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Summer Opponent Preview: BYU Cougars

BYU makes a second straight trip to Notre Dame Stadium this fall.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The stingy Cougar defense will make another appearance in South Bend this fall. Here's a summer preview of BYU.



Location: Provo, UT

Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (9th year)

2012 Record: 8-5

2012 S&P Rating: 11

'12 S&P Offense: 44

'12 S&P Defense: 13

'12 FEI Rating: 29

BYU's 2012 started off nicely with wins over Washington State and Weber State but a gut-wrenching loss to Utah spoiled their season early on. The Cougars rallied in the 4th quarter against the Utes but fell short after missing two last-second field goals. They then held Boise State without an offensive touchdown and decided to go for a 2-point conversion late in the game which failed. BYU lost 7-6 to the Broncos.

Their offense got back on track with a 47-0 over hapless Hawaii but then regressed in a 6-3 win over Utah State. Sitting at 4-2 on the season BYU hit the meat of their schedule. BYU was soundly outplayed in the second half and lost to Oregon State by 18 points and then played the Irish tough in a 3-point loss.

The Cougars finished their season strong going 4-1 with wins over Georgia Tech, Idaho, and New Mexico State with a bowl win over San Diego State. The lone setback in November was a 6-point loss to San Jose State.


Q&A with Brett from Vanquish the Foe:

1. How is quarterback Taysom Hill progressing after suffering a minor MCL tear in late May? Is he a lock to start assuming he is healthy before the season starts? How's the QB position shaping up for BYU this year?

Hill's recovery has been mishap-free and he is healthy right now -- he has suffered no injury since the major occurrence during the 2012 season, despite persistent false reports.

He's definitely a lock to start. Hill's future is bright and he is capable of being great, but the sample of what we've seen from him in games doesn't provide much assurance. He was a proven thrower and runner in high school, the main question about him is if he can be consistent and effective at the college level with his arm. He hasn't shown signs of weakness here, necessarily, again -- just a small sample so far. Utah State had a pretty good defense and Hawaii couldn't stop the run, so not much to draw from.

Behind Hill will be Ammon Olsen, who is also a sophomore. Olsen's game was very similar to Hill's in high school, and his arm is supposed to be strong. Talent-wise, the QB position is in good shape, but lack of experience leaves BYU fans biting their nails just a bit.

2. The Cougars are bringing back a lot of pieces on offense but have changed up the coaching staff on that side of the ball. Can you explain what we might see differently from the BYU offense this fall?

When Robert Anae came to BYU in 2005, he further married Leach's Air Raid (already with BYU components) with traditional BYU passing as he experienced while a player in Provo. Now returning as offensive coordinator after two years at Arizona, he is expected to bring a stronger variety and ability to the run game (see Carey, Ka'Deem), a promising thought given that BYU's all-time leading rusher played under Anae's first tenure.

Tempo figures to be a large change as well. Anae coined "Go fast, go hard" in his re-introductory press conference and according to incoming OL freshman Brayden Kearsley has said, "Who has time for a huddle?" Players were beat up by the new demands in spring practice and have been challenged to be physically prepared for the fall to suit the new style.

3. BYU has been known in recent years for having a very strong defense and a rather blue-collar grind it out offense. With a bunch of lost starters on defense will the 2013 season be one in which the Cougar offense is the stronger unit?

BYU fans expect the offense to be much improved, but that unit comes with much more uncertainty given the QB situation and institution of a new offense. We do know, however, that whenever Bronco Mendenhall is directly in charge of BYU's defense, it flourishes. The front seven should be pretty close to as gnarly as it was last year, but the defensive secondary has some questions at one corner and one safety spot each.

The offense will be at least a little better, but I'm not sure it's ready to overtake the defense. Hopefully they become equally as good.

4. Can you name one player on offense and defense that might not be very well known outside of Provo who you think will have a big season for BYU?

