Last Friday, the BYU Cougars used a quick start to take control of the game against the UConn Huskies early.
Some notes and observations on the first half of that contest and what the opening half means for the Texas Longhorns when they face off against the Cougars at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
-- BYU quarterback Taysom Hill is much more willing to stand in the pocket and deliver the football this season. Still not entirely comfortable there, his feet can still get a little bit happy as it becomes clear that his mental clock is ticking down to the point where he would normally like to escape, but it's not keeping him from making plays down the field in the passing game now.
-- The escapability is still there and breaking outside of the pocket, Hill is even more dangerous this year because he'll keep his eyes downfield to find his wide receivers. Check out this touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Terenn Houk:
-- With the graduation of wide receiver Cody Hoffman, who led the team in receiving yards each of his four seasons in Provo, the Cougars needed someone to step up to fill the void. Since one-time Texas commit Ross Apo doesn't seem ready for that role after a disappointing junior season and reception-less performance against UConn last week, the 6'5, 223-pound Houk is one of the major candidates to do so.
One of the big, hybrid inside/outside wide receivers/tight ends BYU has on the roster, Houk can provide match-up issues for opposing defenses -- taller than opposing cornerbacks, that group of receivers for the Cougars is also too fast for most linebackers.
Note that Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford made mention of that fact when discussing parts of the BYU attack that could hurt the Texas on Saturday other than Hill himself, especially in jump-ball situations.
-- One of those other big receivers is junior Mike Matthews, a 6'6, 215-pound Beaverton, Oregon product who led the team with five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown last Friday. One of those was the second score of the game for BYU on what looked like a skinny post from an inside receiver position. Despite being matched up against a safety, Matthews created some major separation to make it an easy pass-and-catch from Hill.
-- On that play, Hill looked like a pocket passer, executing a play-action fake, standing tall, and delivering a strike to Matthews. The fact that he had a clean pocket and major separation helped tremendously, but If the Texas defense sleeps on his passing ability, it will pay on Saturday night.
-- The Cougars started two true freshmen on the line against the Huskies, so the front has some inexperienced spots that the talented Horns group could find success against.
-- On the third BYU possession, the Cougars opened in the Diamond formation on the first two plays without much success, as UConn declined to crash the hangover players and forced give reads by Taysom Hill. A second personal foul by the Huskies extended the drive when it looked like Hill might have been short on a third down scramble.
-- The right tackle for BYU, Brock Stingham, had some issues with penalties, but some of that was a result of tight officiating. A senior, Stingham started the first three games of last season and entered the program in 2008. He came out after his second penalty.
-- Ineffective runs out of the Diamond and penalties killed the third and fourth drives for the Cougars. The decision by offensive coordinator to use that formation hurt the team a bit, but it was really the offensive line and tight end committing penalties and bringing back several long plays that kept the game close into the second quarter.
-- The short-area quickness for Taysom Hill is a really elite attribute that he possesses. Throw in his change of direction ability because of his short strides and his powerful lower body and he's an extremely difficult player to bring down.
-- BYU packages some plays to put defenders into run-pass conflicts that are going to be hard for Texas to deal with on Saturday. Last year, the 68-yard touchdown run by Hill included a fake bubble screen that occupied nickelback Quandre Diggs on the playside and allowed Hill to get into the secondary.
-- It's hard to talk about UConn without pointing out the fact that the Huskies aren't a particularly good football team on either side of the ball, but it's really apparent on offense.
-- BYU scored on the first drive of the game, forced and recovered a fumble on the first UConn play of the game, then scored a touchdown on the next play. By the time that the Huskies ran their second play, they were down 14-0 and whatever intent they had on establishing the running game had gone out the window. That just to provide some context.
-- The first successful play for UConn came on a screen that took advantage of the BYU defensive/outside linebacker combination get too fair upfield. Later in the half, the Huskies were able to find some success by clearing out the coverage with deep routes and then dragging a tight end across the field underneath. Other than that, BYU mostly shut down the UConn offense in the first half.
-- For Texas, the gameplan will probably look fairly similar as to what UConn did -- slow the game down by huddling and running a play every 28 seconds and using heavy personnel packages. Also worth noting is that Connecticut returned only 33 starters along its offensive line, which tied for No. 111 in the country.
-- Last year, BYU featured the prototypical heady white safety in Daniel Sorensen. who had seven tackles, one tackle for loss, and four pass breakups in last season's game. This year, the captain is senior Craig Bills, who actually had more tackles last season than Sorensen. He was the beneficiary of an overthrown pass deep in BYU territory on the second UConn drive that was a result of serious pressure from the Cougar line.
-- The first player to get to the quarterback there is junior defensive end Graham Rowley, a native of Hawai'i who was considered a guard out of high school, but moved to defensive end and played in 2010 and 2011 before going on a two-year mission and returning this season.
-- The second player arriving is junior outside linebacker Bronson Kaufusi, who was named FBS Defensive Player of the Week after registering four tackles against UConn, including two sacks, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and one fumble recovery. The 6'7, 265-pound freak of an athlete played as a 3-4 defensive end last season, recording seven tackles for loss, four sacks, and six passes broken up.
On the play above, he lined up in a two-point stance outside of the tight end and flat beat the left tackle to the quarterback. The left tackle barely even got his hands on Kaufusi before the big Provo native hit the quarterback. Sound like something that could happen on Saturday?
Here's more from Kaufusi.
-- With a strong pass rush from a BYU front that knows how to shoot their hands aggressively and consistently, the secondary is content to provide a bit of cushion, keep their eyes on the quarterback, and break on balls in front of them. In some ways, it's a similar philosophy to what Texas head coach Charlie Strong wants to run.
-- As Strong says, he doesn't think that teams have the patience to move the ball down the field and it's not hard to see that BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall feels the same way. Pressure the quarterback with the front, force short throws, rally, and tackle.
-- BYU didn't feel threatened enough by the UConn run game to commit a safety to the box, sitting back with two deep safeties for much of the game, convinced that the front could handle the run game. If the Cougars can stop the Horns run game with even numbers, things will get extremely difficult for Swoopes and the offense on Saturday and the play-action passes won't be as easy, especially since there won't be one-on-one coverage to the side of the X receiver John Harris, who had such a big game last week.
-- Getting comfortable in the passing game just wasn't possible for the Huskies with the quarterback constantly under pressure and the wide receivers unable to create separation down the field. Some of that was the weakness of the UConn offense and a lot of was the strength of the BYU defense, which should have a chance to rank at least in the top-30 nationally this season.