Tuesday, August 30. 2011
Posted by Sideshow in Red, Blue And Pigskin
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Game week. What more is there to say. Finally after all the talk, all the projections, all the wondering, this week the "what ifs" turn into "what happened".
Utah starts the season with a tune up game at home against Division 1-AA Montana State on Thursday. Meanwhile the Cougars travel into SEC country to take on the Ole Miss Rebels.
It's been almost 9 months since either team has strapped on the pads in a live game situation. A lot has changed since then, but finally, the long nightmare is over. We can get back to football.
Taming The Bobcats
In what is starting to become a tradition, the Utes open their season a couple days early on a Thursday. This year they welcome 1-AA foe Montana State. I'm not fond of 1-A teams playing 1-AA teams, but at least the Utes are choosing a foe who is near the top of 1-AA.
The last few years has seen a few 1-AA teams rise up and stun 1-A teams. Appalachian State is the most famous one, but last year saw James Madison knock off Viriginia Tech as well as Ole Miss, the same Ole Miss BYU opens the season against, lost to Jacksonville State.
In truth this game should be nothing more than a tune up game for Utah before they face USC in week 2. That doesn't mean that Utah can look past Montana State. The Bobcats are a quality team, and if Utah is too worried about USC, the Bobcats are good enough of a team to pull off the upset.
With that disclaimer out of the way, this game should end up being nothing more, than a continuation of camp. This is a chance for Utah to continue working out the kinks of their newly installed offense. Only the results actually count.
The New Offense
Thursday all eyes will be scrutinizing the new offense. Is Jordan Wynn healthy? Will the Utes be a boring offense? Will the Utes still be able to spread the field?
While Thursday won't necessarily completely answer the questions, it can start to alleviate Ute fans concerns.
Did you know that the Utes did not line up in a single 3 WR set last season? Did you know that about 1/3 of the time they lined up with multiple tight ends?
This just goes to show the transition will probably be smoother than expected, as the spread offense has been working it's way out of Utah for a few years.
That doesn't mean there won't be concerns. When you enter a season having to replace two senior running backs, there are always concern. John White IV and Tauni Vakapuna have won the running back job, as they top the depth chart, but on their heels if they struggle will be Harvey Langi.
The one area of the offense, where there wont' be much concern though, is the WR corps, as the Utes are stacked. DeVonte Christopher, Luke Matthews, Dres Anderson, Dexter Ransom, Sean Fitzgerald, Griff McNabb, and Reggie Dunn will be testing the limits of opposing teams' secondaries. Meanwhile Tight End Kendrick Moeai may be the leading receiver at the midway point of the season.
Names To Watch
While everyone will be paying attention to the offense, there are some names on the defense to keep an eye on. The defense should be stellar this season. There are the returning players everyone knows about, such as the Kruger Brothers, Matt Martinez, and Chaz Walker, and of course, Brian Blechen, who will be transitioning to LB.
There are some new names to watch on this defense.
First is the Star Lotuleilei, who has been mentioned as a possible one and done type player. Lotuleilei may very well be the best player on the defense.
Last season Trevor Reilly was 2nd or 3rd on the DE depth chart. That didn't stop him from making a few plays when he got on the field. During the Red/White spring game, Reilly produced the "wow" play of the game. Reilly is listed on the depth chart as the backup stud LB behind Brian Blechen. Don't think this means you won't see him. One of the problems the Utes have on defense, especially in the front seven, is there aren't enough spots on the depth chart, for all the players you will be seeing. Reilly will be a good example of this, as you will see him in multiple spots. You'll see him rushing off the end, as well as from the LB spot.
While Reilly was the star of the spring game, fall camps surprise names were two true freshmen. On the defensive line Nate Fakahafua has played himself out of a redshirt. The coaches had planned to sit Fakahafua this season, mainly due to the depth of the DL. Nate was having nothing to do with it, as he has put a stellar camp together and is now 2nd on the depth chart at right end. I don't know how much you see him early in the season, but as the season grows, watch Fakahafua continually make plays.
The second true freshman to make a noise is part of a rebuilt secondary that will be a key part of the Utes success, or failure this season.
The Utes seem to be making a tradition out of rebuilding their secondary. Gone is Brandon Burton to the draft, as well as Justin Taplin-Ross and Lamar Chapman to graduation. Brian Blechen moved to linebacker.
This means the Utes had to rebuild that secondary again. Conroy Black, and Ryan Lacy will man the corners, while the Safeties will be Juco Transfer Keith McGill, and Eric Rowe.
The intriguing name on that list is Eric Row. Eric Rowe is another true freshman, who the coaches just could not keep off the field. We learned last year with Blechen, that true freshmen can succeed at safety, but there could be some growing pains.
Other players in the secondary to watch will be Wykie Freeman, and converted WR Mo Lee.
