Today, BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL will give a grade to each position group and use them to give overall grades for the offense, defense, and special teams. The coaching staff will be graded as well.
It was an interesting year for the quarterback position. Three different players started and won at least two games. As a unit, BYU quarterbacks passed for more yards this season than last (3,214 to 3,169), completed a higher percentage of passes (59.4 to 57.3), and rushed for more touchdowns (6 to 2). Conversely, BYU quarterbacks threw three less touchdowns (25 to 28), two more interceptions (17 to 15), and had a lower pass efficiency rating (123.4 to 129.6) than a year ago. Sacks nearly doubled from 16 to 30 this year.
The biggest demerit for the quarterbacks is costly turnovers. Riley Nelson threw an interception against Utah that set up a field goal (BYU lost by 3). His pick-6 against Boise State were the only points Boise State scored in the game (BYU lost by 1). The Cougars lost a scoring opportunity when Nelson threw an interception in the red zone against Oregon State. He had another interception against the Beavers returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach. When BYU needed to score in the second half of the San Jose State game, Nelson turned the ball over three times in scoring territory. BYU lost by six points.
Taysom Hill and James Lark deserve recognition for being ready to come off the bench and win four games combined as starters filling in for an injured Nelson. Hill became the first true freshman quarterback in BYU history to win his first career start. His second career start was a win over 11-2 and nationally ranked Utah State. Lark’s first career start saw him pass for more yards than any other BYU quarterback in his first start. With the Poinsettia Bowl win, Lark has more bowl wins as a starting quarterback than Ty Detmer, Kevin Feterik, Brandon Doman, Marc Wilson, Gifford Nielsen, and Gary Sheide.
Hill was BYU’s second leading rusher with 336 yards. Nelson was the team’s fifth leading rusher with 196 yards.
Riley Nelson: 181-308 (58.5%), 2011 yards, 13 TD, 13 Int., Pass Eff. 119.10
James Lark: 73-116 (62.9%), 778 yards, 8 TD, 2 Int., Pass Eff. 138.58
Taysom Hill: 42-71 (59.2%), 425 yards, 4 TD, 2 Int., Pass Eff. 122.39
TOTALS: 296-498 (59.4%), 3214 yards, 25 TD, 17 Int. Pass Eff. 123.39
After not having a single player rush for over 100 yards in a single game all of 2011, Jamaal Williams did it three times this season. His 775 rushing yards was almost 200 yards more than last year’s leading rusher. Williams added 12 touchdowns on the ground, and as the season progressed he became more and more involved in the passing game. His 315 receiving yards were second on the team. Williams played a key role in wins over Hawaii, Georgia Tech, and Idaho.
After Williams, BYU didn’t have anybody. Michael Alisa had the next most rushing yards among running backs with 222 after his season was cut short due to a broken arm.
As a team, BYU averaged seven yards less per game rushing than last year (160.3 in 2011 to 153.2 in 2012). Of the 153.2 yards per game, quarterbacks accounted for 42.4 of them. It was the first season since 2009 that BYU has not had over 2,000 yards rushing as a team. BYU’s average yards per rush was below 4.0.
While the numbers for the unit were down, BYU had found a feature back once again. Running back by committee is not a good approach.
Jamaal Williams: 166 carries, 775 yards (4.7 ave.), 12 TD
Michael Alisa: 58 carries, 222 yards (3.8 ave.), 1 TD
David Foote: 42 carries, 198 yards (4.7 ave.)
Paul Lasike: 33 carries, 129 yards (3.9 ave.), 2 TD
JD Falslev: 18 carries, 109 yards (6.1 ave.)
Iona Pritchard: 13 carries, 39 yards (3.0 ave.)
Zed Mendenhall: 2 carries, 3 yards (1.5 ave.), 1 TD
TOTALS: 332 carries, 1,475 yards (4.4 ave.), 16 TD
Cody Hoffman had one of the best individual seasons in BYU history for a wide receiver. At times it seemed like he was the only guy catching passes for BYU, and that was true. The rest of the wide receivers had a terrible season.
