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2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #31 BYU

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 28, 2015

#31 BYU Cougars

2014 Recap:
A streaky season for the Cougars with a 4-0 start was followed by four consecutive losses and then four wins once again. BYU lost their bowl game in OT to Memphis 55-48 (to finish 8-5) in a game that was among one of the ugliest we saw all season. A number of bloody fights near the end of the game blemished what was, until that point, a well-played entertaining contest.

Coaching:
Bronco Mendenhall has done a wonderful job at BYU, guiding the Cougars to a Bowl appearance in each of his 10 seasons at the helm. BYU is 6-4 in Bowl appearances under Mendenhall and has won a pair of conference titles. The BYU faithful will never forget LaVell Edwards and everything he did for BYU, putting them on the map as a legitimate football threat. You can’t ask for more than what Mendenhall has provided. Robert Anae is in his second tenure as the offensive coordinator, and the unit averaged 37.1 PPG last season, good for 14th in the nation. This was impressive, especially after the loss of a star quarterback during the season. Nick Howell is in his third season leading the defense.

 

Offense Analysis

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

BYU is in a precarious situation with one of the best quarterback/running back senior combos at the NCAA level. Quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams are on preseason watch lists for virtually every award their positions merit. The problem is that both had significant injuries a year ago whcih ended their seasons prematurely. Will both players be ready for the beginning of the year? BYU travels to Nebraska (hmmm Nebraska. They could be on our Fierce 40 list very soon… hint, hint) in the opener, and that is followed by a home game against Boise State and a road game against UCLA. Any time missed by these superstars could be devastating to the season right from the start.

Taysom Hill was a legitimate Heisman Trophy dark horse early last season before breaking his leg against Utah State. BYU was ranked at the time, and it’s no surprise that this also started their four game slide. At the time of the injury Hill was averaging about 220 yards per game passing with a pair of TDs through the air and another 100 yards per game on the ground with another pair of touchdowns. With those numbers you can see why the injury was so devastating to the Cougars. Hill doesn’t look to have the passing skills to make it at the next level, but he should get a look if he can bounce back with a healthy and productive season.

Jamaal Williams had over 1,200 yards rushing in 2013 and was the Cougars leading rusher last year despite missing half the season with a knee injury. Williams may have a chance in the NFL as a third down back, as he has always shown himself as an adept receiver and blocker. Look for junior Algernon Brown to get plenty of touches running the football for BYU. If everyone is healthy this unit has the chance to be in the top 20 in scoring and rushing overall.

Best Draft Prospect: Jamaal Williams RB UFA 2016.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Top receiver Mitch Mathews is back, and at 6’5” he looks more like a tight end then a true wide receiver. A line of 73-922-9 will get you noticed. Mathews showed glimpses as a junior with 23-397-4, and his four 100-yard games last season showed he is a consistent producer. This is a deep group, and junior Colby Pearson could be the next breakout producer for this team. Don’t discount Devon Blackmon and JUCO transfer Nick Kurtz, who was ranked as one of the top 20 JUCO transfer players in the nation. Kurtz stands 6’6” and would make for an attractive red zone target for the Cougars. BYU has put a number of able bodied tight ends into the NFL and Terenn Houk came up with 21 catches as a junior. There is no shortage of talent at wideout, but one of these players will need to step up as a clear-cut #2 to Mathews for the offense to reach the next level.

Best Draft Prospect: Mitch Mathews WR 7th Round 2016.

 

Offensive Line:

The offensive line resembles the wide receivers, there are a ton of great prospects with one or two players who could reach the NFL level. Left tackle Ryker Mathews has started since the middle of his sophomore season and he is currently on the Outland Trophy watch list. While Mathews may have the most experience, it is a few sophomores that may have the most talent and the best chance to make it into the NFL. Ului Lapuaho mans the right tackle spot and will likely take the left side of the line after Mathews departs after 2015. Lapuaho started as a 6’6” freshman last season and now, as a returning sophomore, he stands nearly 6’8”. Tejan Koroma may wind up being the most sought after centers for the next level by the time he is eligible for the draft. Koroma may have been the best freshman center in the country a season ago. The line seems to be built more for the passing attack and keeping Taysom Hill upright. Hill has bulked up a bit to over 230 pounds but still seems to have a slight frame. Kyle Johnson is another returning starter at left guard, meaning BYU should have one of the better starting offensive line units in the country.

