1) BYU Defensive Line
They may go down as the greatest defensive line in BYU history. They go at least two deep at all three line positions and have shut down two above-average running attacks and generated a good pass rush against two great offensive lines. Brady Poppinga, John Denney, C.J. Ah You, Daniel Marquardt and Manaia Brown all have a great shot at playing in the NFL. The scary thing is all five of those guys will be back next year and will be joined by two other great defensive linemen, Brian Soi and Michael Marquardt.
2) Depth and Speed at Linebacker
They are the fastest group of linebackers BYU has ever had. They remind me of the linebackers you would see playing at a SEC school. They fly to the ball and cover the field laterally exceptionally well. It is basically impossible to get to the edge against these guys. USC and Georgia Tech tried to go outside a number of times. Except for the last garbage touchdown with one minute to play last night, it never worked. The scary thing here is that the back ups seem to be as good and as fast as the starters. There isn't any drop off when you bring Bryant Atkinson, K.C. Bills and Lawrence Cowan in as replacements for Colby Bockwoldt, Mike Tanner and Levi Madarieta. We lose all the starters next year, but the back ups all come back along with three-year starter Paul Walkenhorst, Cameron Jensen and Daniel Van Sweden.
3) Aaron Francisco
Just as we all expected. He's good and he'll be back next year.
4) Emergence of the Kat Safeties
Jon Burbidge has been a pleasant surprise this year. He has an incredible nose for the ball. James Allen has made some nice plays and Josh Brandon caused two huge turnovers in the USC game. Burbidge and Allen both return as starting Kat backs next year.
5) Kicking Game
Matt Payne has been booting the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs more than he did last year, but still not as often as special teams coach Paul Tidwell would like. He has also grown a lot as a field goal kicker. His two 50-yard field goals yesterday would have been good from 60 yards. Since that opening miss against Georgia Tech, Payne has looked outstanding as a field goal kicker. USC fans can't believe how strong his leg is. Did I mention that he will be back next year?
6) Matt Berry
I will be the first to admit I have had some serious questions about Matt Berry's ability to lead the Cougars to a great season. In the past, I felt he didn't have "it." After yesterday performance against USC, I turned the corner with Berry. He showed me a lot by standing in the pocket and taking some vicious hits in order to complete passes downfield. I realized he had won my confidence this year when he went down with about four minutes to go. In the past, I would have thought that BYU had just as good of a chance coming back with Beck at the helm as with Berry. When Berry went down yesterday, I wanted him back in the game ASAP. He will be back to lead the Cougars next year.
7) Daniel Coats
Very rarely is a player better than the hype. Coats' is one of those rare exceptions: two games, three touchdowns, 14 catches and over 200 yards receiving. Just give him the ball and consider ourselves lucky if we get to see him at BYU for four years.
8) Reynaldo Brathwaite
Since the end of last year, BYU head coach Gary Crowton has been looking for "playmakers." He has found one in Brathwaite. Even when Marcus Whalen returns from injury, we will still see plenty of Brathwaite on the field. He has shown very good speed, great shiftiness on inside runs, and surprisingly good pass-blocking ability. He will also be back next year; as will every running back who will see meaningful minutes this year.
9) Gelling of the Offensive Line
They certainly weren't a thing of beauty against USC, but they held their own for the last three quarters. This is probably the second biggest positive I take from the USC loss (defensive line play being the first). They faced the best defensive line in the country, and neutralized that line in the second half. Freshmen Eddie Keele, Ofa Mohetau and Jake Kuresa have gained a ton of experience in these first two games that will pay off the rest of this season and down the road. This is the one unit on the team that has a lot of question marks for next year because of mission decisions that have not yet been made (Kuresa). Regardless, this unit should dominate the rest of the year.
Even without injured starter Brandon Heaney, BYU cornerbacks Jernaro Gilford and Chad Barney did a stand up job against USC, particularly Gilford. They faced the absolute best receivers they will face all year (Mike Williams and Keary Colbert) and still played a great game.
11) Gary Crowton
Gary Crowton has taken a lot of criticism from the media and fans for the debacle of 2002. I believe many of the problems of that team were beyond his control, but he was still the coach and thus deserves a fair portion of the responsibility for the bad year. However, the "genius" is officially back. In two games this year, he has out coached two former NFL head coaches, Chan Gailey (Dallas Cowboys) and Pete Carroll (New England Patriots). Crowton and his staff have prepared very well for their opponents, and they have made great adjustments during the games – e.g. those second half draw trap plays against USC! Coach Crowton, in my estimation, has made the right call in every down and distance situation he has faced this year: the fourth down calls in the Georgia Tech game; the decision to kick the field goal on 4th and 2 inside the 10 during the USC game, etc.
ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE:
Every team is going to have turnovers; that is just part of football. BYU must be more careful about turning the ball over deep in its own territory. The Cougars have done it four times in two games and it has resulted in 24 points for their opponents. Eliminating those types of turnovers would allow both the offense and the defense to get into better rhythms – which would result in more consistent and effective performances by both units.
2) Mental Penalties
BYU needs to reduce the mental penalties (delay of game, illegal shift, false start, ineligible man downfield, personal foul, unsportsmanlike conduct, celebration, etc.) from their game. I don't mind the occasional face mask, pass interference, holding, etc. Those penalties are caused by playing physical, aggressive football. It is the mental penalties that really kill a defense or kill a drive. The Bockwoldt penalty on USC quarterback Matt Leinart was an obvious one and really hurt. The good news is the problem of mental penalties can be corrected quite easily by mental awareness and discipline. You can bet Crowton and his assistants will be highlighting this again in practice.
3) The Long Ball
Matt Berry has under thrown every single go pattern he has attempted this year. Rest assured this fact will be on our opponents' scouting reports from here on out until it changes. I don't think he has ever had the strongest arm, but it seems like he still has the ability to throw it 45-55 yards, which is about the distance needed to hit the receivers in stride on their go patterns. I notice his long throws have a ton of air under them, which keeps the ball in the air longer and thus requires it to travel farther in order to hit the receiver in stride. Hopefully this problem will be corrected as Berry's injured finger heals completely.
4) Unnecessary Sacks
Sacks are going to happen when a team throws as often as BYU does. The unnecessary sacks I am referring to are the ones where Berry rolls outside of the tackle and still gets sacked. Once the quarterback gets outside of the tackle, he can throw the ball into the 20th row as long as the throw goes past the line of scrimmage. There doesn't have to be a receiver within 30 yards of the ball. In these instances when he is feeling the pass rush, he should just chuck the ball out-of-bounds downfield. This has killed drives on more than one occasion this year. Like the mental penalties, it is very easy to correct.
5) USC's Mike Williams
He is a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare. There is nothing you can do to stop him. Thank goodness we only have to see him once this year. He won't last four years at USC.
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