2008 BYU Preview - Offense

Posted Apr 18, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - BYU Cougar Offense

BYU Cougars

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN BYU Preview | 2008 BYU Offense
- 2008 BYU Defense | 2008 BYU Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN BYU Preview | 2006 CFN BYU Preview 

What you need to know:
The offense might not have been as explosive as its reputation, but it was good enough to lead the Mountain West in every major category except for rushing offense. There will be plenty of passing, lots of points, at least more than last year when the Cougars averaged 30 per game, and more balance. Nine starters return, and one of the losses, Manase Tonga, will be replaced by veteran Fui Vakapuna. It all starts up front as Dallas Reynolds and Ray Feinga lead a very big, very good line that'll give Mountain West Player of the Year candidate, QB Max Hall, plenty of time to work. WR Austin Collie and TE Dennis Pitta will combine for at least 100 catches again, while freshman sensation Harvey Unga is a superstar back ready for a bigger profile.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Max Hall
298-496, 3,848 yds, 26 TD, 12 INT
Rushing: Harvey Unga
244 carries, 1,227 yds, 13 TD
Receiving: Dennis Pitta
59 catches, 813 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Junior QB Max Hall
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior C Tom Sorensen
Unsung star on the rise: Junior TE Andrew George
Best pro prospect: Junior RB Fui Vakapuna
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hall, 2) OT Dallas Reynolds, 3) TE Dennis Pitta
Strength of the offense: Talent, experience, production
Weakness of the offense:
Backup quarterback experience, home run hitters


Projected Starter: There was supposed to be a quarterback controversy last year, but when Cade Cooper ended up suffering a foot injury, Max Hall stepped in and became a star. While not all that big at 6-1 and 201 pounds, and with a decent, but not special arm, the former Arizona State Sun Devil, and the nephew of former NFL star Danny White, is an accurate, effective passer who completed 60% of his throws for 3,848 yards and 26 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He only had one real clunker of a game, but that came in a win over UNLV, and he struggled against Utah before coming through when he absolutely had to. No longer a well kept secret, the junior will be on everyone's radar and could be the Mountain West player of the year.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-4, 215-pound junior Brenden Gaskins was one of the surprises of spring ball last year, but he only saw mop-up duty throwing four passes for 31 yards with an interception. It's been a long career already as he initially wanted to go to BYU, but went to Nevada after now-UCLA Bruin Ben Olson had committed to the Cougars. Then he went the JUCO route to get back to Provo, with a two-year stop in Uruguay for a church mission along the way. He has good mobility and a nice arm, but he's clearly a backup behind Hall.

Still in the hunt for the backup job is 6-2, 213-pound sophomore Kurt McEuen after a nice spring. A scout teamer so far, he showed the poise and the accuracy to make the race for the main reserve behind Hall a good one. He has a live arm and good maturity considering he hasn't seen any playing time.

Watch Out For ... McEuen. It was supposed to be a foregone conclusion that Gaskins was the No. 2 behind Hall, but McEuen changed that this spring. Now there will be a season long battle for the backup job.
Hall. While there wasn't much of a concern over the quarterback job last year, there wasn't any D-I experience to rely on, Hall settled in right away and appeared comfortable all season long. Now, after leading all sophomores in passing yardage, he could be on his way to a 4,000-yard season.
Backup experience. Gaskins and McEuen were fine this spring, but considering Hall is a Heisman candidate, there's a major drop-off from the one to the two. The coaching staff has to get the reserves into the game quicker in blowouts.
Outlook: Part system, part coaching, and part player, BYU has become quarterback central again. Hall is a tremendous passer with a consistency the offense can rely on, and enough accuracy to keep the mistakes to a minimum. He'll be allowed to bomb away even more now and he'll get to take a few more chances now that he has a year of experience to rely on. McEuen should be a capable backup if needed, while Gaskins could be a good one with a little more seasoning.
Rating: 8.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: With Manase Tonga academically ineligible, more of the workload will fall on last year's freshman sensation, Harvey Unga. After missing all of 2006 hurt, the 6-0, 221-pounder came up with a tremendous year setting the Mountain West record for a freshman with 1,227 yards and 13 touchdowns averaging five yards a crack, while also finishing third on the team with 44 catches for 655 yards and four touchdowns. He was a 100-yard machine seven games over the century mark highlighted by a brilliant two-game late season stretch against Utah and San Diego State when he ran for 302 yards and four touchdowns, but he struggled against some of the better run defenses, like UCLA's. With his combination of size and quickness, he'll be a dangerous workhorse once again.

