front the Cougars have a lot of young faces. All three lineman are sophomores but Russell Tialavea and Jan Jorgensen were starters last season. Jorgensen is the biggest threat here as he was a Freshman all American and recorded five sacks last season. Containing him will be a priority for Bob Connelly and the revamped Bruin line. The Bruins are also going to need to establish a running game as there is a natural advantage at the line of scrimmage with only 3 down lineman. This threesome isn't huge, so our guys should be able to move them around.

Really, the biggest obstacles in the BYU front seven is the line backers. Two senior linebackers, Bryan Kehl and Kelly Poppinga, are fast and strong. Poppinga is pretty beefy tipping the scales at close to 240lbs. He is also switching from outside to inside to give some experience and size in the middle and he should make that transition fairly easily. Junior David Nixon is also a returning starter and he was a big contributer all over the field last year recording 37 solo tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. The big loss was star linebacker, and defensive leader, Cameron Jensen who graduated last year.

The Cougar secondary is chocked full of experienced Seniors but this was a unit that struggled at times last season. They return a good free safety in hard hitting Quinn Gooch. The corners are not a strong spot and I think UCLA can take advantage in this area. Former walk-on Ben Criddle started last year as a junior, but he stands at 5'11" and a mismatch exists there with 6'5" receivers like Joe Cowan, Ketchum, and Johnson. He is also coming off an ankle injury that sidelined him for the Las Vegas Bowl. Kyle Buchanan will likely be the other corner and he will be taking on the starting role for the first time this year. He is an impressive athlete but he also has seen a lot of injuries in his tenure at Provo. Expect Jay Norvell to call in some deep passes to try and stretch and test this secondary.
This defense shut down Arizona's running attack, limiting the Wildcats to 32 rushing yards on 19 attempts. The lesser Stoops troops' only score came with 53 seconds left in the game. So it was total domination by the Cougar bunch.

It will be interesting to see how Dorrell's WCO performs against these guys. Again we have enough talent up and down our lineup to handle these guys. But the question is whether running ball down the throat philosophy which works against hapless teams like Stanford, will work against BYU? Now Norvell did indicate after the Stanford game that flea-flicker is not the only play in his arsenal to shake things up this season. It will be fun to see what he has in store this Saturday. Running up the middle with Kahlil Bell time and again is not going to work on Saturday. Bruins will have to bring something more than that. We will have more on this game later this week. So stay tuned as always. Meanwhile, if you have your thoughts on the matchups please post them here.