First Look: BYU
Akin to East Carolina, Brigham Young University has a challenging first-half of its schedule so when the two teams meet in Provo, Utah it will likely be a measuring stick game for both sides. It isn’t unfamiliar territory for the Cougars. Since becoming an independent in 2011, BYU has consistently tried to challenge itself nationally by playing top competition. Games against Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA, Michigan and Connecticut stand in the way of the matchup with the Pirates. The Cougars are fresh off of a 8-5 campaign, lowlighted by a mid-season four-game losing streak and a double overtime loss to Memphis in the Miami Beach Bowl. 16 starters return from that team with an additional 13 players who have seen starting time in their collegiate career. However, no single player is more important to the Cougars’ success than senior quarterback Taysom Hill, as evident by BYU’s spiral into its four-game losing streak following his season-ending injury. Before suffering a fractured leg last year, Hill tallied 975 passing yards, 460 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns through just four games as well as cementing his spot as an early-season Heisman hopeful. He also led the Cougars to a 4-0 record and a spot in the top-25. After his injury, though, BYU finished out the year at 6-4 and limped its way into the Miami Beach Bowl. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound dual threat quarterback will be a defensive nightmare for the Pirates and defensive coordinator Rick Smith will have his hands full trying to stave off of a sure-fire Heisman candidate. Hill has a cast of surrounding offensive players assembled by 10th year head coach Bronco Mendenhall that will only make things more difficult on opposing defenses. BYU’s running back by committee, comprised of Jamaal Williams, Algernon Brown and Nate Carter, tallied a combined 1,153 yards and five touchdowns last year and provide a compliment that will keep teams honest when deciding how to defend Hill and the high-powered Cougar offense. As far as targets for Hill to go to, he has a cast of receivers that have 66 man games between them a year ago. Mitch Matthews was a leading target last season and will more than likely remain that this season. Matthews hauled in 73 receptions for 922 yards and nine touchdowns last year. The 6-foot-6 senior receiver has the size to outwork any corner and could be a matchup struggle for the smaller ECU secondary. Defensively, departures have left a gap in the BYU defense. Despite losing only five starters from last season, the Cougars lost 39 percent of its tackle production. Linebackers Zac Stout and Alani Fua headline the lost production. With 105 tackles between the two departed linebackers the Cougars have a serious hole to fill in their front seven. Free safety Skye PoVey led all Cougars last season with 78 tackles and two touchdowns. He only started seven games last season but appeared in all 13 and was a force in the defensive backfield. His graduation leaves questions to be answered. However, the Cougars still boast a number of returning defenders from last season’s 20th ranked rush defense. Senior defensive end Bronson Kaufusi has a hulking 6-foot-7, 265-pound frame and has been a sack machine since joining the Cougars. He has 15.5 career sacks and tallied seven of them a season ago. Travis Tuiloma joins Kaufusi on the defensive line and brings 12 games of experience from last season into the mix. Linebacker Manoa Pikula is the team’s returning leading tackler. He totaled 49 tackles in just eight starts last season and recorded six games with five or more tackles. BYU stands as one of the most well balanced teams in the country and will surely be one of the stiffest tests for the young Pirates. A Heisman caliber quarterback with weapons and a tough defense means ECU will have to be at its best to escape Provo with a win.
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