42.4 points, 26.2 first downs and 469 yards per game; 60% 3rd down conversion, +8 Turnover margin and an average time of position of 34:19 per game.
These are BYU's offensive statistics from last year for the last 5 games (after BYU remembered how to play offense). Can the Cougars continue to produce offense at such a prolific rate in 2011? We will try to answer that question in a position by position breakdown of BYU's 2011 offensive personnel.
Left Tackle: Matt Reynolds, 6'6", 329 lbs, Sr.
Reynolds is one of the best offensive linemen in the country. A probable first round pick, Reynolds has started in 39 consecutive games. Matt earned multiple Freshman All-America honors in 2008 followed by College Football News All-Sophomore Team recognition last year as a first-team All-MWC performer. He was All-MWC first team again in 2010 and was on the watch list for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award.
Reynolds has excellent measurables, but the things that set him apart are his football IQ, his technique and his long arms. He has a seven foot wingspan and he knows how to use it. One of the reasons he manages to dominate defensive linemen is that he uses his long arms to keep them away from his body. With Matt Reynolds at his back, QB Jake Heaps can be confident that he is not going to get blindsided from the left side.
Left Guard: Braden Hansen, 6'6", 310 lbs, Jr.
Hansen is another tall offensive lineman who has been receiving national recognition—in 2009 he was a Freshman All-American. Last year he led BYU in knockdowns and made College Football News’ All Sophomore Team. This comparatively lanky lineman packs a punch. I expect him to take over one of the tackle spots when Reynolds graduates.
Right Tackle: Braden Brown, 6'6", 300 lbs, Jr.
Brown started his career as a tight end, but in 2009 when injury struck the O line, Braden switched positions and started in the place of the injured right tackle. In the offseason he went on a high protein diet, adding 50 lbs to his frame in a 10 month time period, and has started ever since. Another long lineman, like Hansen and Reynolds, Brown has been able to take advantage of his superior quickness to keep even the most athletic ends out of the pocket. Due to his athletic ability, if Matt Reynolds goes down, Brown would take over the all important left tackle position.
Right Guard or Center: Terrance Brown, 6'4", 330 lbs, Sr
Terrance Brown is a leader on the offensive line and with the rest of the team. He is very vocal, yet level headed. He started all of last year at center and did a great job of directing the O line. The year before he was the starter at right guard. What position he will play may depend on who is the 5th member of the starting offensive line.
Right Guard or Center: Houston Reynolds, C, 6'2", 308 lbs, So. OR Marco Thorson, RG, 6'3", 327 lbs, Sr. OR Somebody else who emerges during spring camp.
Houston Reynolds’ name alone tells you a lot about him. While he is the shortest of the Reynolds brothers, he still managed to make the two deep as a freshman. Coming out of high school, he received significant attention and multiple scholarship offers, including offers from Oregon and Stanford.
Marco “Moose” Thorson also bears a (nick)name that tells the reader a little about him. Thorson has seen a lot of relief action and knows the system well. He can and has played both guard and tackle. I expect him and Houston to battle for that final starting spot on the offensive line.
Somebody Else Who Emerges During Spring Camp: There is some young talent on the offensive line in Provo that has yet to be seen by most, and one of them could step up and secure the final spot.
Somebody # 1: Ryker Mathews 6'6", 285 lbs, Fr.
Mathews competed in the Army All-American Game (the most prestigious high school all star game in the country). Army All-American Coach Dave Peck described Mathews as one of the top offensive linemen performers from the West. Ryker already has the body to play D-1 football and will probably add to his frame in the coming months as he participates in BYU’s Spring and summer work outs. He graduated early and is already enrolled at BYU, so he will be able to participate in spring and summer practices.
Somebody # 2: Manu Mulitalo 6'2", 330 lbs, Fr.
Mulitalo redshirted last year, but had an impressive prep career. He was the 2009 Offensive MVP at the USC Nike camp as well as the All-Poly camp MVP. Manu has excellent size for the guard position (which just happens to be the position that will be open this spring) and has already spent a year in the system. He is a very physical and aggressive blocker who can move people around.