Senior Fui Vakapuna will be in Tonga's fullback role, but he has the scary blend of top-end speed in a  6-1, 245-pound frame to do more. Hurt throughout last year with hand and ankle problems, he still finished third on the team with 252 yards and two touchdowns after achieving cult hero status two years ago because of his tough, bruising style. Now healthy, he should be in for a huge year in a 1-2 punch with Unga.

Projected Top Reserves: Clearly the third man in the mix, and unlikely to see too many carries, is 5-11, 210-pound senior Isaac Taylor, a former JUCO transfer with good speed and a little bit of promise after coming through with a good spring. 

5-8, 196-pound redshirt freshman J.J. Di Luigi missed last year with a foot injury, and now he'll try to find playing time and carries in the rotation. He was a top recruit who had several options to choose from after rushing for 2,159 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior at Canyon High School in California. Now he needs a little work.

Watch Out For ... Vakapuna to build on what he did in 2006. Never right last year as he played through injuries, Vakapuna struggled to be the all-around back he started to blossom into. Now that he's right, he should be dominant when he comes in to spell Unga.
Size and speed. BYU backs are always interesting. They can all catch, they can all run, and they're almost always big. Vakapuna and Unga are each well over 200 pounds, with good hands and excellent speed.
A home run hitter. Even with Unga averaging five yards per carry, the Cougars only averaged a mediocre 3.8 yards per crack and didn't have  a run longer than 44 yards. There's too much speed to not have a few more big dashes.
Outlook: The loss of Tonga doesn't help but it's not as big a deal as many made it seem this off-season considering the improved health of Vakapuna. Unga is a special back who cranks out yards in chunks, especially when teams are focusing on the passing game, and he's also a fantastic receiver. As long as the two main guys are healthy, no one else will get any work.


Projected Starters: The Cougars needed a number one receiver to emerge last year, and they got one as now-junior Austin Collie caught 56 passes for 946 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 16.9 yards per grab, as he showed little rust after missing two years on a church mission. He's 6-2, 206 pounds, and grew into a tremendously consistent playmaker over the second half of the season cranking out over 100 yards in five of the final six games. He has excellent hands at the inside Z position.

Working on the outside is 6-1, 202-pound senior Michael Reed after finishing fourth on the team with 41 catches, 449 yards, and four touchdowns. While he's not necessarily a blazer, he's consistent and is always good for three catches a game. He had one monster performance against Tulsa catching eight passes for 132 yards and a touchdown, but failed to do much exploding the rest of the way.

While Collie might be the top wide receiver, tight end Dennis Pitta is the No. 1 overall target after leading the team with 59 catches for 813 yards and five touchdowns as a great replacement for All-American Jonny Harline. The 6-5, 250-pound junior has great hands, who got bigger over the past year, is a fantastic route runner, and is tremendously consistent. An older player, like many of the Cougars who spend two yards on a church mission, he doesn't make mistakes.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Luke Ashworth is back from a church mission and will be one of the main backups behind Collie at the inside Z. He caught six passes for 90 yards in 2005 and was a good special teamer. He has the talent to blossom into a star if he gets more work.

5-9, 185-pound sophomore Tyler Kozlowski, son of former Cougar and Chicago Bear, Glen Kozlowski, redshirted last season but now will combine with senior Reed White for the third slot in three wide sets. 5-10, 198-pound White is the son of former Dallas Cowboy, Danny White, and spent most of last year on special teams making three tackles. Both are smallish, quick options who'll make things happen in the middle of the field.

Pitta is the unquestioned starter at tight end, but junior Andrew George will see a little time after catching 17 passes for 200 yards averaging 11.8 yards per catch. The 6-5, 246-pounder has the talent to be an all-star, but he isn't going to see enough passes his way. His combination of route running ability and good hands to be used more often in two tight end sets.

