But when the Texas staff began talking about the 2011 Cougars (1-0), the word of the day was "physical." This is a team that pounds the ball offensively and uses the pass to get teams out of the box. They used that physical nature to outlast Ole Miss 14-13 in the season opener.
Still, this is BYU, and the quarterback gets quite a bit of publicity. All players are prone to a bit of rust in season openers, so it's probably not wise to look past Cougar quarterback Jake Heaps (6-1 200). After an outstanding freshman season, Heaps completed 24-of-38 passes for 225 yards and one touchdown to one interception, missing on some throws he typically makes. Even with that, he hit 10 different receivers at Ole Miss, and was 13-for-16 for 151 yards and a touchdown in the second half.
The problem is that defenses can't focus on stopping Heaps, or his talented wide receivers, because the Cougars actually derive a lot of their success from their running game. J.J. Di Luigi (5-9 185) is more of an elusive guy who put up 88 combined yards — 56 rushing and 32 receiving — in week one. The Cougars will also put the ball in the hands of physical runners like Bryan Kariya (6-0 217) and Josh Quezada (5-11 202). Kariya had 11 carries last week, second-best on the team. Quezada had 505 rushing yards and five touchdowns a year ago. Jed Mendenhall (5-11 245) is the blocking fullback.
The Cougars have several good players at wide receiver. Cody Hoffman (6-4 208) led the team in receiving in 2010 and had 137 yards and three touchdowns in the New Mexico Bowl. Ross Apo (6-3 206) had four catches for 46 yards and a touchdown in the opener, after sitting out last season with a broken finger. McKay Jacobson (5-11 199) started 11 games a year ago and is capable as well, as is J.D. Falslev (5-8 184). Jacobson and Falslev combined for four catches for 46 yards last week.
Tight end Austin Holt (6-5 247) caught just four passes for 40 yards last year, and was nearly at that mark after one game this year. Holt and backup Richard Wilson (6-2 232) each caught a pair of passes last week.
The Cougars have great size on the offensive line, where five of the six players who rotated through last week weigh 300 pounds or more, and four weigh 305 pounds or more. The best of the group is left tackle Matt Reynolds (6-6 305), an All-American candidate. He allowed just one sack a year ago. Left guard Houston Reynolds, Matt's brother, (6-2 296) is the only player sub-300 pounds, though Marco Thorson (6-3 305) also saw time at the position. Center Terence Brown (6-4 318) and right guard Braden Hansen (6-6 313) both earned honorable mention All-MWC honors a year ago, and right tackle Braden Brown (6-6 301), a converted tight end, started every game a year ago. Not including sacks, this group has helped its running backs gain at least 100 yards in eight of its last nine games.
Bronco Mendenhall also serves as the defensive coordinator, and — like many cases when the head coach is the coordinator — the Cougars show a lot of positives on that side of the ball. They run a 3-4, and are effective at doing it. They've held seven straight opponents to less than 100 yards rushing and have allowed an average of 260.2 total yards per game and 15.1 points per game over their last nine games — the time period since Mendenhall took over the defense.
Last week, the defense allowed just six points (two field goals) to Ole Miss, limiting the Rebels to 144 yards passing and holding Brandon Bolden, a preseason All-SEC running back, to 21 yards rushing. The Rebels rushed for 64 yards as a team.
BYU has no shortage of size on the defensive line. The five-man rotation features Romney Fuga (6-2 321), Eathyn Manumaleuna (6-2 294), Graham Rowley (6-4 280), Hebron Fangupo (6-1 331) and Simote Vea (5-11 270). That's 299.2 pounds per man, and that's before including backup nose tackle Travis Tuiloma (6-2 320) to complete the two-deep. Manumaleuna is the most experienced player with eight starts, and he had 27 tackles a year ago. Fangupo, a USC transfer, had a tackle for loss last week.
The linebacking corps is excellent. Each of the four starters had at least four tackles a week ago. SAM linebacker Jordan Pendleton (6-3 238) might be the best of the bunch. He missed seven games a year ago and still had 38 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. He had six tackles and a tackle for loss against Ole Miss. The middle duo of Uona Kaveinga (5-11 236) and Brandon Ogletree (5-11 228) combined for 11 tackles and a forced fumble. WILL linebacker Kyle Van Noy (6-3 235) had four tackles and scored the game-winning touchdown after forcing and recovering a fumble last week.
A pair of JUCO transfers — Preston Hadley (6-0 200) and Joe Sampson (5-10 203) — helped to add depth to a cornerback group that returned Corby Eason (5-8 173) from a year ago. Eason isn't afraid to tackle: he had five stops against Ole Miss and had 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks as a blitzed last year. Jordan Johnson (5-10 185) is also in the rotation.
Justin Sorensen is the kicker, while Riley Stephenson serves as the punter and backup kicker. Sorensen had one touchback last week, while Stephenson ended more than 1/3 of his kickoffs as touchbacks a year ago. Jordan Johnson and Mike Hague return kicks, while Falslev returns the punts. Falslev had a 27-yard return a week ago.
The Cougars have several tools, including a stout run defense and a physical offensive line, that could spell trouble for a Longhorn squad still trying to establish its identity physically. But a Texas win would go a long way toward preparing a young team for the physical play they'll see this year in the Big 12.