After Hoffman’s team high 100 receptions, JD Falslev had the second most with 37. That disparity is way too high. Falslev averaged just 7.4 yards per reception, which highlights a weakness everyone had, including Hoffman (12.5). Ross Apo finished with a 10.0 yards per reception average. If not for a 43-yard reception at Georgia Tech and a 53-yard reception against Idaho, Apo’s yards per catch would have been 7.4 as well. Apo was the only wide receiver, not named Hoffman, with over 300 yards receiving.
Skyler Ridley was a pleasant surprise when Hoffman left the season opener early with a bruised quadriceps, but he was the only new player to step up and have more than a fleeting impact.
The lack of balance, downfield passing, and integration of new players was very troubling.
Cody Hoffman: 100 rec., 1248 yards, 11 TD
JD Falslev: 37 rec., 274 yards, 2 TD
Ross Apo: 31 rec., 311 yards, 1 TD
Skyler Ridley: 20 rec., 206 yards, 1 TD
Alex Kuresa: 4 rec., 51 yards
Kurt Henderson: 2 rec., 19 yards
Cody Raymond: 2 rec., 5 yards, 1 TD
Mitch Mathews: 1 rec., 23 yards Stehly Reden: 1 rec., 7 yards
TOTALS: 198 rec., 2,144 yards, 16 TD
It appeared the BYU had found its premier tight end in the season opener against Washington State when Kaneakua Friel had 101 yards receiving and caught two touchdowns. Except for the Utah and Utah State games when he had 64 and 53 yards receiving, respectably, Friel was not very involved in the offense the rest of the year.
Devin Mahina and Richard Wilson saw a fair amount of action. Neither of them had a lot of receptions, but they always seemed to come at key moments.
As a unit, the numbers were down from last year. Tight ends had 10 less receptions for 113 less receiving yards, but they did have three more touchdown receptions. There still seems to be too much splitting of reps for anyone to really establish himself as the no. 1 tight end.
Austin Holt and Marcus Mathews are seeking medical redshirts after they played sick and afflicted during the first few games before realizing it was better to sit out and recuperate.
Kaneakua Friel: 30 rec., 308 yards, 5 TD
Devin Mahina: 8 rec., 128 yards, 2 TD
Richard Wilson: 7 rec., 102 yards
Austin Holt: 2 rec., 22 yards
TOTALS: 47 rec., 570 yards, 7 TD
A lot of BYU’s offensive problems this season can be traced back to the offensive line. Run blocking and pass protection can be explained only one way: bad. It was very difficult for BYU to run the ball between the tackles this season. The offensive line gave up 30 sacks this season. Notre Dame and Oregon State were able to get pressure when it really mattered, which went a long way to BYU losing those games. On the most important play of the Boise State game (2-point conversion), one offensive line got blown back at the snap, which disrupted the play enough to prevent the pass from being completed.
The problems were not just physical. The offensive line made some very crucial mental mistakes. The false start penalties against Utah made it very difficult for BYU to get any rhythm. An illegal blocking penalty at the goal line against Boise State pushed BYU back 15 yards and the next play BYU threw an interception.
The Cougar offensive line does deserve props for their aggressiveness against Hawaii to help the team rack up nearly 400 rushing yards. Ryker Mathews’ effort to try and chase down the San Diego State defender after Riley Nelson’s interception in the Poinsettia Bowl quite possibly saved the game for BYU.
The offense was disappointing this season. They played well enough to win only six games. They played poor enough to definitely lose one game (Boise State) and maybe two others (Notre Dame, San Jose State). With the defense this year, BYU didn’t need a fantastic offense, but it was essential that the offense not leave points on the field, or give points to the other team, by turning the ball over—especially in scoring territory.
Points per game: 28.7
Yards per game: 400.4
Yards per play: 5.2
3rd down conversions: 46% (97/212)
The BYU defensive line was more active than in years past. Last year Eathyn Manumaleuna was the leading tackler on the defensive line with 33 tackles. This year two defensive linemen had over 40. The difference maker was Ezekiel Ansah.