Watch Out For ... everyone to get a turn. Max Hall is good at spreading the ball around, and now that he knows what he's doing, he should be even more effective with his veteran receiving corps to work with. Everyone will get some work.
Consistency. It's not just that several receivers are returning, it's that they all produce. Pitta and Collie are the unquestioned main men, but it's not like everyone else in the mix will be ignored. If you're a regular BYU receiver, you catch at least two passes a game.
A blazing deep threat. There's good speed all across the board, but this isn't exactly a home-run hitting bunch. Collie comes close and will hover around 17 yards per catch again, but he's not a field stretcher as much as he is a solid catch-and-run target.
Outlook: Throw RB Harvey Unga into the mix, and BYU gets back its top four receivers from last year. Pitta and Collie form a tremendous 1-2 punch and Reed is a nice veteran to count on for three big catches a game, every game. Now the backups have to start getting more involved, and they have the discipline and route running ability to do it. George is an excellent tight end who should see far more work even with Pitta getting his normal grabs.
Rating: 7

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The line is loaded with veterans and plenty of talent. The stars of the show are on the left side as longtime veteran Dallas Reynolds will once again be an all-star at tackle while senior Ray Feinga has turned into something special at guard.

The 6-5, 332-pound Reynolds missed time early last off-season with a shoulder injury, but he quickly returned to become earn first-team All-Mountain West honors and should be on several All-America lists. He's a crushing run blocker and has turned into a phenomenal pass protector; he didn't give up a sack in Mountain West play. A top producer from day one, with 37 career starts, he's the anchor the line works around.

The 6-5, 332-pound Feinga was a superstar recruit and a great get for the program in 2004, but he didn't live up to the hype. He was good, but not special. Last year he changed and became a dominant run blocker and was more consistent overall. Most importantly for this offense, he was fantastic in pass protection failing to allow a sack all year.

The one replacement on the front line is at center, where 6-5, 306-pound junior Tom Sorensen is ready to step in for Sete Aulia and provide a big blocker. The former Vanderbilt Commodore was out of the mix when he transferred after suffering a knee injury, but he has starts under his belt from back in his SEC days and he saw a little time last year. He should be more than fine.

6-8, 330-pound senior David Oswald is back at right tackle after coming up with a decent year. While he's a good run blocker, he struggled with his consistency in pass protection and will have to fight to keep his job.

6-5, 329-pound senior Travis Bright is one of the team's strongest players and one of the most interesting combinations of talents. He
broke his leg in the bowl game and was rehabbing all off-season, but he's expected to be ready for the start of the season and could be an All-Mountain West star if he builds on what he did last year. He's a tough, strong-blocking guard who can pound away and get the hard yards.

Projected Top Reserves: Until Bright gets healthy, it could be up to redshirt freshman Matt Reynolds, who's back after a church mission, to play a big role. The brother of left tackle, Dallas, will start out the year playing behind Feinga on the right side, but could see more work on the left side. He's 6-6, 315 pounds and very, very promising. He was the Utah High School Player of the Year in 2005 and a superstar recruit. He could've gone almost anywhere.

One of the team's most versatile backups is 6-5, 312-pound junior R.J. Willing, who'll start out at center behind Sorensen but could play anywhere. He started in nine games in 2004 and was a star prospect in 2003, but he hasn't been able to crack the starting lineup again. He's a great backup who'll see starting time before the end of the year.

The only question about 6-3, 286-pound sophomore Garrett Reden is his health. One of the most athletic tackles in the rotation, he saw a little bit of work last year but suffered a leg injury that knocked him out halfway through the year. He's a good talent who can move, and when he gets the leg back to 100%, he'll push Oswald on the right side.

Watch Out For ... Matt Reynolds and R.J. Willing. They're going to have a hard time finding starting time on a veteran line that was so good last year, but it's asking a lot for the starting five to be healthy all season long. Reynolds and Willing will be starters at some point this year.
Pass protection. The line allowed 32 sacks in close to 500 pass attempts. While that's not phenomenal, it was good considering Max Hall needed a little bit of time to learn on the fly. With all the talent returning, especially on the left side, it'll be tough to get to the BYU QBs.
Playing up to the size. This is a good run blocking unit, but it wasn't an elite one last season. That could change considering all the returning experience, and for a lint that averages around 320 pounds per man, it has to impose its will for the running game, every game.
Outlook: Three starters are back with Reynolds and Feinga forming one of the better left sides in America, and a fourth starter, the injured Bright, should be back at guard. There's promise among the reserves, there's talent all across the starting five, and there should be plenty of production from the league's best line.
Rating: 8