Somebody # 3-10:
Pretty much any of the other Offensive linemen on the roster. These do not have nearly as good a chance as the four already detailed for various reasons. Some are strictly tackles, which is a position already very well stocked. Others are simply back up linemen. They simply do not have the size and/or ability to start on an offensive line of the caliber that the Cougars will be fielding.
While technically the position of starting QB is an open contest, anybody who watched the last 5 games of the 2010 season has a pretty good idea of who will be the Starting QB.
Here is what I see the depth chart looking like at the start of the 2011 season:
Starting QB: Jake Heaps.
Backup #1/Change of Pace QB: Riley Nelson.
Backup #2/ Classic Pocket Passer QB: James Lark or Jason Munns.
What I mean in regards of the odd naming of the backup QBs is this: If Heaps gets pulled from a game due to injury, Nelson goes in to run the offense. If the Cougars want to run some option football, Nelson goes in. However, If Heaps has a season ending injury, Lark or Munns may get significant playing time or even eventually start because their skill sets will fit better into an offensive system designed around Heaps, and because they still have several more years of eligibility left.
Starting QB: Jake Heaps 6'1", 194 lbs, So.
Jake had a rocky start in 2010. Part of the blame can be laid on the receivers dropping balls, part on the defense for falling behind, part on coaches for various reasons, but most of it falls on Heaps himself. He made a lot of mistakes typical of a freshman, especially a true freshman starting at QB in a big time program. He missed a lot of easy passes. He was disturbed by the pressure applied by defenses which caused him to throw the ball away before he had to, or just make bad throws. This resulted in a poor completion percentage and a large number of interceptions.
The good news is that he got better. In Jake’s first five starts he had 1TD and 6 INTs. In his last 5 starts, he had 13 TDs to only two pics. While his stats from these last 5 games are very good (64.3% completion percentage, 251 yards, 2.6 TDs, and 0.4 INTs per Game), the thing that makes most fans so excited about this kid is the type of throws he can make. Max Hall, John Beck, and Brandon Doman were all very good QBs for the Cougars this past decade. The one thing that they all lacked was the arm that leaves you looking for the laser guided rocket launcher hidden up their sleeves. Heaps has that kind of arm. If he can continue to improve his short game and football IQ, he could become one of the elite QBs in the game.
Backup #1/Change of Pace QB: Riley Nelson 6'0", 201 lbs, Sr.
BYU is in a very comfortable position QB wise. If BYU’s receivers hadn’t dropped more passes than they caught against Air Force, and if he hadn’t broken his shoulder in fall practice, Riley Nelson could have been the starting QB last year. In the half game he played against Washington he was 11/17 for 131 yards and two TDs. He also ran for 45 yards on 8 carries. If you double that, he had 262 passing yards, 90 rushing yards and 4 TDs.
Detractors of Nelson point to the Air Force game. For those who actually watched the game, remember how many times the ball hit the receivers IN BOTH HANDS, and was dropped?
I do. Eight.
Two of those drops were in the end zone on two separate drives. If those balls had been caught, Nelson would have been 16/19 with 2 Tds to add to his 95 yards and one TD on the ground. If BYU had caught even half of those passes, BYU wins the game and Nelson is MVP.
The point of this section is not to say that Nelson should or could be the starter this year. He shouldn’t and won’t. Heaps is better. The point is that if Heaps goes down in a game, BYU’s offense can still move forward with confidence knowing that the backup QB is perfectly capable of leading them to victory.
Backup #2/ Backup pocket passer: James Lark 6'2", 202 lbs, So. OR Jason Munns 6'5", 254 lbs, So.
I would be excited to have both of these guys as my starting QB for the next several years, if I didn’t already have Jake Heaps. Both Lark and Munns were 4-star recruits and have tons of talent and ability. I feel bad they have to back up a fellow sophomore, but hey, life happens. It is comforting to know that even if the Cougars top two or three QBs go down, you still have a quality guy you can put on the field.
This is where analysis gets difficult. At the tailback position, BYU essentially returns three starters—Brian Kariya, JJ Diluigi, and Joshua Quezada. All three were good, but none of them were great. In addition to these three returning starters, speedster Drew Phillips will be competing for carries. Also two linebackers, Collin Keoshian and Michael Alisa, were switched over to RB. Since the Cougars already have three other backups that saw time last year (Ryan Folsom, David Foote, and Mike Hague), it seems that Doman expects these converted LBs to contribute fairly soon.
