BYU's offense went through a period of extended putridity last year. After seven games, the Cougars were 2-5, averaging less than 15 points per game and a fan base accustomed to lighting up score boards was lighting up Salt Lake City talk radio with such incendiary language as "This freaking offense! Play gosh darn Heaps!" and "Bronco Mendenhall's a nice fella, but I'm displeased and will write the provost a stern letter" and "I'd take that Papist Jim McMahon again if it meant scoring."
Have you no decency Cougar fans?!
Once freshman Jake Heaps was inserted into the starting lineup and began to gain experience (and their schedule got considerably easier), BYU finished the year winning 5 of their last 6 while averaging 40 points per game - the sole loss by one point to hated arch-rival Utah. Their low scoring opener against Ole Miss doesn't herald a return to the offensive horror of last year, but it does speak to some elements of constancy.
Jake Heaps was the #1 QB recruit in the country as a high school senior and his freshman campaign was promising (2316 yards, 15-9 TD/INT ratio) but hidden within those numbers are bigger issues for the BYU passing game that carried over to Oxford. Specifically: Yards Per Attempt. Against a pretty athletic Ole Miss defense, Heaps was a semi-respectable 24 of 38 for 225 with one TD and one INT, but a 5.9 YPA - after last year's 6 YPA - can't make Cougar fans happy. The BYU passing game has trouble getting downfield. They have to grind. That may not be Jake's fault, but it's his problem. Dink-and-dunk is no way to go through life, son.
His interception against Ole Miss - a pick 6 thrown in the Ole Miss red zone - was responsible for a 14 point swing and probably prevented BYU from winning the game handily. The throw looked egregious at first blush, but the replay showed a pretty nice set-up by the Ole Miss DB exploiting a lazy read. Otherwise, I thought his play was solid.
Qualitatively, Heaps throws a nice catchable short and intermediate ball. He's mobile and comfortable running boots and moving in the pocket, particularly in play action, but not a legitimate running threat. He also looks to be a shade over 6 feet (high school listed 6-2, college 6-1, NFL combine 6 feet even?) and struggled with sight lines and had a couple of batted balls against the Rebels.
WRs & TEs
Last year this unit was wretched early on, but they've been infused with some new blood. Ross Apo - brief Texas commit - may prove to be BYU's most dynamic receiver. Big body route runner with ball skills who can win at the high point. He made the key catch to score BYU's sole offensive TD. Apo sat out last year with an injury and he and Cody Hoffman are BYU's best hope for a big play passing game. Beyond Apo, BYU plays a lot of guys, but there are no Austin Collies to be found - unless Bronco Mendenhall stops by our local SPCA.
Watch for 6-4 Cody Hoffman in the red zone.
TEs Austin Holt and Richard Wilson combined for 4-44 (say for four forty four fives times fast) against Ole Miss and I like them fine. Sophomore Holt is a big body (6-5, 245) with soft hands and I like the cut of his jib.
JJ Di Luigi is BYU's primary ball carrier (LY: 917 rushing, 5.2 avg, 45-443 receiving) and best pass catching threat out of the backfield, but they'll play three guys. Di Luigi is best described as nifty and I love him in Super Mario Brothers. 5-9, 185, low base, good quickness, OK speed. He has excellent hands and he's a legit chain mover. Bryan Kariya is their power back and I've only seen him against Ole Miss. I shrugged every time he handled the ball. Josh Quezada is the #3 ball carrier. Last year, these three all ran for 500+ yards and I suspect BYU will run the ball pretty well against everyone with their OL. I don't see a home run threat, but they'll leg out the occasional double.
I saved their best unit for last. If you see these guys roll up on bicycles wearing short sleeve dress shirts, just convert. The BYU OL is huge (average 6-5, 308), has a high draft pick NFL talent LT in Matt Reynolds, they're experienced, return pretty much everyone from last year, and they're solid run blockers. Despite their size, BYU pulls them quite a bit and the big fellas do a nice job moving around. BYU's pass protection issues against the Confederacy were largely on their running backs and the QB - generally, it was Ole Miss bringing an extra man or blitzing a corner. If you're looking for Alex Okafor to have a break out game, I'm not optimistic.
This is a play action West Coastish style offense with multiple formations, a lot of movement, and all of its offensive concepts are built off of the play action running game, boots, rolls, misdirection, and screens. Without a credible threat of a running game, the offense constricts and they have a tough time getting yards in bunches, but they're great at hitting guys on the run in the short passing game. If we play tentatively, bust assignments, tackle poorly, or bite on play fakes, we'll give up a lot of easy 8-12 yard throws and Heaps will get comfortable. I don't know how BYU gets downfield on us for big plays unless they win a jump ball (which can happen with a 6-5 TE and their best WRs are 6-3, 6-4) or one of our young corners loses his mind.
BYU will move the chains, but if it doesn't result in 6, no harm done.
As for the game overall, let's ponder three realistic scenarios. One on each end of the bell curve and one in the dead center of probability.
BYU - Garrett Gilbert struggles against the multiple BYU defense and is ineffectual, our running game gets ganged up on, young players don't respond to physical play and Brigham Young is able to ride short fields and their OL to an early lead and cruises to a 27-13 victory. Longhorn fans shut down entire internet.
Texas - The Cougars experiences athlete shock - as they have in games against Florida St and TCU - and Texas scores on a DJ Monroe kick return, on a 60 yard fly route to Mike Davis, and with an early sack-strip fumble on an Acho blitz. Down 21-0 in a hostile environment in front of 100,000 fans, the Cougars play action offense is futile and Texas holds out for a confidence boosting 31-14 win. Delusional Longhorn fans begin to ponder possible BCS match-ups...until loss in Ames.
Most Likely Scenario - A 60 minute grind where defense dominates, but the offenses make just enough plays. The winner is the defense that clamps down late, the winner emerging with a confidence-building 23-20 win.
So my question to you: Who will that be?
BTW, last time I checked, Vegas had Texas as a 7 point favorite (not touching that), but the under is 48.5. I like that play.