2011 BYU Preview – Offense
BYU RB J.J. Di Luigi
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - BYU Cougar Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The offense had to undergo a rebuilding project last year with the idea of taking a step back for the promise of a giant leap forward, but changes were still made with Brandon Doman taking over the offensive coordinator job this offseason. Halfway through the year, super-recruit QB Jake Heaps started to settle in, the ground game got better, and the production started to come. It also helped that the schedule got a lot easier. Now Heaps is the main man, and he has a good group of skill players to work with led by J.J. Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya in the backfield, and with Cody Hoffman a rising star at one receiver spot. The biggest plus should be a talented, veteran line led by all-star left tackle Matt Reynolds and with four starters back. The production might not be like the BYU days of old, but it'll be close.
Passing: Jake Heaps
219-383, 2,316 yds, 15 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: J.J. Di Luigi
178 carries, 917 yds, 8 TD
Receiving: J.J. Di Luigi
45 catches, 443 yds, 1 TD
Star of the offense: Senior OT Matt Reynolds
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior OG Walter Kahaiali'i
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Cody Hoffman
Best pro prospect: Reynolds
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Reynolds, 2) QB Jake Heaps, 3) OT Braden Brown
Strength of the offense: Line, Experience
Weakness of the offense: Right Guard, Consistency Against Good Teams
The BYU passing game wasn't exactly the BYU passing game … at least for the first part of the season. The Cougars averaged a mediocre 198 yards per game, finished 99th in the nation in passing efficiency, and sputtered and coughed too much with 11 picks and not enough big plays. That started to change with a little bit of time, and now the situation is tremendous. State of the Unit:
After throwing for 3,191 yards and 45 touchdowns in his senior year of high school, sophomore Jake Heaps was almost everyone's top-ranked recruit, wanted by everyone, but he had locked in to BYU early enough that it was almost a foregone conclusion that he'd be the starter at some point as a true freshman. While he's not a sure-thing NFL type at just 6-1 and 194 pounds and without a cannon arm, he gets rid of the ball in a hurry and is a deadly-quick decision maker with good short-to-midrange accuracy. He sputtered out of the gate with just one touchdown pass and seven picks over the first seven games, and then things started to click throwing for 200 yards or more in each of the last five games. It helped that he got to light up UNLV, Colorado State, and New Mexico, but he showed his chops with a strong 228-yard game against Utah and destroyed UTEP in the bowl win throwing for 264 yards and four scores. After completing 57% of his passes for 2,316 yards and 15 touchdowns with nine picks, he's poised and ready to double his yards and scores; he's that good to do it.
Former Utah State quarterback Riley Nelson wasn't going to hand the job over to heaps right away. The 6-0, 201-pound junior is more mobile and more of a runner than Nelson, and he showed early on that he could throw a little bit completing half his passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns with a pick before getting knocked out for the year with a shoulder injury. The 2005 Utah Mr. Football threw for a state record 79 touchdown passes and 4,041 passing yards, and after spending a few years on an LDS mission in Spain, he has had an interesting career without actually doing much on the field. He's mature enough to handle being the No. 2 man behind the franchise without making a peep.
6-5, 254-pound sophomore Jason Munns was wanted by USC back when it was USC, Nebraska, Oregon, and other big stars, and he was supposed to be a part of the quarterback mix early on in his career before suffering a knee injury. Big, and he got a lot bigger, he has the size and he has the arm, but he has to battle with junior James Lark to be in the hunt for backup time. The 6-2, 202-pound Lark has decent size and a nice arm, but he's still rusty having not thrown a live pass in five years before stepping in and completing 2-of-3 passes for 37 yards and a pick in his limited time last season. After throwing for 6,739 career yards with a Utah high school record 79 touchdowns, he redshirted his first year at BYU and then went on a church mission. Mobile, he has the skills to be a dangerous dual-threat playmaker.
Watch Out For … Heaps to take his game to another level. There's a reason that everyone from LSU to Washington wanted him last year, and he's about to show why. He was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman and struggled at times, but things started to click late in the season and he's about to blow up.
Strength: Options. Not only is Heaps 2010's No. 1 recruit in the nation, but Nelson is a baller who can step in and play without a problem and Munns and Lark are players. Stockpiling players, the Cougars signing on more talent in Alex Kursa and McCoy Hill, but everyone will have to wait in line behind Heaps.
Weakness: Sure thing production against the top teams. Yeah, Heaps lit up UTEP and New Mexico, and he wasn't bad against Utah, but the passing game was a disaster against TCU, was embarrassing against Florida State, and went for 88 yards against Air Force. Things will be better, but mostly, the air attack worked against the mediocre.