Starting Tailback #1: JJ Diluigi, 5'9", 190 lbs, Sr.
As mentioned before, BYU really had three “starting” RBs by the end of last year. Diluigi received more touches than the other two, so we’ll begin with him. In 2010, JJ racked up 1422 all purpose yards (16th all time for BYU in a single season), including 917 rushing yards and a 5.2 yards per carry average. He also led all Cougars in receptions with 45. While Diluigi is a good running back and put up some great numbers last year, I expect a noticeable to significant drop in his playing time this year.
There are two main reasons why JJ put up such impressive numbers last year:
1) Because he was good.
2) Because those around him weren’t (at the beginning of the season anyways).
During the first half of the 2010 season, the BYU receivers seemed to have forgotten how to catch a football. JJ was not prone to such memory lapses, so he was targeted frequently. Also, the Cougar QBs in the first half of the year either had a weak arm (Riley Nelson), or were an untested true freshman (Jake Heaps). In either case, it means a lot more throws to the RB because they are short, easy, high percentage throws. As the season went on, both the receivers and QB got better. As a result, JJ was thrown the ball less and less. In the first seven games, JJ averaged 4.6 receptions and 46 yards per game. In the last six games, he averaged 2.2 catches per game and 20.2 yards.
We also saw a similar drop in the frequency with which Diluigi was called upon to run the ball. In the first seven games he received 51 percent of the handoffs. That number dropped to 31 percent during the final six games. His carries dropped not because JJ wasn’t performing well, but because his fellow RBs, particularly Quezada, were improving. At the beginning of the year Quezada hardly saw the field. He didn’t get his first carry until the third game of the season. In two of the last three games of the season he ran for over 100 yards. Diluigi’s carries will probably go down even further when Drew Phillips takes away the majority of the sweeps and other plays requiring greater speed and open field running.
JJ Diluigi is a good all around back. He can run between the tackles. He is quick and pretty good in the open field. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. The problem (for him anyways) is that BYU has other backs who can do most of those things as good as or better than he can.
Starting Tailback #2: Brian Kariya, 6'0", 218 lbs, Sr.
I was very impressed with Brian Kariya last year. He is not particularly big. He has never impressed me with his speed or strength. Yet somehow he ended up being a very effective back last year, and not just in short yardage situations. His 3.9 yards per carry may not blow anybody away, but how often were those carries short yardage situations? If it was 3rd and short, almost every single time the ball ended up in Kariya’s hands. And almost as frequently the Cougars would get another set of downs or be kicking a PAT one play later.
Kariya’s strength is not in his size, speed, or maneuverability. His best asset is his ability to hit the hole hard and quick. He picks up those difficult yards not because he is plowing over defenders or dragging them along (which he does occasionally happen), but because he gets through the hole before a defender can fill in. On top of that, he has developed into a very good pass blocker. I remember one instance when he was blocking on Heaps' right side, saw a rusher closing in on Jake from the other side, and ran and dove in front of Heaps to take the defender out.
In 2011, I expect Kariya to continue his effectiveness as a short yardage/power back, but his numbers will probably drop in carries and yards simply because the Cougars will probably be throwing the ball more.
Starting Tailback #3: Joshua Quezada, 5'11", 211 lbs, So.
As a true freshman, he ran the ball 99 times for 505 yards and 5 TDs. 49 of those carries and 281 of those yards came in the final four games. In fact, during those four games, Quezada lead all Cougar running backs in carries and yards. Expect a similar trend in 2011.
Quezada finished 2010 just as good as or better than the other two “starting” RBs. The difference is that Quezada still has untapped potential to develop—Diluigi and Kariya do not. BYU will still be using a RB by committee approach, but Quezada is no longer a junior member and could very well end up chairing the committee by the end on the 2011 season.
Quezada is probably the most complete running back in the group. He is both stronger and faster than the backs he shared time with last season. At times last year, Joshua was able to drive piles and push back would-be tacklers. Once he improves his running style we can expect to see more of this. Quezada’s top end speed is good enough that he can run the ball outside of the tackles with some effectiveness. He doesn’t have Diluigi’s quick feet, but he is faster and his strength will be enough to make him a more effective outside runner than JJ has been.
