Player breakdown at the top, critique of the game plan at the bottom.
David Ash made some good throws, but he also had five poor ones, including two underthrows on 3rd down and two more on 9-routes that likely cost us touchdowns to Davis and Shipley in the third quarter. He had another potential deep TD pass to Sanders broken up by a likely pass interference late in the first half. His pre-snap reads were consistently good, especially throwing hot vs. blitzes early in the game. The problem arose when BYU stopped blitzing, particularly in the second quarter, and was still getting pressure. He missed a few reads in the passing game — Davis wide open on a backside post on a play-action bootleg (Ash-to-Davis TD on the next play) and Shipley was uncovered on a bubble screen packaged with a run when BYU bailed their nickel to the deep-half at the start of the third quarter. All in all, he didn’t force any throws and he made more plays to win than he did to lose.
Johnathan Gray had three or four good runs but also missed a couple of lanes and, even worse, was abysmal in pass pro. Malcolm Brown actually showed up in pass blocking and had a good run and a couple of catches. Joe Bergeron missed a couple of pass blocks and misread one of his goal line runs but scored on the next play. The thing that stood out most to me about our backs compared with BYU’s, though, is how unimposing ours are. Aside from Bergeron and occasionally Brown there just isn’t a lot of drive after contact.
Jaxon Shipley ran crisp routes, was consistent and showed well in blitz recognition. He also had a would-be TD that Ash underthrew. Mike Davis had a drop on a poorly thrown ball but was otherwise his usual self, beating the secondary with 9-routes and comebacks. He had another TD if Ash hadn’t underthrown him. Kendall Sanders made some very tough catches and looked like a baller, but he didn’t get his head around on a hot route (easy fix) and may missed a couple of other reads (ran 9-routes that he should have converted to comebacks). He had a would-be TD negated by DPI that wasn’t called.
Geoff Swaim had a number of good blocks. Greg Daniels had at least one blown assignment and got driven back by Van Noy on a power play but otherwise blocked well, and he caught his only target. M.J. McFarland ran a couple of routes but that was all. All of them were embarrassed by Van Noy.
The only thing remotely close to positive comments I have about Mason Walters is that he occasionally got in BYU players’ way. Josh Cochran was beaten up badly in pass pro and seemed to have no sense of where his help was. Trey Hopkins actually had more good — well, passable — plays than bad. Donald Hawkins blew several assignments in pass pro. Dominic Espinosa did a tiny bit better later in the game but was dominated in the run game. I’d rank them Hopkins, Espinosa (distant second), Hawkins, Cochran (distant fourth) and Walters. I also saw Estelle, Harrison and Flowers in on a few plays; most of what I saw from Estelle was adequate, I didn’t see much either way for Flowers and Harrison looks powerful but confused.
Jackson Jeffcoat was mostly good but missed a tackle on a TD and got caught going upfield or underneath blocks early in the game. Cedric Reed flashed good plays but also got sealed a number of times by the tackle and blew contain on a 2nd & 11 in third quarter, allowing Hill to break a long run. Malcolm Brown had a few disruptive plays and really beat up the guard later with the swim move. He also took down Jeffcoat when he went to the ground in the backfield on one of BYU’s TD runs, but I can’t fault him for getting penetration and tripping. Chris Whaley had a bad first quarter but got better, making a nice TFL on the last play of the 1st quarter and disrupting power on BYU’s first play of the second half by grabbing the pulling guard. Hassan Ridgeway had some good pass rushes but was washed down repeatedly on run plays and got driven back into the LBs on a play late third quarter. Desmond Jackson didn’t do anything and Shiro Davis made nothing but mistakes, including missing his gap assignment on a Cover 0 blitz that allowed Hill to score BYU’s last touchdown.
As expected, Jordan Hicks was good. Steve Edmond got better in his reads as the game went on — and he was really bad to start — but took poor angles to the ball throughout. Peter Jinkens is a great athlete but he looked lost a lot of the time. Kendall Thompson wasn’t bad, but he broke down too soon and missed an open-field tackle on a long QB scramble. He also hesitated on a swing screen on BYU’s first drive that cost him a possible INT. Dalton Santos didn’t actually make too many mistakes, but he didn’t make any plays either.