Mark Twain Country
While the Utes will be home on Thursday to open the season, the Cougars will take their independent show on the road to start the season. They will face the Ole Miss rebels. A team who struggled in 2010. The previously mentioned loss to Jacksonville state, started the Rebs on a spiral that saw them lose 8 games.
The offseason hasn't been much better for Ole Miss, as they recently had to suspend a player that was expected to start at QB for them this season. Instead, the Rebels will employ a rotating QB system against BYU. BYU fans know how well that tends to work out.
The Rebels may be a bit down right now, but they are still an SEC team. With being an SEC team, means SEC talent. Even lesser SEC talent is tougher talent than BYU normally faces. Another big issue for the Cougars will be the heat and humidity in Mississippi. The forecast Saturday calls for 96 degree temperatures with 56% humidity, making it feel closer to about 100 to 103 degrees. Roughly a 20 degree difference from Provo's forecast on Saturday.
All that being said, this is still a team that BYU should beat.
The Utes aren't the only team undergoing changes on the Offense. BYU's just weren't quite as drastic. The Cougars will have a new offensive coordinator in 2011 with Brandon Doman. While hopes are high, this will be the first time Doman is undertaking the play calling duties.
To help out Doman will be what looks like one of BYU's best WR corps. Gone are the days of a single threat, and nothing else, like they had with Austin Collie. Instead the Cougars have 3 very good WR's. Chase Hoffman, McKay Jacobson, and Ross Apo give the Cougars something they've rarely had. Three legitimate targets.
However, the entire offense will succeed, or struggle based on how well QB Jake Heaps handles his sophomore season. Heaps saw success during the second half of last season. How much of that will carry over is a question mark, due to the lack of competition during the back half of 2010. Jake Heaps enters 2011 with all sorts of hype surrounding him. He has the physical tools to easily achieve, and exceed his expectations. There were also some question marks from his 2010 performance, to see that he still needed to work on some things.
One thing Heaps has going for him is that unlike in 2010, when Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall sabataged him and the team with the two QB system, there is no doubt that this is Heaps team. Now it's up to him.
Defensively, the Cougars have some questions. The linebacking corps will be led by Kyle Van Oy, who is probably the best player on the Cougar defense. He's about the only sure thing on the defense.
Jordan Pendleton is a great player for the Cougars. He just has a problem staying on the field. On the line the Cougars return Eathyn Manumaleuna, and are hoping that Romney Fuga will be able to return after a brutal knee injury shortened his 2010 season.
In the secondary, the Cougars, much like the Utes, have had to completely rebuild. Gone is Andrew Rich, who has been their best player on the defense for the past few years. Instead the Cougars might just have four new starters. News out of camp has shown that the Cougars may just have to platoon players in the backfield.
If the secondary struggles it could make defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall's job tough. At least it's not like Bronco will have a ton of other things to worry about week in and week out.
What to Expect
Week 1 rust. That's what I expect. I expect both teams to come out victorious, but I expect both teams to show some rust. I think the Cougars will go into Ole Miss, and not be able to put up the Offensive Fireworks that many Cougar fans are hoping for. The Ole Miss defense will pressure the offense, and the Cougars will struggle before pulling out a 4th quarter TD that gives them a victory.
For Utah, They'll win big, even if it doesn't necessarily look that way at half time. Utah won't open up the playbook, and the offense will struggle a bit in the first quarter, including one turnover deep in their own territory. However about the middle of the 2nd quarter, the Utes will get it together, and shake off the rust, on their way to a big victory, and preparation for USC.
What I really don't want to see are a lot of penalties, and please, no 12 men on the field penalties Whittingham. I really want to see the Utes have 7 or less penalties.
One thing is for sure, I cannot wait to be in that Stadium on Thursday.
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Oh man, it's finally here. The waiting is over and baseball no longer needs to dominate the highlight packages. I just hope that there's no egg laying this week...
How do I +1 Jeff's comment?
Few things Ute fans and Coug fans can agree on. The 2 main agreeances:
1. The MWC and Craig Thompson sucks.
2. The first week of football season is one of the best things of the year!
"Even lesser SEC talent is tougher talent than BYU normally faces." So the players in the SEC are actually better than players who were from the MWC?
It seems to be widely accepted that any team in the SEC is better than the bottom half of the MWC.
Better than the ones that were on UNM, SDSU, UNLV, CSU, and Wyoming that's for sure. And Definitely better than the Utah State, Idaho State, SJSU, NMSU, Louisiana Tech, and Idaho Gauntlet BYU deals with this year.
Mainly the big difference between the SEC, (And Pac-12/Big XII) conference teams, even the lesser ones, compared to MWC teams, even Utah and BYU, is that the dropoff from their first stringers to their second stringers isn't nearly as drastic as the dropoff between our first stringers and our second stringers.
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