Last Year’s Backup RBs: Ryan Folsom 5'10", 194, So.; David Foote 5'11", 208 lbs, Jr.; Mike Hague 5'10", 220 lbs, Jr.
It is unlikely that we will see any more of these three in 2011 than we did in 2010, which is a shame because all three have pulled of big runs when they were on the field. Against CSU last year, Folsom reeled off a 74-yard run and Foote had a 31-yard TD run. Hague was injured for most of 2010, but as a freshman in 2006, he reeled off an 87-yard TD.
As impressive as these big plays were, all three of these running backs face an uphill battle when it comes to seeing any significant playing time. Not only do all three running backs ahead of them on last year’s depth chart return, but a couple young, talented and athletic defensive players have changed positions to compete for playing time at the running back position.
LBs transferring to RB: Michael Alisa, 6'1", 215 lbs, So.; Collin Keoshian, 6'1", 245 lbs, Fr.
Alisa is a fast, aggressive former outside linebacker who initially drew comparisons with former Cougar standouts David Nixon and Bryan Kehl (both currently with the St. Louis Rams). He also played RB in high school, but that was back in 2007. Michael may become a valuable contributor in the future, but I suspect he will need some time to get his legs back. I would not be surprised to see him use his redshirt year this season.
Keoshian redshirted last year. In high school, he played eight-man football at Santa Clarita Christian and had 44 TDs on offense. He passed for 408 yards and 5 TDs, ran for 226 yards and 32 TDs on 251 carries, and had 370 yards and 7 TDs receiving. He probably doesn’t have the speed to do much outside the tackles, but he is big, strong, aggressive, and is not unfamiliar with running with the football. In future years, I predict he may end up taking over the roles currently held by Kariya and FB Zed Mendenhall. This year, I think he will see some time as a short yardage back and lead blocker as he learns to apply himself to those positions.
The Fast Back: Drew Philips, 5'11", 168 lbs, Fr.
The Cougars haven’t had a RB this fast since Ronnie Jenkins. Phillips was timed at 4.38 in the 40 yard dash at both the Central Michigan and Alabama Summer camps, and he’s not bashful about telling you about his speed. Drew is a very competitive athlete who is constantly running his mouth, but so far he has done fairly well at backing it up. Philips has been very impressive on the scout team, and his teammates and coaches have had nothing but positive things to say about him and his performance. While on the scout team, he put a star on his cleats every time he scored a TD. I don’t know how many he finished with, but six weeks into last season, he had drawn 22 stars on his cleats.
Don’t be surprised if you see this kid joining Diluigi, Kariya, and Quezada as one of the major contributors at RB in 2011. By the end of the season, and possibly earlier, I expect him to be the go to guy for all plays that go wide and a significant portion of the passes thrown to running backs as well.
Fullback: Zed Mendenhall 5'11", 239 lbs, Jr.
Mendenhall is a pure blocking fullback. He had only one carry last year. He loves his position. While we don’t hear his name a lot, he is a big part of the reason why BYU has had such a strong rushing attack. We can expect to continue not hearing his name, yet seeing his results, in the 2011 season.
The receivers that will be competing for playing time can be grouped into three categories.
First are the big receivers: Ross Apo, Cody Hoffman, and Marcus Matthews. Each is at least 6’3" and 200lbs.
Then you have the “Slot Guys.” These are smaller, shiftier players who aren’t as likely to play outside wide because they lack the size, but they still have the speed and ability to contribute from the slot. This group mainly consists of JD Falslev, Matt Marshall, and sometimes Drew Philips.
The third group could potentially play wide or in the slot. They are all between 5’10" and 6’0" in height and have at least three years of experience. They are McKay Jacobsen, Spencer Hafoka, and Rhen Brown.
The Big Recievers: Cody Hoffman, 6'4", 205 lbs, So.; Ross Apo 6'3", 202 lbs, Fr.; Marcus Mathews, 6'5", 200 lbs, So.