Ansah gave BYU a dimension of size and athleticism that it rarely sees on the defensive side. Although he didn’t start until the fifth game of the season, Ansah the Monstah finished fourth on the team in tackles, third in tackles for loss (TFL), second in pass breakups and quarterback hurries, and tied for second most sacks. Opposing offenses didn’t know how to scheme for Ansah. They could not find away to keep him out of their backfield.
Bronson Kaufusi was another newcomer to impress. He had only been home from his mission for a matter of weeks when fall camp opened, but he also created headaches for the opposition with his 6-foot-7 frame.
The improvement along the defensive line has a lot to do with BYU being at or near the top of all defensive categories nationally.
Ezekiel Ansah: 62 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 13 TFL, 9 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 6 QB hurries, 1 int.
Romney Fuga: 42 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL, 1 pass breakup
Russell Tialavea: 24 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 2 pass breakups, 2 fumble recoveries
Bronson Kaufusi: 23 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL, 1 pass breakup, 1 QB hurry, 1 fumble recovery
Eathyn Manumaleuna: 11 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble, 1 QB hurry
Remington Peck: 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL
Simote Vea: 5 tackles
TOTALS: 174 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 28 TFL, 14 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, 8 QB hurries, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 interception
The linebackers had a great season. The four starters all had really good seasons, and the back ups made plays when given opportunities to play. BYU linebackers were all over the field giving 100 percent and doing everything possible to win games.
Uona Kaveinga got things started with the first big play by this group. He intercepted a pass on the first series of the season. Kyle Van Noy made plays all over the field, and duplicated his incredible feat to record a state in all the major defensive categories. Spencer Hadley surprised opponents early in the season with his ability to make plays opposite Van Noy at the other outside linebacker position. Brandon Ogletree had over 100 tackles and led the charge against the run.
The linebackers were the heart and soul of the Cougar D. The greatest evidence of how well the linebackers played is in the lofty national ranking BYU has in several defensive categories (see the overall section below).
Brandon Ogletree: 102 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 4 pass breakups, 1 QB hurry
Spencer Hadley: 55 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 9 TFL, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 pass breakup, 2 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble, 1 TD
Uona Kaveinga: 49 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 2 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception
Kyle Van Noy: 53 tackles, 13 sacks, 22 TFL, 5 pass breakups, 6 forced fumbles, 8 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery, 2 interceptions, 2 TD
Uani' Unga: 28 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception
Manoa Pikula: 9 tackles, 1.5 TFL
Alani Fua: 13 tackles, 1 interception
TOTALS: 309 tackles, 18 sacks, 53.5 TFL, 4 fumble recoveries, 13 pass breakups, 11 QB hurries, 8 forced fumbles, 5 interceptions, 3 TD
The defensive backs were very solid this season. Except for the Oregon State game and the first three possessions of the San Jose State game, they were very hard to pass on. Up against a stiff test in the first game of the season with Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense debuting at Washington State, the BYU secondary kept Washington State grounded. Even when the secondary faced a shake up late in the season with two players being disciplined, Robbie Buckner and Craig Bills stepped in admirably.
Daniel Sorensen led the team in interceptions; he was second in tackles. His pick against San Jose State was a major turning point in the defense getting the upper hand and shutting down the Spartans the rest of the game.
Not only was the secondary good in coverage, they were physical. Sorensen and Bills can deliver a blow that will keep everyone’s head on a swivel.
Daniel Sorensen: 68 tackles, 2 TFL, 5 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovered, 3 interceptions
Preston Hadley: 66 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL, 7 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 2 QB hurries, 1 interception
Craig Bills: 47 tackles, 5 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble
Jordan Johnson: 48 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 15 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception
Joe Sampson: 33 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 pass breakups, 1 QB hurry
Matt Hadley: 7 tackles, 0.5 TFL
Mike Hague: 6 tackles, 1 pass breakup
Robbie Buckner: 1 tackle, 1 pass breakup, 1 interception
TOTALS: 276 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL, 36 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 QB hurries, 6 interceptions
The numbers and national ranking (in parenthesis) speak for themselves. (Note: National rankings are subject to change with a few bowl games left to play.)