Outlook: The BYU passing game was hardly the unstoppable machine Cougar fans were used to, but it showed signs of life. Now the quarterbacks will be stronger and better with veteran options to play around with, and a tremendous prospect in Heaps about to become special.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The ground game wasn't explosive and wasn't always consistent, but it got the job done finishing 42nd in the nation finishing with 2,185 yards and 23 touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. And now all the parts are back with the three leading rushers returning. There will be a great rotation with power, quickness, and enough options to keep everyone fresh. State of the Unit:
There was a panic when Harvey Unga got booted off the team, but senior J.J. Di Luigi stepped up and produced leading the team with 917 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and he led the team with 45 catches for 443 yards and a score. He only hit the 100-yard mark twice, rolling for 103 yards against Air Force and 134 yards against San Diego State, but he was good whenever he had the ball in his hands. A top recruit who could've gone anywhere on the West Coast, he's quick, has great hands, and should be great with a slightly decreased workload. He doesn't need to do it all, and at 5-9 and 190 pounds, he's not built to take a beating.
BYU doesn't necessarily use a true fullback, but it does like to use a second back to bring more power to the mix. That's here senior Bryan Kariya comes in. The 6-0, 218-pounder finished second on the team with 537 yards with six scores, and while he only averaged 3.9 yards per try, he was effective over the second half of the season getting the ball more than ten times a game on a regular basis. With good hands, he caught 21 passes for 122 yards on short-range plays. He'll combine forces with junior Zed Mendenhall, a 5-11, 239-pound junior who earned academic all-star honors, but he hasn't done much on the field so far with just one carry for a one-yard score against Colorado State, and he caught five passes for 34 yards.
While Di Luigi is going to be the main tailback for the ground game, Joshua Quezada can carry the load when needed. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry with 505 yards and five scores, highlighted by a 107-yard day against New Mexico and with 101 yards and a score against UTEP in two of the final three games. At 5-11 and 211 pounds, the sophomore has decent size and good power, and while he's not a home run hitter, he has a quick burst.
Watch Out For … Less work, more effectiveness. The offense should be more explosive, but the focus of the offense will be more and more on Jake Heaps and the passing game. That's not to say that the running game will be ignored, but it won't have to carry things as much as it did last year when the runners had to pick up the slack.
Strength: Veteran rotation. Di Luigi, Kariya, and Quezada can all play, and between the three they can each run it ten times a game, and come up with a few catches, and everyone can stay fresh.
Weakness: Good run defenses. Yeah, BYU's backs blew up against Wyoming, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV, and UTEP, but it was held to 56 yards against TCU, 65 yards against Utah, and didn't rumble against most of the good run defenses. However, outside of the Air Force loss, the team was great when the running game worked.
Outlook: All of a sudden, the offense figured it out on the ground and the success team-wise started to come. With a strong offensive line paving the way and an improved passing game, the veteran stable of running backs should be terrific. Be disappointed if the ground game doesn't regularly hover around 200 yards per game.
Unit Rating: 7.5
As quarterback Jake Heaps started to improve, so did the receiving corps as the key players started to perk up. RB J.J. Di Luigi led the team in receptions, but the next two top targets are back and there's nice-looking depth that's about to play more of a factor. State of the Unit:
Senior McKay Jacobson was supposed to be the No. 1 target after a banged up sophomore season, but only managed a decent, but not terrific, 37 catches for 410 yards and just one score. Steady, with a few decent games here and there, the 5-11, 190-pounder hasn't been the blow-up deep threat who was supposed to take over and shine in place of Austin Collie, but he has to finally stay healthy after having hamstring problems early in his career, and he has be more of a deep threat.
At 6-4 and 205 pounds, sophomore Cody Hoffman has excellent size and enough speed to be a dangerous kickoff returner, averaging 27.1 yards per try. The team's leading returning wide receiver, he caught 42 passes for 527 yards and seven scores, exploding in the bowl win over UTEP catching eight passes for 137 yards and seven touchdowns. A matchup nightmare, he benefitted the most from the improvement at quarterback, and now he has the look of a No. 1 target who could be a threat for a blow up campaign.
6-3, 202-pound redshirt freshman Ross Apo was a nice recruit with tremendous quickness, and now he's about to become a major factor working in a rotation with Jacobson. He was going to be in the mix as a true freshman, but he suffered a dislocated finger and was out for the year. Also in the battle for playing time will be 6-0, 200-pound senior Spencer Hafoka, who only made five catches for 40 yards and catching 16 passes with a score as a sophomore. A good deep threat with great raw speed and the quickness to be a punt returner, the former Hawaii high school track star has to finally make an impact.