As a freshman, Cody Hoffman led all receivers in receptions, yards, yards per catch, and TDs (tied). I expect significant improvement this year as he gains experience, rubs away the raw edges of his game, and continues to develop a good working relationship with QB Jake Heaps. In my opinion he is a lock for a starting wide receiver position.
Ross Apo received a ton of hype coming into the 2010 season, and rightfully so. The thing that sets Apo apart is the way he moves. He runs routes and moves like a little guy. He has the crispness and body control that is usually only seen in small receiver. Combine that with a 6’3", 202 lb frame, and you have a dangerous receiver. Another reason Apo could make a major impression this year is his prior chemistry with QB Jake Heaps. At the Stanford Nike Camp, Apo said that it kind of “freaked him out” that their chemistry was so good. Because of his natural tools and his working relationship with Heaps, I expect that Ross will be the front runner to replace Luke Ashworth for that third receiver spot.
I can’t help but feel for Marcus Matthews. At almost any other time a tall athletic receiver like him would be a major player in BYU’s offensive scheme, and be almost guaranteed starting spot. Unfortunately for Marcus, Apo and Hoffman have his size, but even better athletic ability. Matthews will not simply disappear though. He too talented and hard working for that. He did lead all TE last year with 136 receiving yards and 17 yards per catch. While I wouldn't be surprised if he took a starting spot, I expect that he will be backing up Hoffman and/or Apo and end up with around 200 yards in 2011.
The Slot Guys: JD Falslev 5'8", 175 lbs, So.; Matt Marshal 5'10", 172 lbs Sr.; Drew Philips 5'11", 168 lbs.
JD Falslev is that scrappy little guy that everyone loves to cheer for. He did an excellent job returning punts last year, averaging just over nine yards per return. In the New Mexico Bowl he took one 43 yards. He didn’t have any receptions last year, but he did have 17 yards on 3 carries from the slot back position. This year he will probably play backup to McKay Jacobson, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he took over the starting position and put up decent numbers in 2012. He probably won’t be a star, but he could put up decent numbers and become a fan favorite, similar to Nate Meikle.
The best way I can describe Matt Marshall is that he is a team player. He is a good athlete and contributes in whatever way he can. He is a special teams regular, is the place holder for FGs and PATs, and was the option QB last year for the Cougar offense after Riley Nelson went down. With Nelson healthy, I expect Matt to focus his attention on receiving. Marshall probably won’t get a lot of touches, but with his work ethic, leadership, and unselfish play, he will be a valuable member of this group
Drew Phillips will spend most of his time at RB. That is what he is listed at and probably where he will be most productive. On the other hand, Phillips’ abilities may be too much for one position. He played WR in addition to RB while on the scout team, and lining up a 4.38 guy against a safety or linebacker may (and should) be just too hard to resist.
The In-Between Guys: Mckay Jacobsen 5'11", 190 lbs, Sr.; Spencer Hafoka 6'0", 200 lbs, Sr.; Rhen Brown 5'10", 180 lbs, Jr.
Jacobsen has the speed to be a serious deep threat. As a true freshman, he had 547 yards and averaged 19.5 yards per catch. After returning from an LDS mission in 2009, he had 556 yards and averaged 24.2 yards per catch. Last year, there was a slight drop in yards and a significant drop in yards per catch. But that is easily attributed to the lack of a downfield passing game for most of the season. With an improving Heaps at the helm, I expect Jacobsen to have career highs in receptions, yards, and TDs this season.
Spencer Hafoka has had to struggle with sickness and injury through much of his career. He has always shown promise, but his playing time has been hampered by health issues. The talent BYU has at WR is to deep for him to break into a starting role, but he will be a regular in the rotation and probably enjoy career highs in most receiving categories if he can stay healthy.
Rhen Brown has the farthest to go in this group. He doesn’t have the size or speed of the other two, but he’s not too far back. The biggest issue for him is the experience and depth of the WR position. In spite of his lettering as a sophomore last year, he didn’t have a single reception. He has some impressed some fans though. I regularly hear questions regarding his lack of playing time. Expect him to see increased playing time this year as BYU’s passing game improves. He probably won’t ever start, but he definitely does have a chance to make the two deep.