Jamaal Williams is the name to know on offense. Notre Dame fans saw at least a little of his workman-like abilities in South Bend, but his real emergence came after BYU was already 4-4 and less eyes were on the program. He rushed for 211 yards and 5 TD in the two games following the loss at ND, and he will be just a sophomore this year. He doesn't have breakaway, game-breaking speed, but he's fast enough and runs with a tough, yard-gaining style. He'll do some work this season.

Defensively, a player coaches have spoken highly of is linebacker Uani 'Unga. He's a senior who transferred to BYU from Oregon State in 2011. He recorded 22 tackles as a backup last season, paying his dues behind senior tackle machine Brandon Ogletree. 'Unga figures to be a talented inside partner to the outside linebacker play of Kyle Van Noy.

5. How has football independence been treating you? Things seem to be going pretty well, do you see this as a long-term solution for the BYU program?

Well. TV access for fans is unprecedented and the ability to keep the schedule fresh (while creating or re-developing relationships with schools like Notre Dame) has breathed fresh life into the program. The only thing that would pull BYU off its independent course would be better access to the playoff, which pretty much only comes if the Big 12 calls. Otherwise, BYU has raised its station exposure, monetary, and recruiting-wise as much as it can because of this path. Affiliation with any conference not in the Big 5 would be a step backward, so independence is the way.

6. Without doing any research this looks like the most difficult BYU schedule in quite a while with games against Virginia, Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech, Boise State, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame. Your team has been able to churn out a bunch of double digit win seasons since the middle of the last decade---can BYU win that many games in 2013 or is something like 8 wins more probable?

The only thing close to this was in 2004, when BYU played Notre Dame, USC (finished undefeated), Utah (finished undefeated), and Boise State (finished undefeated in regular season). But nothing beginning-to-end like 2013 figures to be.
A 10-win year this season would be the best BYU season since 1996. It would be remarkable. Vegas has set the Cougars' over-under win total at 8.5, and I'd have to think an 8-4 pre-bowl campaign would feel pretty satisfying with wins coming against the right teams. 9-3 would be awesome. We're not used to that sort of thing -- 10 wins was the mark when running roughshod over the likes of Wyoming and New Mexico, so this will be different for us. We may need to brace ourselves for 7-5 and hold anything above that as extra exciting.



BOLD denotes returning starter


Taysom Hill, So.

Ammon Olsen, So.

Jason Munns, 5th Sr.

Billy Green, Fr.

Christian Stewart, Jr.

BYU loses a pair of senior quarterbacks including Riley Nelson (he started against Notre Dame last year) and backup James Lark. Taysom Hill steps into the starting role after seeing some action early last season finishing the Boise State game and starting against Hawaii and Utah State.

Originally committed to Stanford, Hill switched to BYU after returning from a 2-year mission. He's definitely a talented player, a dual-threat quarterback, and is getting some buzz as someone who will surprise this year.

The depth chart is unproven behind Hill but there are a lot of bodies. Former top-100 recruit Tanner Mangum signed with the 2012 class but only enrolled this past spring at BYU. He will be leaving for a 2-year mission to Chile and won't be back with the Cougar program until the 2015 season.

*Running Back 1

Jamaal Williams, So.

Adam Hine, RS So.

A.J. Moore, RS Fr.

*Running Back 2

Michael Alisa, Sr.

Paul Lasike, Jr.

Nate Carter, RS So.


Iona Pritchard, RS Jr.

BYU utilizes a multi-back offense and returns 4 out of their top 5 running backs from 2012. They will have to replace fullback David Foote (198 yards) and it appears Iona Pritchard will be filling that role following a baker's dozen carries last fall.

Jamaal Williams returns after a nice freshman campaign (775 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Michael Alisa also is back after notching 222 yards before breaking his arm last fall and missing half the season. Paul Lasike adds more depth following 129 yards last year while the BYU coaching staff is very high on Adam Hine (he missed most of 2012 with injury) after a terrific spring practice.

The returning running backs weren't terribly effective last year (4.31 average on 270 carries) but new quarterback Taysom Hill might help open things up. Hill actually finished second on the team with 336 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per rush.

*X Wide Receiver

Cody Hoffman, 5th Sr.

Mitch Matthews, RS So.