Carrington Byndom was mostly good in pass coverage — thought he got lazy with his eyes against a slant on one play and got caught holding — but terrible in run support. Duke Thomas didn’t look comfortable for most of the night, missing a jam, got caught with his eyes in the backfield twice and seemed to panic when his man went deep and made a nice catch. He got more conservative later and turned his hips or backpedaled too soon, giving up some easy throws underneath. Sheroid Evans only stood out on one play, where he opened his hips and didn’t punch in press coverage on Cover 2, giving the WR an easy release outside; he fell out of phase but the ball was overthrown. Quandre Diggs was mostly eliminated by BYU’s game plan. He made a few tackles, missed a few, set the edge well on some runs and nearly got a pick. I saw Mykkele Thompson blow only one assignment in pass coverage when he got caught with his eyes in the backfield, but otherwise he was adequate in coverage. His weakness was his angles and the delicate fashion with which he filled the alley. Adrian Phillips had abhorrent eye discipline all night and it’s a miracle he wasn’t torched — I think the only time BYU even tried to attack him the receiver was overthrown. He also took poor angles to the ball. Josh Turner is physical but takes poor angles and breaks down too early in the open field, leading to a lot of missed tackles.
There was very little variation in our passing concepts. We ran almost exclusively 3 Vertical and Sticks. We ran Pin once from a 3x1 set; the safety jumped the hitch and John Harris was left running across the deep middle with a LB hopelessly underneath — it went for 30 yards and we never ran it again. Otherwise we ran almost no routes over the middle. For all of our speed, we never challenged their linebackers or DBs to run laterally. They set up layered zones between the hashes and sideline, content to let us play pitch and catch, and we only occasionally even challenged them there; nor did we make them pay for putting linebackers on our tight ends with little to no safety help. (Believe it or not, I saw Daniels open once on a seam vs. Van Noy, and he would have been open on another seam earlier on 3 Vert had he converted his route to a post like he was supposed to).
In addition to not testing their linebackers vertically or horizontally, we gave them almost no reason to hesitate in the run game. We had a ridiculous amount of success with play-action (7/9 for 91 yards, and the incompletions were a drop and a tremendous play by a safety on a PBU), and it was responsible for 54 of the 76 yards on our second scoring drive, but we essentially abandoned it after that.
Our inability to pass protect against even three-man rushes was easily apparent, but we didn’t explore our options to slow down the rush. We went with some max protection and even pulled Walters to Van Noy’s side a few times for pass protection but that was about it. We didn’t run any RB draws, though Ash ran two QB draws, one of which was successful (17 yards). We ran screens to the perimeter but nothing over the middle. And we almost never moved the pocket, which is a shame because we had success the few times we did; Ash was 2/2 for 14 yards on bootlegs and scrambled instead of hitting Davis on a backside post for a would-be touchdown on the other.
Once BYU’s defense committed to basing out of two defensive linemen against us early in the second quarter, we didn’t take advantage by running between the tackles. Now you might think, Of course not — we couldn’t run block even their two linemen and two backers. However, between the time they switched to 2-4-5 and the end of the third quarter, we executed designed runs 14 times for 101 yards (including six for 43 yards between the tackles and another 37 on one power play). Meanwhile, excluding the packaged plays with Shipley running quick-outs, Ash was six of 14 for 63 yards and a touchdown. (However, that includes the bomb to Sanders negated by uncalled DPI.)
My suspicion is that we expected to be able to torch BYU vertically with our speed on the outside and use Daje Johnson to stretch them horizontally, so when he went down we stuck to the only part of the plan we had left.
You might not want to hear it, but the "game plan" was very vanilla. We used nickel personnel all game except against BYU’s diamond formation (when we used 4-3) and played almost exclusively 2 Read and a little Cover 1. I saw only one fire zone in the first three quarters, and that came in the first drive. There were a fair amount of DL stunts early but those more or less stopped by the late second quarter.
Typically the color commentators oversimplify, but I think Matt Millen was right. I don’t know why we didn’t play Cover 1 and force Taysom Hill to beat us with his arm. I believe Mykkele is athletic enough to roam the deep middle, and Diggs and Byndom are proven cover guys. Duke would have been (and was) the weak link in the secondary, but we also had Sheroid Evans to draw from; and I think there’s a better chance that Thomas or Evans comes away with two or three interceptions than there is that Hill beats them for two or three touchdowns.
I also don’t know why we allowed BYU to eliminate Diggs with bubble screens, which I don’t think they ever threw. Not once did we bring Diggs on a late blitz and drop a safety down on the slot. Honestly, we could have put a walk-on out there, gotten about the same production and then have been able to move Diggs anywhere else on the field.
The bottom line is that we got outcoached on both sides of the ball, showed no ability to make adjustments on defense and the only times we made adjustments on offense we didn’t commit to them.