RECAP: Virginia Game Notes

After months of anticipation for the start of the season, I didn’t even get to watch the Virginia game live. My wife and two boys woke up and after donning their Cougar jerseys/apparel, we got set to run a couple of pre-game errands. Just before leaving my 3 year old son was stung by a bark scorpion, the most poisonous scorpion known, and we spent the next 18 hours in the ambulances and the ER getting him put back together. Certainly puts in perspective that there are more important things than football in life.

That being said, I have now reviewed most of the game footage. While the absolute downfall of the BYU football program that was portrayed to me by my fellow Twitterites appears to have been perhaps exaggerated and highly dramatic (although there are some of them that I would welcome to keep climbing to the top of that building and leap at your earliest convenience), the game certainly didn’t play out the way that most expected. I personally had predicted that the offense would run more efficiently than it did and that they would be able to get in the endzone more frequently than they did. Here are some points for fodder:

TAYSOM HILL’S PLAY AT QUARTERBACK

The quarterback usually takes most of the praise for a victory and the blame for a defeat, as the spotlighted leader on a team. Hill’s play against Virginia was certainly not up to the expectations of fans, his coaches, and more than likely himself. You can complain about receivers dropping the ball, O-line not giving enough time, or the sloppy weather conditions all you want, but going 13 for 40 passing is pathetic. Were there drops by receivers? Absolutely. Did he make some errant throws under duress where another second or two of protection would make a difference? I believe so. Was the 3rd and 5 throw to Williams a totally catchable ball, even considering the conditions? You bet. However, those excuses, however valid they may be, don’t account for the balling hitting the turf 27 times.

I have all the confidence that Hill can improve and become a great QB for BYU. It’s one bad performance, people. Even the Montana’s, Brady’s, and Young’s of the game have had bad days. But let’s take a step back and perhaps adjust our lofty expectations of the kid. Hill may have the speed, athleticism, arm, and smarts to become a very good quarterback. What he lacks is experience, being just a true sophomore. Prior to touching the field in six games last season where was Hill playing? Eastern Idaho high school football, folks! I’m not saying by any means that there is not FBS (or whatever they call it these days) talent coming out of Eastern Idaho football programs. Taysom signing with Stanford and now starting for BYU is evidence of that, but he certainly wasn’t playing against FBS talent. The speed, strength, and athleticism just isn’t the same and he is still having to figure out the game speed, strength, and athleticism of playing against better talent. So he looked good against Hawaii last year. Got news for you, Hawaii is one of the most awful teams in the NCAA. Going into ACC territory and playing Virginia was a much different test and you saw the inexperience on full display. Playing Texas this week will certainly be another opportunity to grow, but hopefully it doesn’t come by way of learning from plentiful mistakes.

The jury is still out for me on Hill’s knee. His stride didn’t look quite the same as last year and it is hard to tell if that was due to the brace he was wearing, the knee not being fully healed and strengthened, or his head not being quite there.

OFFENSIVE LINE: AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE OF SORTS

Oh, the pitiful offensive line. Coach Mendenhall announced yesterday that they would be changing up the starting rotation on the offensive line and that isn’t necessarily a good thing after just one week. It’s not a good thing when your most experienced veteran lineman, Ryker Matthews, is getting benched!

Anae and Tujague came in to a pretty difficult situation. The offensive line isn’t just bad this year, guys, it has been bad for several years. We haven’t seen a good offensive line able to provide good pass protection and run blocking since the Beck/Hall eras. Oh, how I long for the days of our gigantic, fat, balding linemen! But sadly, the Reynolds family is finally running out of hogs and BYU is having to recruit at schools besides Timpview High.

When the coaching staff was overhauled after last season, Anae and Tujague were thrust into an arranged marriage where much of the offensive line was already set either from returning players or previously signed recruits. They headed out on the recruiting trail and picked up some potential from the JUCO ranks, but by and large they were left to deal with the hand that had been dealt to them.

An arranged marriage takes place when a man and woman are paired by their parents to become wed. The couple have not selected each other as mates and often have never even met before.Arranged marriages, though not common in the U.S., often take place and are successful because the couple has to build love and respect for each other from the ground up. Often times that marriage succeeds and the couple’s love grows stronger over time. But you are crazy if you think that sparks are flying on the wedding night of an arranged marriage! Saturday was the wedding night of BYU’s arranged marriage between coaching staff and offensive line and fireworks certainly did not go off! But just like an arranged marriage of a couple it needs time to work. Anae and Tujague are still trying to figure out with the O-line who sleeps on which side of the bed, who washes the dishes, and who pays the insurance. I’m not expecting the offense to be putting up 50 points a year this season, however I do think that as the O-line gets settled into playing Anae’s system that you’ll see better protection and higher production. For everyone thinking that BYU’s offense was going to look like the Oregon Ducks, well, keep dreaming because sometimes not even the Oregon Ducks look like the Oregon Ducks!

JAMAAL WILLIAMS

Did you know that the kid is only 18? If not, just listen and the announcers will tell you 14 times throughout the game. But really, the kid is awesome. There were virtually no holes opened up and he still punished Virginia for 144 rushing yards. He’s looking faster, stronger, and more confident than he did last year and that only promises good things. I don’t like him having to carry the ball 33 times from a durability standpoint, but I love that the kid wants the ball every play. Aside from tipping the 3rd and 5 pass from HIll that was intercepted late in the 4th quarter, Williams played a fantastic game.

DEFENSE

The defense honestly surprised me a bit. I expected the defense to be good, though I wasn’t expecting them to dominate as they had last year with a heavily depleted secondary and a relatively inexperienced front four. They rose to the occasion in Charlottesville on Saturday. While Virginia was hardly an offensive juggernaut, they were limited to under 250 total yards and just 19 points, with 14 of those points coming on drives of a combined 29 yards. The defense put the team in position to win. Surprisingly, the secondary did not appear to be a liability. The Longhorns will really test the secondary, as Texas QB David Ash threw for 359 yards and 4 TD’s in their season opener.

In any event I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the defense can stay healthy as they’ll keep us in a lot of games this year. The offense has to step up and give them some help, though, if they are to win any of those games.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Oh, those special, special teams! The constant battle exists in any program to make them appear “special” in the sense of being unique and great rather than that they belong in a special education program. Saturday’s performance was a little bit of both. On a positive note, Justin Sorensen finally made a field goal. If he had ever made a field goal prior in his career the play has escaped my memory. But the big kickoffs that Sorensen demonstrated as a pre-mission freshman are nowhere to be found. D-tackle Bronson Kaufusi showed he is multi-skilled this offseason by playing on the Cougar basketball team. Maybe he’s got a little soccer in him as well and we can at least have him do kickoffs. Heck, when I played little league football the kicker was always the biggest kid on the team. If Sorensen can’t get us some touchbacks, someone on that team has to be able to!

“Go Fast, Go Hard” was often followed by “Go Punt” on Saturday. BYU’s new punter, Scott Arellano, had a decent day punting the ball, garnering Independent Special Teams Player of the Week honors. He punted nine times for an average of 40.9 YPP, plus had another punt blocked after a muffled/poor snap. Arellano needs to speed up his punting motion, however, or he’ll get plenty more kicks blocked this season. The discouraging part about having your punter earn POW honors is that you had to punt so many times. It will be absolutely fine with me if Arellano never wins another POW award again as that will hopefully mean we aren’t punting much.

A direct correlation to the number of punts had to do with penalties. BYU committed seven penalties on offense and special teams (zero penalties on defense) and all seven of the resulting drives involving a penalty ended in a punt.

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