Dallin Cutler, 5th Sr.

Jordan Smith, 5th Sr.

Travis Frey, RS Fr.

*Y Wide Receiver

Ross Apo, RS Jr.

Skyler Ridley, 5th Sr.

Kurt Henderson, RS So.

Jake Ziolkowski, RS Fr.

*Z Wide Receiver

JD Falslev, 5th Sr.

Eric Thorton, RS Fr.

Cody Raymond, RS So.

A new quarterback should be pretty comfortable with the targets he'll throw to as BYU returns every single receiver from a year ago and 94.9 percent of team receptions from 2012.

The big name is Cody Hoffman who is closing in on several school records. He ate a huge chunk of the team's receiving stats last season with 100 receptions (33.7 percent), 1,248 yards (38.8 percent), and 11 touchdowns (44 percent) while catching 8 balls against Notre Dame.

JD Falslev returns in the slot where he totaled 37 receptions last year. Ross Apo was the other starter last year and put up 31 receptions but he's been in a positional battle with Skyler Ridley (20 receptions) during the off-season. Matthews, Henderson, and Raymond are others who caught passes last year and add solid depth.

*Tight End

Kaneakua Friel, 5th Sr.

Brett Thompson, RS Jr.

Marcus Mathews, Jr.

Devin Mahina, RS So.

Richard Wilson, 5th Sr.

By my count BYU has 10 tight ends listed on their roster beginning with returning starter Kaneakua Friel who turned in a solid 30 receptions, 308 yards, and 5 touchdowns last year. In addition to the tight end role Friel also helps out as a fullback from time to time as well.

Among the many other options at the Cougar's disposal they've moved Brett Thompson over from receiver to get another pass catching threat. Also, Matthews, Mahina, and Wilson all saw some action last year and provide some terrific depth.

*Left Tackle

Ryker Matthews, RS So.

Brad Wilcox, RS Fr.

*Left Guard

Solomone Kafu, RS Jr.

Tui Crichton, RS So.

Tim Duran, Jr. #


Manaaki Vaitai, 5th Sr.

Terrance Alletto, RS So.

Brayden Kearsley, Fr.

Edward Fusi, Jr.

*Right Guard

Kyle Johnson, RS Fr.

Brock Stringham, RS Jr.

Josh Carter, Jr.

*Right Tackle

Michael Yeck, RS Jr.

Cole Jones, RS Fr.

De'Ondre Wesley, Jr.

BYU has to replace two starters from last year in addition to losing center Blair Tushaus and guard Houston Reynolds to a career ending injury. Despite this, there were injuries last season that opened up playing time for several players and due to the mission issue and robust walk-on program there are plenty of bodies to work with.

Ryker Matthews returns after making every start at left tackle last year. Solomone Kafu made 9 starts a year ago and looks to hold down the left guard spot. Coming out of spring Terrance Alletto was listed as the starter at center but a positional battle is continuing as Manaaki Vaitai made 9 starts there in 2012.

On the right side Kyle Johnson has stepped into a starting role and is being pushed hard by Brock Stringham. At right tackle Michal Yeck saw action in every game last season and is projected to start there for 2013. BYU also has the luxury of welcoming 8 new offensive linemen to the program this summer, including the highly rated Brayden Kearsley as well as 4 players from the JUCO ranks in Carter, Duran, Fusi, and Wesley.

*Defensive End

Remington Peck, RS So.

Austin Holt, RS Jr.

Darin Tuttle, RS So.

*Nose Guard

Eathyn Manumaleuna, 5th Sr.

Marques Johnson, RS Jr.

Tuni Kanuch, Fr.

*Defensive End

Bronson Kaufusi, So.

Michael Doman, So.

The Cougars have to replace the production of 3 key players up front on the defensive line but the majority of that production came from defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (62 tackles, 13 for loss, 4.5 sacks) who was taken with the 5th overall pick during this spring's NFL Draft.