Best Draft Prospect: Tajan Koroma C 4th Round 2018.

 

Defense Analysis

Defensive Line:

The biggest change for the defense is not the personnel but the coaching that comes with it. Nick Howell is still the defensive coordinator, but Bronco Mendenhall will go back to calling plays and formations like he did when he first arrived at Provo. The star of the line is defensive end Bronson Kaufasi. If Kaufasi and his family want to hold a reunion they don’t have far to go. Bronson is from Provo, and his brother Corbin plays for the basketball team. His wife plays for the soccer team and his defensive line coach is his father Steve. Kaufasi had seven sacks and 11.5 stops for loss last year, and those numbers should be even better in 2015. BYU seemed to play the run so well last year that defending the pass became a liability. BYU has to put more pressure on the quarterback and improve upon the 27 sacks they registered last season. BYU employs a 3-4, and the other defensive end spot will be occupied by Logan Taele. He failed to register a sack in 2014. Travis Tuiloma should see most of the action at defensive tackle. Tuiloma does the dirty work that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, and opposing teams usually need multiple players to account for his presence.

Best Draft Prospect: Bronson Kaufasi DE 5th Round 2016.

 

Linebackers:

The linebackers seem to be the deepest part of the defense, but they look like they need a leader. There are no returning starters among the four linebackers, and there are only four when you tally up the whole defense. Jherremya Leuta-Douyere seems most likely to lead the bunch, and he did total three overall starts for the season. Douyere spent the majority of his underclassmen days lined up along the outside, but he seemed to respond when being moved primarily inside last year. If we have a wildcard of the group it would be Austin Heder. Heder was moved to linebacker last year after spending his freshman campaign as a fullback for the Cougars. Heder seems to lack ideal range, but his instincts and tackling ability look solid on film. Again, this is a unit that is deep, but the star power is not yet there.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

Secondary:

With Craig Bills and Daniel Robertson gone, BYU lost a ton of experience in what is now a secondary that is very green and short on play at this level. Micah Hannemann and Jordan Preator are both sophomores that played sparingly as freshman, and now they will be looked at to start. At safety, Kai Nacua is back after 40 tackles and a pair of interceptions as a sophomore, and he will be joined by JUCO transfer Eric Takenaka. Despite being new to the program Takenaka might be the player that shows the most production for the upcoming season. Michael Davis is an important player off the bench that could play a hybrid role and line up at multiple positions.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

Special Teams

Adam Hine had a huge year returning kicks and was a spark in a number of contests for BYU a season ago. The punt return job is still up in the air, and it was a position that BYU essentially did nothing with during 2014. Trevor Samson was pretty reliable, as he was 12-14 kicking field goals, but he isn’t guaranteed the job as a senior. Freshman Corey Edwards was a highly sought after kicker. Edwards could have the job right away, or BYU could hold him in the wings for a season, as Samson is a senior. Freshman Taylor Parker is the only punter on the roster, so we will assume this is the Cougars punting choice. But as a freshman he is an unknown.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

2015 Schedule

BYU has one of the most brutal schedules to open the year. Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA and Michigan are all on the slate before BYU even gets to October. Not only are we talking about four tough games, but only Boise State is a home contest. BYU will be logging the miles early. We will have to see if scheduling these powerhouses early helps BYU as the season goes along or leaves them stumbling out of the gate, unable to recover. With constant whispers on conference expansion (Big 12) we routinely hear the name of BYU come up as a team being looked at. BYU needs to show they can be competitive while playing a tougher schedule.

 

Draft Prospects & Outlook

We don’t see any prime picks right now, but that could change with Bronson Kaufasi and the size and athleticism he possesses. A few of the young lineman we previewed earlier could pan out into gems, meaning we are looking at some depth for draft classes down the road.