Note: His older, and much bigger, brother also plays for BYU. His brother is 6'4", 330 lb offensive lineman Terrance Brown, the heaviest man on the team. Talk about different ends of the gene pool.
Starting Line Up: As mentioned before, McKay Jacobsen and Cody Hoffman will retain their starting positions. That third starting position is up for grabs. I think that the three best receivers will start. This means that if one of the slot guys steps up big, Jacobsen will play out wide. If Apo, Matthews, or Hafoka win the third starting position, McKay will slide down to the slot. My best guess is that the latter. I expect Ross Apo to tie up that final spot.
It could get ugly for opposing defenses with that kind of athleticism at WR combined with Heaps' arm.
Last year as individuals and as a group, the TEs were very disappointing in their performance. Five different freshman started and saw significant playing time at various times during the season. No single TE had more than 11 receptions and 136 yards. The 5 combined for 34 catches, 445 yards, and 0 TDs. In 2009 the TEs had 92 receptions for 1237 yards and 13 TDs. In 2008 they had 106 receptions for 1302 yards and 12 TDs.
While I don’t expect this year’s group to put up those types of numbers, I predict that they will come close to doubling last year’s production. Of the 5 freshman who saw time last year, one (Marcus Matthews) switched to WR and another (Mike Muehlmann) switched to DE. This leaves Devin Mahina, Austin Holt, and Richard Wilson. In addition to these three, Kaneakua Friel has returned from serving an LDS mission. All three are sophomores. Hopefully one or two will break away from the rest of the pack, but it is looking fairly even right now.
The Big TE: Austin Holt, 6'4", 245 lbs, So.
The designation of “Big” has more to do with how he plays than his size. All four TE are pretty similar in weight, the lightest being Wilson at 233Lbs. Holt was the best blocker last year. He is still very capable of catching passes, but where he distinguished himself from his fellow TE was when he wasn’t running routes.
The Fast TE: Richard Wilson, 6'2", 233 lbs, So.
While Richard is the shortest TE, he is also the fastest. In addition to his speed, he is actually very strong and has some tackle breaking abilities that could earn him significant playing time. Wilson started of the 2010 season well with 3 catches for 45 yards against Washington, but then he didn’t catch another pass until the New Mexico Bowl. He did have some ugly drops against Air Force, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something more to his lack of playing time (like a disagreement with a coach). Either way, Wilson could be poised for a big season.
The Upside TE: Devin Mahina, 6'6", 236 lbs, So.
Of all the TE on BYU’s Roster, Mahina probably has the biggest upside. He is the tallest TE on the Cougar offense by two inches, has good strength and speed, and can hit really hard. He led all TE in receptions last year with 12. His biggest issue was his rawness. As a freshman just off his mission, Devin had a lot of learning and adjusting to do. If I had to pick the most likely candidate for Starting TE, I would choose Mahina.
The New Guy: Kaneakua Friel, 6'5", 235 lbs, So.
As a freshman, Kaneakua played in eight games and started in one. He is just coming off his mission so he is a bit of an unknown. He received only limited playing time as a freshman, but he was playing behind Dennis Pitta and Andrew George. We will just have to wait and see to find out what this guy can do.
Summary: This position is still wide open. The only difference between this year and last year is that there are four sophomores competing instead of four freshmen. One of the things I like about this group is that they have different sets of talents that can be beneficial in different situations. While I expect to see a good rotation at this position, I also expect to see significant improvement as well as more defined roles.
Overall Offensive Summary
The answer to the question posed in the first paragraph is—yes. They return almost every starter and they gain several new players that will further upgrade the Cougar offense.
BYU has a QB who will garner nation attention behind a dominant offensive line that can both run and pass block very well. The Cougars return all three running backs from BYU’s best rushing effort since 2001, when BYU featured Doak Walker award winner Luke Staley and former Heisman candidate dual threat QB Brandon Doman. Plus, they get Drew Philips, who is blazingly fast and intensely competitive. The size, speed and athleticism the Cougars have at WR is possibly the best they’ve ever had. The only weak point is the TE position. Even then there is plenty of talent, just a lack of experience.
Because of the relative youth of the QB and receivers, there could be some bumps in the road at times, but for this talented group ,I don’t think that 40 pts per game is out of the question, even with their challenging schedule.