BYU does get back Eathyn Manumaleuna after the big nose guard was lost for the season after 4 games in 2012. He was on his way to a big year statistically, was recently named to the Outland Trophy Watch List, and has started 38 games for the Cougars. Manumaleuna may also see some time at end due to Marques Johnson and Tuni Kanuch having a strong spring practice.

Bronson Kaufusi looks to start at defensive end after a solid freshman campaign where he totaled 23 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and tied for 2nd on the team with 4.5 sacks. Peck is another young linemen who is projected to start after notching 7 tackles in 9 games last season.

*Weak-side Linebacker

WLB Kyle Van Noy, Sr.

WLB Jherremya Leuta-Douyere, So.

*Middle Linebacker

MLB Uani Unga, 5th Sr.

MLB Austen Jorgensen, 5th Sr.

*Middle Linebacker

MLB Tyler Beck, 5th Sr.

MLB Manoa Pikula, RS So.

*Strong-side Linebacker

SLB Spencer Hadley, Sr.

SLB Alani Fua, RS Jr.

Both inside linebackers need to be replaced with the loss of Brandon Ogletree (team-leading 101 tackles in 2012) and Uona Kaveinga (49 tackles) but BYU received tremendous news after the season when weak-side linebacker Kyle Van Noy decided to come back to school after passing up a 1st-round NFL Draft grade. Van Noy didn't have a ton of tackles (52 overall) but 42.3 percent of those tackles were for loss and 1 out of every 4 tackles was a sack!

As Brett mentioned above in the Q&A the coaching staff is very high on Uani Unga and he is projected to fill one of the empty middle linebackers spots. Next to him Pikula (9 tackles) and Beck (1 tackle) are battling for the starting position. Filling out the linebacker corps is Spencer Hadley (55 tackles) who is coming off a strong season and Alani Fua who splits time at nickel corner.

*Field Corner

FC Jordan Johnson, RS Jr.

FC Adam Hogan, 5th Sr. % #

*Boundary Corner

BC Mike Hague, 5th Sr.

BC Jacob Hannemann, RS Fr.

BC Sam Lee, Jr.

*Strong Safety

SS Daniel Sorensen, Sr.

SS Michael Wadsworth, RS So.

SS Jordan Preator, Fr.

*Free Safety

FS Craig Bills, Jr.

FS Blake Morgan, 5th Sr.

FS Dallin Leavitt, Fr.

A pair of starters return in the secondary for BYU with Jordan Johnson (48 tackles) back at field corner and Daniel Sorensen (67 tackles) back at strong safety. Joe Sampson leaves behind 32 tackles at the free safety spot but rising junior Craig Bills saw a ton of action there last year and finished with 47 tackles.

The other open spot at boundary corner is more suspect with converted fullback Mike Hague looking to start after making 6 tackles a year ago. A trio of newcomers in JUCO recruit Sam Lee and incoming freshmen Dallin Leavitt and Jordan Preator will look to add more depth and have a real chance to play.

Final Thoughts

After watching BYU a few times last year and seeing their QB play against Notre Dame I think the Cougars can find an upgrade at the position this year. Hill may be young and inexperienced but I like his skill-set and high ceiling. Of course he won't reach that ceiling in 2013 but I won't be surprised to see Hill have a very solid year with the weapons at his disposal.

If Hill comes through this is going to be a dangerous team. The defense should still be very, very good and the team at large received a huge boost when Kyle Van Noy came back after flirting with the NFL. BYU does come back to South Bend for the second year in a row so that gives the Irish a small edge in that department.

Notre Dame was very inconsistent on offense last year against the Cougars. Six of Notre Dame's drives went for at least 48 yards and 4 went for over 60 yards. The problem was 5 other drives went for 6 yards or less. If the Irish can fix that I like their chances in a tough and close game. One of the underrated aspects to last season was Notre Dame rushing for 270 yards at 6.3 a pop against this BYU defense, and that was with Tommy Rees at quarterback. That was 150 yards more than BYU gave up on the ground to any other opponent in 2012. Keep an eye out for the Cougars new pieces in the front seven because that's where the Irish could potentially exploit BYU.

Predicted Game Day Spread- BYU (+4.5)