Total Defense: 266.1 yards per game (3)
Rush Defense: 86.9 yards per game (2)
Pass Defense: 179.2 yards per game (10)
Points Allowed: 14.0 points per game (3)
3rd down defense: 26.5% (1)
Sacks: 34 (T-18)
Red Zone Score %: 63.2 (4)
Red Zone Scores: 18 (2)
Simply put: This was the best BYU defense ever.
Riley Stephenson was spectacular punting for BYU this season. Before the bowl game, he was second nationally in average yards per punt. He unselfishly sacrificed his average and had several punts under 40 yards in the Poinsettia Bowl, but successfully pinned San Diego State inside their 5-yard line many times. He finished the year ranked 8th with a 45.4 average. As a team, BYU was 6th nationally with a 45.2 gross average yards per punt and second nationally with a 41.0 net average.
It was easily Stephenson’s best season. Over half his punts were inside the 20-yard line. Almost half were 50 yards or longer. He was named second team All-American.
Daniel Sorensen was the primary player who downed so many of Stephenson’s punts in the coffin corner.
Stephenson: 59 punts, 45.4 yards per punt, 30 inside 20, 26 over 50 yards, long—61 yards
The placekicking was terrible. BYU was only successful on 55.6% of all field goal attempts (10-18), and missed six point after touchdown tries. With better field goal kicking BYU could have won two more games this year.
Justin Sorensen was never physically or mentally prepared for this season. He should have redshirted. The coaches didn’t have a good fallback plan in place, so Sorensen just had to do the best he could while burning a year of eligibility.
The only redeeming value in the placekicking this season was the successful field goal just before halftime in the Poinsettia Bowl that got BYU on the score board.
BYU took a step or two back on returns this year. No touchdowns off returns after having a kickoff and punt return TD last year.
JD Falslev had some nice punt returns during the early part of the year that helped set up important scores. His three kickoff returns, all over 40 yards, against Georgia Tech was a bright spot.
Poor decision making on some kickoff returns to not take a touchback were costly. Falslev averaged just 9.5 yards per punt return.
Special teams got a boost this season with Kyle Van Noy blocking two punts, and Russell Tialavea blocking three field goals.
Overall Special Teams Grade: B-
Grading the coaches is difficult. Clearly, what Bronco Mendenhall did with the defense was phenomenal. He and his assistants on that side of the ball have done a fine job developing and creating some depth. How well Mendenhall did as head coach, and grading the offensive staff is trickier.
As head coach, Mendenhall is responsible for everything that happens in his program. The question becomes, how much of the offensive problems were correctable? Injuries mounted on the offensive line, but that doesn’t seem to justify the mental meltdown up on the hill or some of the other problems that have already been mentioned. Why the offensive line play can’t get any better after years of unsatisfactory results signifies poor coaching.
Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman was handicapped this year with Nelson at quarterback. That handicap became more severe when Nelson was injured. Hill and Lark both lacked experience. For what he had to work with at quarterback and along the offensive line, Doman did a good job calling plays. What Doman needed to do better was work with receivers coach Ben Cahoon to spread the ball out more. Is this an issue of misjudging recruits, so the talent just isn’t there to get other receivers besides Hoffman involved?
Mendenhall deserves some credit for not getting blown out in any games this season. While the number in the losses column is higher than desired, this was a tough schedule, and BYU was never embarrassed in a loss like years past. Turnovers might not have been eliminated, but they were reduced. Those close losses, however, created another controversy for Mendenhall.
In a one or three point loss, it is easy to look at one or two plays and say, “If only the coach had done this differently.” Playing Nelson when he was injured in hostile road environments. Going for two points after the touchdown at Boise. Punting from the 34-yard line with six minutes to play at Notre Dame. There are no guarantees that BYU wins the game if Mendenhall makes a different decision, but what we do know is those decisions didn't work.
Questions over rumors whether Mendenhall had lost the team should be answered by both Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman deciding to return. It takes good coaching to keep good players from leaving for the NFL early.