Most of the Cougars' success came through the air with quarterback Riley Nelson completing 25 of 36 passes for 285 yards, but what was positive about Nelson's performance was the fact that he often checked off of his first receiver. There were a few missed opportunities to his outlet backs, but Nelson completed most of his passes within the 8-yard range without the use of the play action against a defense primarily stacking the box. Once BYU can establish the run in a more traditional way, that part of the offense will come to bear, adding another dimension to the offense.
Running a fast-paced offense tends to create all sorts of problems, which is why most don't do it. It's just too difficult to sustain due to the tendency of someone making a mental mistake. The fact that there was only one penalty – a false start by Braden Brown – throughout the entire time BYU ran the hurry-up offense was very positive. On top of that, the rotation of players in and out was smooth and quick, allowing the offense to run efficiently in the hurry-up mode. There were very few mental mistakes despite a few of the offensive linemen getting their first college starts.
Friel on fire
Thursday's performance by Kaneakua Friel – six catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns – was the best by a Cougar tight end since Dennis Pitta back in 2009. Washington State fans felt entering the game that Andrei Luntz was going to be the tight end to steal the show. However, it was Friel who ended up stealing the show. As anticipated over fall camp, the tight end position will be a force over the season, and Friel showed why. Once Austin Holt and Richard Wilson – who both received playing time during the game – get themselves up to expected playing capability, the tight end position will become all the more powerful.
Riddle me Ridley
When primary receiver Cody Hoffman went out during the first quarter following a thigh bruise, the passing game didn't miss a beat. Walk-on Skyler Ridley, at 6 feet 1 inch and 182 pounds, came in and picked up where Hoffman left off, pestering the WSU defensive backfield. He was tied for first with Friel with six receptions and scored his first collegiate touchdown and turned in a better performance than highly touted wide receiver Ross Apo.
While cleaner, more aggressive play up front would have been nice, especially in the run game, there were some positives in the trenches. Freshman left tackle Ryker Mathews turned in a solid performance for his starting debut. The 6-foot-6-inch, 292-pound Mathews has a ton of upside and his future will be bright.
The center position turned in a solid performance with Blair Tushaus and Houston Reynolds rotating in at the most important position on the line. Tushaus did a good job for his starting debut, identifying the defense while taking on Kalafitoni Pole, who was arguably the best WSU defensive lineman performer of the game.
Ansah received more playing time than expected and asserted himself in a very positive way. He was in no way a liability despite the wider range of defensive responsibilities that were assigned to him. Ansah has come a long way and this first game against Washington State showed just how far. We can expect Ansah to continue to climb towards his potential plateau as the season wears on.
It was redshirt sophomore Jordan Johnson's first college game as a starter. And, sure, Johnson was involved in a few scuffles that led to penalties, but a few of those scuffles were induced by Marquess Wilson because of frustration. While Wilson did lead all WSU receivers, Johnson kept the WSU record-setting receiver to just 61 yards and no touchdowns. Johnson even jumped a route for a 64-yard interception in what was a very impressive college debut against the most dangerous WSU receiver.
BYU was able to stifle the passing attack of Washington State and hold it to only 229 yards, and if there weren't six first downs from supposed BYU penalties, it might have been worse. One reason BYU was able to lock down WSU for the most part was due to the nickel defense that kept the speedy and talented WSU receivers in check. The flexibility of BYU's nickel package makes it difficult to read, given the versatility of a few specific players. Cougar fans have long been calling for a nickel package, and last Thursday they caught a glimpse of a very effective and versatile one.
New faces going forward
After a sizable lead, the Cougar defense saw a few new faces rotate into the game. When Remington Peck came in and recorded a sack, it was a welcomed surprise coming from a defensive lineman, especially a redshirt freshman. Peck showed very good quickness coming off the edge, and the offensive tackle couldn't get around to block him on the edge. The result was a sack for a 9-yard loss.
Middle linebacker Uani Unga, who replaced an injured Zac Stout in the two-deep, got a chance to fill in behind Uona Kaveinga later in the game. He played well and recorded three tackles (one solo) in the limited time he was given.
Freshman quarterback Taysom Hill got his feet wet, and threw a touchdown pass to Friel on his first collegiate play. Although Hill's reps were specialized more towards the run, BYU fans got a glimpse of the future at quarterback.
Jamaal Williams made a surprise entrance into the game ahead of redshirt freshman Adam Hine. What was positive to see was his aggressive style of running, confidence and grit for his college football debut. Much like what was seen Hill, BYU fans caught a glimpse of the future.