Riley Nelson ran the ball 20 times opposed to just 19 pass attempts, of which he only managed to complete eight. While Nelson's running was effective in the first half, Air Force stacked the box a bit more during the second half, which helped lead to one of the more futile offensive performances Cougar fans have seen for quite a while.
Jake Heaps didn't fare much better with 2-of-6 passing, although it can well be argued that coaches didn't give him much of a chance given his limited work. Heaps made a bad read leading to an interception and was pulled, never to come back for the rest of the game.
It's still unclear as to why coaches didn't play Heaps in the second half, but we'll certainly be looking for those answers this coming week. It makes the most sense to assume that coaches are giving Nelson his own rope to see if he can become their primary quarterback while saving Heaps for the stretch if need be.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall mentioned that the management of the quarterbacks was entirely handled by Robert Anae and Brandon Doman, so we'll be as anxious as everyone else for an explanation. It seemed to make a lot of sense to play Heaps more than Nelson in a catch-up role in the fourth quarter, as a hurry-up scenario isn't something that plays to Nelson's strengths.
Running Backs: C-
J.J. Di Luigi did account for some big runs but had problems securing the football, which is unacceptable. Bryan Kariya had a very quiet game, and overall it was an average performance at best by the Cougar running backs.
Wide Receivers: C-
Where are they? Granted, having Nelson as the primary quarterback doesn't help their cause in making plays, but we again saw uninspired play from the wideouts and enough dropped passes to give them a low grade for the second week in a row.
The rhythm of the passing game is clearly being affected by the lack of a clear starter, and it's playing on the effectiveness of the wideout group that looked promising coming out of fall practice. McKay Jacobson needs to be a focal point of this offense and there simply isn't enough being done to get him the football on a consistent basis.
Tight Ends: D
An early drop by Richard Wilson and another dropped pass by Marcus Mathews underscored the performance of the tight ends as a group. BYU has been able to make good use of their tight ends against Air Force in prior years, but that certainly wasn't the case Saturday.
Offensive Line: C
The procedure penalties were very curious given the collective experience of this group. The run-blocking was a bit improved, but the pass-blocking left a lot to be desired. One has to wonder if the lack of a clear starting quarterback is affecting the rhythm of this group like it is with the receivers, as they're running a different offense depending on what quarterback is in the game.
Defensive Line: D
The defensive ends were not getting off their blocks effectively throughout the game, leading to containment issues that one simply can't have against Air Force. It was the first time Vic So'oto and Eathyn Manumaleuna saw starting reps at the end positions against the Air Force attack, and it showed although So'oto did contribute an impressive 11 tackles.
The interior wasn't strong either, as Air Force was able to get big yards up the middle with the fullback dive or with a straight-ahead or off-tackle run from the tailback. The defensive line should still prove to be a good group overall, but they clearly weren't prepared to play against Air Force's unique blocking package.
Air Force was able to exploit the weak side of the defense way too often, as Jameson Frazier fought contain issues throughout the game. They fared a bit better when Air Force ran it toward Jordan Pendleton and the strong side, but BYU's lack of contain overall was the primary reason for an overall weak defensive performance.
The inside linebackers simply didn't make enough plays, which can be explained partially by the defensive line not taking up enough blocks.
Andrew Rich raises this grade significantly, as he looked to be one of the only defenders who looked prepared to play on Saturday. After having a promising performance against Washington, Steven Thomas had a game he'll want to forget about.
There were some good pass deflections, as Corby Eason again proved to play very well when subbing in for Brandon Bradley. They were beat a few times in coverage, but the tackling was good as a group when they were able to show on running plays.
Special Teams: D
No advantage was gained with the special teams play Saturday, as Riley Stephenson had an awful punting performance in the second half. Consistency is a problem with Stephenson, and he'll hopefully work to improve that in the coming weeks.
The team wasn't prepared to play against Air Force for whatever reason. We know the scheme was sound coming in, but the execution of that scheme left a lot to be desired, as players were clearly not ready to play on the defensive side of the football.
Offensively, I touched on the handling of the quarterbacks and we'll await explanations from Coach Anae or from Coach Doman here soon. The play-calling offensively worked to Nelson's strengths, but one has to wonder if Nelson is the best quarterback to have in there during the fourth quarter when the team is down by three touchdowns.
Overall, I obviously overestimated the ability of coaches to get a very young front seven ready for Air Force early in the season. This should be a very good group for most of the year, but they got it handed to them Saturday in nearly all facets of the game.