The tight end situation fell off the map after losing Dennis Pitta and Andrew George, and now it's up to sophomore Devin Mahina to be more involved. A spot starter, he caught 11 passes for 118 yards, but he has the 6-6, 236-pound size and the midrange speed to do more. Mature after spending two years on a church mission, he could become a matchup problem with a bit more time. 6-5, 200-pound sophomore Marcus Mathews will be more like a big wide receiver than a true tight end, catching eight passes for 136 yards and averaging 17 yards per grab, while 6-4, 245-pound sophomore Austin Holt is a dangerous all-around prospect who caught four passes for 40 yards.
Watch Out For … More from the tight ends. When the BYU offense is really humming, the tight ends are rolling as the main pass catchers. Mahina, Mathews, and Holt can all stretch the field and they can all catch, and they should be more involved as Jake Heaps keeps getting better.
Strength: Size. Hoffman, Jacobson, and Apo all have good size and they can all run. The BYU receivers are rarely wispy, and while this group isn't huge, they have the bulk to be physical and the speed to make big plays.
Weakness: A sure-thing deep threat. The passing game only averaged a mere 10.6 yards per catch, and the only truly big plays came on a 62-yard score from Luke Ashworth, who's not in the equation now, and a 48-yarder from RB J.J. Di Luigi.
Outlook: The receiving corps was decent last year, but it didn't do much when the quarterback were struggling. Now the veterans should be better and should be more dangerous. Hoffman has the look of a player, and Jacobson has the skills to start doing far more if he can stay healthy. If the tight ends can start to be more involved, the results should be terrific.
Unit Rating: 7
The offensive front went through a bit of an adjustment period, and it wasn't the rock it's been in recent years, but it showed good potential and now should be something special. The pass protection wasn't as good as it should've been, but that's partly because the quarterbacks were indecisive and held on to the ball too long. Now the front five has the talent to dominate. State of the Unit:
Everything starts with left tackle Matt Reynolds, who has been around so long that it only seems like he started his career protecting Steve Young and Jim McMahon. The 6-6, 322-pound senior is a two-time All-Mountain West talent who could've gone pro early, but he's back as the rock and the anchor on the veteran line. One of the best offensive line prospects in school history, the former Utah Gatorade Player of the year has lived up to the hype and more. While he's a right tackle only at the next level, he's good enough to dominate against most collegiate pass rushers and is a blaster for the running game.
Back at right tackle is two-year starter Braden Brown, who earned Honorable Mention All-Mountain West recognition last season and should be an all-star caliber blocker this year. The 6-6, 300-pound junior hit the weights hard and went from being a 6-6, 250-pound tight end-type of blocker to a big, tough force once he filled out his frame. Extremely athletic, he was recruited by USC, Oregon, and others in the former Pac-10, and he's been a mainstay. This is his job for the next two years.
Next to Reynolds on the left side is Braden Hansen, a 6-6, 310-pound junior who got his two-year mission out of the way early on and came back roaring in his freshman season. He earned Honorable Mention All-Mountain West honors turning into the team's best knockdown run blocker. Now the left guard should be steady as an athletic, tough hitter.
6-4, 330-pound senior Terence Brown is more athletic than his bulk might make it seem, and he's versatile enough to move around and play anywhere needed. Smart, big, and tough, the Honorable Mention All-Mountain West center is a tough, brutish run blocker and moves well enough to be fine against the quicker interior defenders. He might not be the best player on the line, but he's among the steadiest.
The big battle will be for the open right guard spot where three players will all get their chance. 6-3, 334-pound junior Walter Kahaiali'i got a little work in as a sophomore and proved to be one of the toughest, biggest blockers for the ground game. However, he's an okay talent who doesn't move all that well, while 6-2, 308-pound sophomore Houston Reynolds, Matt's brother, got hurt before the 2009 season started before becoming a decent reserve at both guard and center. He's big, but he's athletic and good on the move. Also in the hunt is senior Marco Thorson, a smart 6-3, 327-pound mauler who saw a little time in five games.
Watch Out For … Braden Brown. The right guard situation is the biggest key to the line, but it'll be fine with three good players working the spot. The big improvement should be at right tackle where Brown should now be used to playing at the biggest size and heavier weight, and he should be most consistent in pass protection.
Strength: Experience. It's a huge plus that Reynolds is back to man the left tackle spot, but he's hardly the only good returning talent. Both Browns and Hansen are all-star caliber veterans who know what they're doing, while the right guard spot will be manned by a big, mature body.
Weakness: Proven production. With all the talent and all the size up front, there should've been more done for a ground game that couldn't seem to find its footing on a consistent basis. Yeah, the line should be great, but it has to show it week in and week out.
Outlook: The line went from mediocre in 2009, to improved in 2010, to now being potentially incredible. The reserves need a little experience for some semblance of a rotation, but the starting five, no matter how the right guard spot works out, should be something special as the season goes on.
Unit Rating: 8
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