Optimism is high in Provo.
The roster might be as talented as it has ever been. Quarterback Jake Heaps is coming off a second-half of a season which showed why he was the top QB recruit two years ago.
He is complemented by a wide receiver corps with size and a stable of running backs with varying skills.
And the defense, while horrible in the first half of last season, picked up the pace in the second half and Bronco has his boys "playing at a high level."
So what should we look for on September 3 in Oxford, Mississippi when the Cougars visit Ole Miss? What will lead to a win? What things may be harbingers for a stellar upcoming season?
Let's have a look.
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Early last season the Cougars struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball. But perhaps most glaring were dozens of sustained drives that stalled just outside field goal range.
In game one, it’s vital the Cougs find ways to keep drives alive and put points on the board. Racking up yards on their own side of the field won’t cut it.
There’s no doubt Jake Heaps has all the tools to be a devastatingly good quarterback. But he is still young, and can’t be expected to do it all.
And with the stable of backs BYU boasts, it would be foolhardy not to attack with balance. In Oxford, Mississippi on September 3 expect to see a steady diet of Josh Quezada between the tackled and JJ di Luigi on the edges to open up the passing game for Heaps.
While we expect to see the backs snatch a good portion of the offensive yards, Heaps needs to have a breakout game as well. We’re not talking Detmer against Miami here. But he needs to put 200-plus yards in the stat book.
And most importantly, he needs to have a good completion percentage. Doman needs to mix it up in Week 1 and give Heaps a chance to make some easy passes to get confidence to then open up things downfield.
An Achilles heel for the better part of this decade, the Cougars showed they can overcome the speed with scheme and heart. But can they do it against elite athletes?
They played decent against the speed of TCU and certainly gave Utah all it could handle. But consistently doing so in the defensive run game is something we need to see in Game 1 against Ole miss.
Jake Heaps is very good. His backfield may be as good as any we’ve seen at BYU. But the most talent in this offensive unit might just be on the edges. Cody Hoffman, Ross Apo and McKay Jacobson all possess speed, hands and route-running skill. And two of the three are downright tall.
Watch how Heaps distributes the ball to these guys in Game 1. Can Jacobson get behind the defense and run under passes? Can the ball be tossed up on the edges to Hoffman to get? Can Apo make the Reb’s defense pay for focusing on Hoffman?
OK, so tight end might be as big a question mark as the defensive backfield. It was painful for Cougar fans to see a near absence of tight end participation in the offense most of last season.
But toward the end of the year we saw Heaps looking more and more to these guys.
Can Devin Mahina or Marcus Matthews step up against the Rebs and become the next Johnny Harline or Dennis Pitta? If a good tight end emerges in Week 1 to compliment the dynamic receiving corps, opposing defenses will have a hard time scheming.
The defense was downright awful through six games last season. The looked confuses, slow and uninspired.
That all changed in week six when Bronco Mendenhall took over. A revitalized unit surprised San Diego State, and continued to improve throughout the season.
Most believe it’s due to Bronco’s instilling in them stronger work ethic, more focus on effort and position mastery, and much better scheme. Will it hold over?
In Week 1 Cougar fans hope to see a defensive unit that because of stellar discipline flies to the ball, wins the 50/50 plays and creates serious disturbance for the opposing offense.
This is a no-brainer, but for a team that gave away its share of points in the early going last season, taking care of the football is paramount.
Jake Heaps needs to make smart decisions with the ball and not force passes against an athletic Ole’ Miss defense. The RBs and WRs must keep hands on the ball and avoid making things easy for the Rebs.
We all love Brandon Doman and think it was a great hire for the Cougars, especially in the long-term. Doman brings a quiet confidence and a “been there” relatability that’s been lacking in Provo for decades.
But he’s still an unproven play-caller. When Robert Anae called his first game against Boston College, he was conservative with the passing game to a fault, limiting QB John Beck to dink-and-dunk stuff over the middle that never led to big plays and points.
Doman needs to be smart with the playbook in Mississippi, but aggressive enough to make the Rebels pay for stacking the box or leaving linebackers in the middle.
There’s probably no bigger question mark headings into the season than those of the corners and safeties. With Brian Logan, Brandon Bradley and Andrew Rich gone after a couple stable years, there are plenty of holes to fill.
Cougar fans hope to see a rusty QB on the other side of the ball fail to make some sharp passes. With a little confidence and Luck Ole Miss may have to rely on the run game to put points on the board. Should they find these new corners easy prey, hope for a shootout.
There’s no doubt the Cougars of Weeks 6-13 had a totally different swagger than the teams of Weeks 1-6. But will that confidence roll over?
This isn’t a game against New Mexico or Wyoming. Even though Ole Miss has been a middling SEC team, they boast a ton of talent and size, and it will be important the Cougars come out with some moxy and self-confidence on both sides of the ball. This team needs to believe it can win every time it steps on the field.
Week 1 will may just tell the tale.