Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Pulse of Cougar Nation: Receivers/Tight Ends

Associated Press

2010 was a transition year for BYU. A quarterback controversy delayed the development of both QBs involved, and BYU's overall team passing attack suffered, even with the strong finish by former BYU QB Jake Heaps.

Because of the strong finish and the addition of Heaps' favorite target Ross Apo, many expected great things from Heaps in 2011, so a slow start, magnified by a turnover-laden 54-10 loss to rival Utah, frustrated fans (and probably coaches). After another slow start against Utah State forced coaches to throw Riley Nelson into the game. Nelson rallied BYU to a victory in the closing seconds, and he won the job for the rest of the year.

Nelson formed a very strong connection with Cody Hoffman, who finished the season strong with three TD catches in the bowl game against Tulsa. Throughout the second half of the season, Hoffman seemed to be on the receiving end of a lot of Riley improv.
A lot of BYU receivers return for 2012, including four of the top 5 from last season. Hoffman, Apo, JD Falslev and Marcus Matthews all were solid contributors in 2011, and fans are excited at the potential of BYU's air attack in 2011.

Here's what Cougar Nation thought:

AVERAGE RESPONSE: About 3,300 yards

AVERAGE RESPONSE: 2.3 receivers

AVERAGE RESPONSE: About 7.3 TD catches

AVERAGE RESPONSE: About 24.2 TD catches

BYU's receivers and tight ends don't appear to be lacking in chemistry with Riley Nelson, so there's optimism among Cougar fans. While Cody Hoffman was the only receiver with more than 500 yards receiving last year, the vast majority of fans believe that won't be the case in 2012. 2011 played out like that partially because of the lack of health/inconsistency among BYU tight ends and running backs. This caused an increase in playing time among other potential targets for Riley, which helped spread the passing yardage around.

It's not even a little bit surprising to see Cody Hoffman as the almost-unanimous selection for top 2012 receiving. Not even a little bit.

When BYU tight ends are clicking with the QB and scoring TDs, the offense is functioning soooo much better. Last year's four TDs (including the game-winning one against Utah State) were an improvement over 2010 (zero), but BYU will definitely needs more production from that position for BYU's offense to go to the next level, whatever that means. Most fans seem to think it will happen, as nearly 70 percent of the respondents expect tight ends to score anywhere from six to nine TDs.

While 22 TDs is nothing to sneeze at, most BYU fans expect the wide receivers to improve their TD numbers in 2012. It could happen, but I expect most of the improvement in TD catches to come from the tight ends.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Pulse of Cougar Nation: Running Backs

Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo
Ever since Lavell Edwards arrived at BYU as head football coach in 1972, the Cougars' team rushing attack has only managed to gain more than 2,000 yards in seven seasons out of 40. Two of those seasons were 2010 and 2011. Much to the dismay of some Cougar fans, that feat has been accomplished during the last two years despite the use of a true feature back (like a Harvey Unga, Curtis Brown, etc.).  BYU has used a running-back-by-committee approach as of late.

2012 brings us another running-back-by-committee team. In fact, with a mobile QB like Riley Nelson as the full-time starter, the committee gets another member to help out. 

Here's what the fans thought of the rushing game for 2012 (based on 163 responses for each question):




In spite of the fact BYU has gained over 2,000 rushing yards in only seven of the last 40 years, 73.5 percent of the respondents believe BYU will reach that goal for the eighth time in that span, which would also be the third season in a row. I was a tad surprised 23 percent felt the Cougars would gain over 2,300 yards rushing this year, considering it has only happened three times in the last 40 seasons. Not to say it couldn't happen again, but I was surprised it was the answer with the most votes for that survey question. To me, the average response of about 2,130 is probably more likely.

I'd guess the main reasons for that is the excitement around mobile QB Riley Nelson and what he was able to accomplish. What Michael Alisa brought to the team in the second half of last season probably factored in what fans thought. Alisa got over 68 percent of the votes for the 2012 leading rusher. Josh Quezada had a down year in 2011, battling injuries and whatnot, but fans may believe in a comeback season in 2012 for him, since 27 percent of the participants believe he will be the leading rusher for BYU this season. It will be interesting to see how the offensive line, once again touted as "great" (I feel like we've heard that before), holds up and what Iona Pritchard, who missed all of last season with an injury, will bring to the running game.

While DiLuigi had only 584 yards last season as the leading rusher, he was able to gain 917 yards rushing in 2010, so it's hard to put the leading rusher at a specific number of yards. The average response for how many yards the leading rusher will gain was 773 yards. However, 38.7 percent of the survey believe it will be more than 800 yards.

BYU should be able to run the ball this year. They've done it successfully the last two seasons, and going off the remaining personnel, Cougar fans should be able to expect a 2,000+ yard season on the ground.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Pulse of Cougar Nation: Riley Nelson

Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

***From May 20 to June 18, we polled BYU fans on Twitter and Cougarboard to find out what they were thinking about the upcoming season. We received a total of 160 responses from 5 different countries, although not every participant answered every question. The survey results will be posted through a series of posts. This is the first post. Enjoy!

I think if you had polled BYU fans a year ago and told them Riley Nelson was going to be THE quarterback option for the 2012 season, some would have called you a liar and some would not have had high hopes for the upcoming season. Some, on the other hand, would have immediately liquidated all of their assets and gone into hiding, fearing the worst was near.

Despite the backlash from the time of Riley's 2011 emergence to Jake Heaps transfer to Kansas, I think most of Cougar Nation has settled down to a feeling of acceptance and optimism. While some might already be clamoring for the unknown potential of a backup QB, most are ready to go with Riley.

But what do BYU fans really expect from Riley this year? Here's what they had to say:
  • PASSING YARDS (158 responses)

  • COMPLETION PERCENTAGE (157 responses)
AVERAGE RESPONSE: About 60 percent

  • TOUCHDOWN PASSES (158 responses)
AVERAGE RESPONSE: 26-27 touchdown passes

  • INTERCEPTIONS THROWN (158 responses)

  • 2012 QB RATING (158 responses)

  • QB RUSHING YARDS (156 responses)
AVERAGE RESPONSE: About 520 rushing yards

  • QB RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS (157 responses)
AVERAGE RESPONSE: About 4.75 rushing TDs

So, based on the survey responses, the average stat line for Riley Nelson is the following:

  • 2,970 passing yards
  • 60% completion percentage
  • 26-27 TD passes
  • 11-12 INTs
  • 155.8 QB Rating
  • 520 rushing yards
  • 4.75 rushing TDs
Not a bad season if it happened this way. We could do a lot worse (and have recently, if I'm not mistaken) than 3,500 total yards of offense and more than 30 total TDs from the QB position.

With the exception of rushing touchdowns, the survey responses didn't seem to reflect any major increases or decreases in production from Riley Nelson. I expect improvement from him, and it will be interesting to see how Riley does now that he has and will continue to get the majority of practice reps.

  • BACKUP QUARTERBACK? (157 responses)

I'm not sure if it has officially been announced yet, but I think James Lark is the favorite to backup Nelson. Really, the only other option is Taysom Hill. Although I did think it was cute that people thought anyone else had a chance at the job.