Inside Look: BYU

Every once in a while we get a chance to exchange information with an opponent, and the guys at Dawgman.com have a long association with Brandon Gurney, who currently works for the Deseret News but was a key part of Total Blue Sports - BYU's Scout.com site - for eight years. Here's his take on five key questions about the Cougars.

1. What was the general reaction from fans and players regarding Bronco and the progression of the program under his watch, and specifically with regard to the move to become independent?

Most fans are generally happy with Coach Mendenhall, but at the same time, they're frustrated with the perceived stagnation within the program. Mendenhall has proven to be a very consistent coach who fully embraces and enhances the unique faith-based aspects of the BYU football program. Fans know that he'll provide winning seasons, bowl win, and players that represent BYU ideals well, but are somewhat frustrated with his inability to push BYU to the next level. The team had a prime opportunity to beat quality teams such as Wisconsin and Notre Dame on the road this past November, but came up short. Fans are also extremely frustrated with losing to Utah four years in a row.

Independence should work well when you're able to schedule and beat nationally-ranked opponents and BYU has failed to do that since making the dramatic move prior to the 2011 season.
2. Characterize BYU's season. Was this season seen as a success, a failure, or somewhere in between?

Probably somewhere in between, in that BYU once again beat the teams it was supposed to, but lost big games against Utah, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. There's something to be said about a program that consistently wins and earns bowl berths, as BYU does under Coach Mendenhall, but again, it's all about taking BYU football to the next level in the minds of fans. The Cougars had a prime opportunity to that this season with top teams scheduled in November, but came up short.
3. Please talk about BYU's offense and who the main players UW fans should look out for in the bowl game.

BYU has a potentially potent attack with a good stable of skill-position players headlined by receiver Cody Hoffman and running back Jamaal Williams. Hoffman will finish his career holding most of BYU's receiving records and has been a major focal point within the offense since his sophomore season. Hoffman's strength is his extraordinary ball-skills and superior 6-foot-4 size. He's proven a solid route-runner that can go up and simply get a football as well as any receiver in the country.

Williams is just a sophomore, but a unique talent that is on pace to break most of BYU's all-time rushing records. He's the type of back that doesn't waste movement getting up field, has great instincts between the tackles and regularly gains 1-2 more yards than most backs would on most attempts, as a result.

The x-factor within BYU's offense is quarterback Taysom Hill. Hill has proven to be an electrifying runner with legitimate 4.5, and even sub 4.5 speed. Washington fans should think Jake Locker as a reference point to Hill's unique skill-set. Hill has improved dramatically in his ability to beat a defense with his arm, but still struggles a bit with consistency in that area.

BYU uses the trendy high-tempo system and it's proven generally effective throughout the year. The offensive line is the key, and it's a group that has struggled against physical fronts in recent games.
4. Same question on defense. What are the strengths and what type of defense do the Cougars run?

BYU runs a 3-4 base defense that will feature five linebackers and two downlinemen in passing situations. Mendenhall knows how to coach defense as well as anyone and consistently gets the most out of his overall talent.

The headliner is obviously outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who entered the season as one of the top play-makers nationally. Van Noy was his typical play-making self throughout the first half the season, but has been bogged down by a shoulder injury which has rendered him inconsistent with his play. The time off to prepare of the bowl game should help tremendously in this regard. When Van Noy is healthy he's simply one of the top play-making linebackers in the country.

Other top players, such as nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna, outside linebacker Spencer Hadley and Mike linebacker Uani Unga, should also benefit from the extra rest to be at their best for the bowl game. The defense has had to take more reps per game due to BYU's high-pace offense and it's taken its toll on the players in general.

The most consistent position for BYU defensively may be at safety where senior Daniel Sorensen has teamed with junior Craig Bills to form a very solid and productive middle of the defensive backfield.
5. How does the team and fanbase regard Washington, especially given their recent rum of games? How do the Cougars match up against the Huskies and what do they need to do to come away with a win?

Washington is viewed as a dangerous team with a very potent offense and a solid defense. BYU fans like playing Pac-12 opponents since they still feel their team belongs in that conference, among other reasons and are subsequently excited to see how the Cougars fare in this game.

BYU's defense is typically strong against the run, but struggled defending the rushing attacks of both Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Bishop Sankey is obviously one of the top runners in the country and could give the Cougars some serious problems. Washington presents the best set of skill-position players BYU has faced this year and the defense will be severely tested as a result. Again, a lot of it depends on how healthy players like Van Noy and Manumaleuna prove to be.

BYU's offense has struggled putting points on the board against top teams and has struggled mightily within the redzone. A lot of this can be related to inconsistent offensive line play that struggles opening holes in obvious running situations. The unit has improved over the course of the season, but will have to prove more physical in critical short-yardage and goaline situations if BYU hopes to come away with a win.

BYU always prepares well for bowl games, as evidenced by Mendenhall's 6-2 bowl record and four straight bowl wins. Washington should expect a well-prepared and motivated BYU team and I think it helps the Huskies in that Chris Peterson has already been named as Sarkisian's successor. He's obviously a well-respected coach who players will be mindful to impress in this game. I'd be surprised if this isn't a competitive game that isn't decided until the fourth quarter.


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