BYUThis certainly won't be the same team Notre Dame faced last November, as BYU will put on a new face come Saturday. First of all, their quarterbacks were really banged up last year, which certainly contributed to their offensive woes. John Beck and Matt Berry are now healthy, and much like Brady Quinn, they are a year wiser. The most notable changes to the team have been the players lost through injury and off the field issues. To offset the losses, BYU has collected a number of players from the JC ranks and then shifted players from one position to another. While the BYU faithful expect these changes to be upgrades from last year, there is no doubt that the losses will negatively affect the teams overall performance throughout the year, as depth will be a concern.
On Offense, BYU runs a short, controlled passing game (10.5 yards/reception), which sees the ball in the air 50 percent of their offensive plays. The offense is designed to create mismatches by using multiple formations, often using four and five wide receivers. The running game hasn't ever been the strength in head coach Gary Crowton's offense, and it is generally used to keep the defense off balance. After the struggles of the BYU offense over the last couple years, Crowton has taken the play calling responsibilities away from the offensive coordinator and is using a much more hands on approach. With the change, Crowton has promised that he'll stretch the field more often than in the past, but after hearing the same promises in his two years with the Chicago Bears, I'm somewhat skeptical. The Cougars also hired a new offensive line coach in the off-season. The strength of the offense is it's wide receivers and quarterbacks, while it's weakness will be it's offensive line....again. The Cougars return six players on offense who have starters playing experience. Lost from last year's team are, leading rusher Rey Brathwaite (77 yards on 14 carries vs. ND), their leading receiver and four starting offensive line. The biggest loss along the OL will be sophomore guard, Ofa Mohetau. Also lost are: Tafui Vakapuna, 2nd overall rusher (mission), number two tight end Phillip Niu (ACL surgery), wide receiver Michael Morris, JC transfer (Injury), 3rd leading rusher in Marcus Whalen.
Anticipated Starters. Returning starter = +
Both quarterbacks have starting experience, and they both can throw the ball. Beck is a little more mobile, but both are considered pocket passers. Both will need to improve their consistency to be effective. Crowton hasn't named a starter, and will likely wait until the end of the week.
Brown has good speed and is somewhat shifty. He can't carry the team on his back, but BYU won't ask him to. He's a good back for this offense. He didn't play in 2003, but had 299 yards as a true freshman...217 of those coming against Utah State. Tahi was the starting fullback last year against ND...He's considered a better blocker than runner. Can catch the ball out of the backfield. Peaua moved to fullback in the spring from the defensive line where he little, if any playing time. No playing experience at fullback.
BYU has plenty experience at the wide receiver position, as six to seven different players could see the field against the Irish. Even though Watkins is in his first year at BYU, he may be their biggest threat. Hale (#4 in rctps) and Wilkerson (#8 in rcpts) have good speed. Irish fans probably remember Austin Collie from recruiting. He's had a very good camp and will likely see they field. Freshman Harris is another speedster. A very solid wide receiver group with good speed.
Coats could cause ND problems. He is a very good athlete and has above average hands. Coats is a decent, but not great blocker.
Due to their inexperience, the offense line struggled last year to protect the quarterbacks (35 sacks). A new line coach, more new bodies, converted defensive linemen, and the loss of Mohetau and it's easy to see why this group may take some time to gel. Supposedly, they have shown the ability to run block, but since the offense is geared around the passing game, I doubt the quarterbacks will have the time to "stretch the field" as Crowton has promised. While BYU is dangerously thin along the line, depth may not be an issue in the first ballgame --inexperience likely will be.
On Defense, BYU uses what some consider a "gimmick" 3-3-5 defense. Generally, teams that are undersized and undermanned along the defensive front will use this defense, but in BYU's case they have size, depth and talent along the defensive line. The 3-3-5 is an attacking, aggressive defense and is extremely flexible. The 5th defensive back (Cougarback) is generally a linebacker/safety hybrid that can be located anywhere on the field. BYU's personnel will allow them to bring a linebacker down to the defensive line and slide a Cougarback up to the linebacker level, giving the defense a more traditional 4-3 look, or the defense will simply bring the Cougarback to the linebacker level for a 3-4 formation. With all the movement, the defense can blitz from anywhere and it attempts to confuse the offensive line's blocking schemes. The 3-3-5 relies heavily on the athleticism of the defensive line to cover any gap on his side of the line. The defense also needs an outstanding set of cornerbacks, as it tends to leave them in one-on-one coverage. Last year the defense was the strength for the Cougars and the 3-3-5 worked very well at times. On the surface, the #14 overall defensive national ranking looks great, but when you notice they gave up 33 points or more five times (two 50+ point games) last year, you need to take a closer look. When Notre Dame rushed for 204 yards last year without Dan Stevenson, you raise an eyebrow. When you see that Notre Dame had the ball for nearly 37 minutes last year, converted nearly 40 percent of their 3rd down opportunities, and was two for two on 4th downs, you turn skeptical. Offenses converted 35 percent of their 3rd downs against BYU, and the defense only created 25 turnovers. While the 3-3-5 isn't commonly run in college football, the Irish have seen the defense several times. Besides BYU, Air Force and Navy run a version of the 3-3-5. Regardless of last year results, the defense has lost all three linebackers from last year's squad...Over the summer, two of the anticipated replacements at linebacker were lost. The secondary has a star in Francisco, but it has three relatively inexperienced players added to the mix this year. BYU lost four of five, and seven of it's top ten tacklers on defense.
Anticipated Starters. Returning starter = +
This is the heart and soul of the BYU defense and they will be counted on heavily to make plays and disrupt Notre Dame's backfield. They have depth, although they needed to move their best returning lineman, Brady Poppinga, to linebacker. The front three have starting experience, and could be consider seasoned veterans. They will rotate six players regularly as all the backups have challenged for the playing time. Brown may be best of the twos, but he's been slowed by a knee injury. Denny has also missed some practice due to injury. Highly touted JC transfer, Vince Feula could see the field, but he has only been with the team for a couple weeks. The defensive line also lost potential starter, C.J. Ah You to off the field issues.
I believe they moved Poppinga to linebacker out of need. He's a very good player, but at 260 pounds, one has to wonder how he'll take to the transition. Neither Jenson nor Luettergerodt (JC Transfer. Coming off knee surgery) have experience at this level and probably wouldn't be starting except BYU lost Paul Walkenhorst and Bryant Atkinson to injury during the off-season. If the defensive line doesn't do it's job, and the Notre Dame offense gets the running game churning like it did last year, this group could be a liability later in the game due to their lack of experience and depth.
As mentioned earlier, Fancisco is a star. He led the team in tackles (116) and interceptions(three) from the Cougarback position. Burbidge has some starting experience. Heaney has very good speed, but has been injury prone (shoulder and knee). White and Soelberg have limited playing experience. BYU lost starter James Allen and Shannon Benton to off the field issues. The secondary also lost K.C. Bills to injury. What depth they do have in the defensive backfield is extremely young and inexperienced.
Matt Payne handles all the kicking duties and is considered one of the best in the nation.
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