Know your foe: BYU

Every week HornsDigest will talk with a beat reporter covering Texas’ current opponent to bring you some knowledgeable insight about what to expect on gameday.

This week we spoke with Jake Hatch of to get his thoughts on BYU as it looks to make it back-to-back victories over the Longhorns.

HD: Does BYU respect Texas after it beat the Longhorns like it did last season & with UT going into this game without David Ash and center Dominic Espinosa?

Hatch: “I believe if you ask the BYU football team, they will tell you it’s going to be an uphill climb to defeat the Longhorns but that they are excited for the challenge. BYU fans, on the other hand, have become quite bullish on BYU’s chances after the news of Ash & Espinosa’s injuries were announced. It’s unfortunate to see a experienced quarterback like Ash and a 40 game starter at center in Espinosa go down with injuries but BYU coaches, players, and fans alike expect Tyrone Swoopes and Jake Raulerson to step in and play well.”

HD: What did last year's drubbing of the Longhorns do for the Cougars, not just last season, but also as a whole moving forward as a program?

Hatch: “I believe that win gave BYU a sense that they can, in fact, hang with premier P5 programs like Texas. A lot has been written and said about BYU’s place in the college football landscape over the last few years but BYU understands the best way to ensure their place in that landscape is to schedule high profile opponents like Texas and win those games. Many BYU fans dream of seeing BYU in the Big-12 conference and feel like last season’s win is evidence that BYU can compete at that level. Saturday’s contest should go a long way in either confirming or dispelling BYU fans notions on the matter.”

HD: Charlie Strong said Taysom Hill has Heisman potential written all over him. He torched Texas for 259 yards rushing and three rushing TDs last year to go along with 129 yard through the air. How much has he improved and do you expect to see Hill try and do most of his damage on the ground again?

Hatch: “Taysom Hill spent his offseason working on refining his throwing mechanics. His rush game didn’t need much work and you saw his results against UConn. He passed for 308 yards with a 77.8% completion percentage, which was light years better than his season opener against Virginia in 2013 when he completed fewer than 50% of his passes. Understanding that the talent gap between UConn and Texas is miles wide, Taysom should find the going tougher on Saturday. The good news or bad news, depending on who you ask, is that it is apparent Hill has refined his arm and that makes him even more of a threat to opposing defenses. I’d expect that BYU will look to use Hill’s arm more on Saturday and protect him from unnecessary shots rushing the ball but he will scramble a fair amount as well.”

HD: For as good as Hill was against Texas last season, Jamaal Williams rushed for 183 yards on 30 carries. He's back from his 1-game suspension. How much of a boost will this give BYU's offense and how do you think it will change from what the Cougars tried to do against UConn?

Hatch: “Williams has been chomping at the bit to play. He’s a competitor who doesn’t like sitting out. You’ll see Williams as BYU’s featured back on Saturday. He’s bulked up in the offseason to handle a bigger workload after getting worn down late in the season last year. He’s excited for the big stage that is DKR-Memorial Stadium and Texas fans should expect to see a steady dose of Jamaal Williams Saturday night. Williams is a do-everything running back for BYU and the offense is more dynamic with him in the backfield.”

HD: What's the strength of this defense and who are the names to know?

Hatch: “BYU lost a lot of star power from their defense last season when Kyle Van Noy, Uani ‘Unga, Daniel Sorensen, and Eathyn Manumaleuna graduated but the players that have replaced them have stepped up. The strength of this year’s BYU defense looks to be the secondary. BYU started a sophomore in Michael Davis and redshirt freshman in Jordan Preator at cornerback against UConn when starting cornerbacks Jordan Johnson and Robertson Daniel were suspended, and both performed to rave reviews. Johnson and Daniel return this week from suspension and the added depth will pay dividends. The safety positions are stacked with seniors Craig Bills and Skye PoVey manning the free safety position with Nebraska Graduate Transfer Harvey Jackson, Dallin Leavitt, and Kai Nacua manning the KAT (Strong) safety position. Other names to keep an eye on this Saturday on defense for BYU will include outside linebackers Bronson Kaufusi and Alani Fua, nose tackle Travis Tuiloma, free safety Craig Bills, and inside linebacker Zac Stout.”

HD: Tejan Koroma is a true freshman from Allen, Texas who got the start at center against BYU. How did he play and what do you expect from him and this offensive line going up against this Texas defensive front that could be as good as any in the Big 12?

Hatch: “Koroma rocketed up the depth chart throughout fall camp after arriving on BYU’s campus in July. Already one of the strongest linemen on BYU’s squad, Koroma performed admirably against UConn in his debut as a true freshman. He’ll join tackles Ului Lapuaho and De’Ondre Wesley in leading an improved BYU offensive line against Texas on Saturday. The offensive line has been the scapegoat for much of BYU’s offensive failings the past few seasons and they took that criticism personally. They aren’t perfect, and the Texas defensive front will probably present the stiffest challenge on the 2014 schedule, but they are eager to get on the field and go to work.”

HD: We all know about Hill and Williams but what position group or what player would you say the Longhorns need to know before kickoff?

Hatch: “The position group that the Longhorns will need to get to know is the BYU wide receivers. Cody Hoffman graduated last year after setting every BYU receiving record but BYU coaches realized they didn’t have much in terms of depth at the position. They targeted it in recruiting and newcomers Jordan Leslie (UTEP Graduate Transfer), Keanu Nelson (Stanford Graduate Transfer), Devon Blackmon (JC Transfer from Riverside Community College), Mitchell Juergens (prepped at Langham Creek HS in Houston, TX), and Trey Dye (prepped at Abilene Christian HS in Abilene, TX) join returning contributors in Mitch Mathews, Ross Apo, Terenn Houk, and Kurt Henderson to give BYU more depth and talent at the receiver position.”

HD: If there was one thing that BYU didn't do well against UConn it was self-inflicted mistakes by way of 15 penalties for 150 yards. What was with that and what have the Cougars said about trying to correct that for this week's game?

Hatch: “Bronco Mendenhall acknowledged that there were too many penalties against UConn and said it slowed the Cougars down and hirt his team at times. He did add that he felt the penalties were the result of players making an extra effort to make a play rather than mental errors. He said he’d rather have to pull guys back instead of encouraging them to give that extra effort. Mendenhall said he expects a cleaner game this week but I don’t expect BYU to clean up their penalty issues all at once.”

HD: If I'm not mistaken Williams wasn't the only one suspended against UConn. Who all will BYU return this game and who could make an immediate impact?

Hatch: “Five BYU players were suspended against UConn in total. They were Jamaal Williams, Devon Blackmon, Marques Johnson, Robertson Daniel, and Jordan Johnson. Jamaal Williams is back atop the depth chart this week at running back and should be primed for a big role against Texas. JC transfer Devon Blackmon will be making his debut for BYU against Texas. He’s a one-time Oregon signee with speed to burn but it remains to be seen how he’ll perform on the big stage. Nose tackle Marques Johnson was the second strong nose tackle for BYU in 2013 and figured to be the starter in 2014 but lost his starting position to Travis Tuiloma. I’d expect to see Johnson on the field in a reserve role for BYU against Texas. Cornerbacks Robertson Daniel and Jordan Johnson are experienced seniors who BYU will look to help contain Texas’ wide receiving corps on Saturday. All 5 guys are talented players and BYU will definitely need all hands on deck against the Longhorns.”

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