The Cougars 14-0 win over Sam Houston State on Saturday was a result few, if any, were anticipating, with several assets of this year’s BYU football team asserting itself positively along with several apparent deficiencies that will need to be addressed.
So what can the Cougars hang their hat on and what needs work?
- LJ Martin: The true freshman running back finished Saturday’s contest accruing 91 yards on just 16 carries, but more importantly provided a much-needed spark to a hapless Cougar offense. The 6-foot-2, 205 pound El Paso native showed quick burst through the hole along with the type of instincts and feel usually reserved for fourth-year juniors and beyond.
- Team tackling: New Cougar Defensive Coordinator Jay Hill has stressed better fills through gaps along with more aggressive and physical play. No, Sam Houston State doesn’t provide the best test case for defensive play, although holding any team to just 185 yards of total offense and zero points scored shouldn’t be overlooked.
- Jakob Robinson: I’m already feeling guilty for not listing the 5-foot-11, 187 pound junior as my No. 1 positive on the evening, since he clearly deserved it. The Orem High product hasn’t received a lot of notice during fall practice sessions — in part due to the emergence of first-year players Eddie Heckard and Kamden Garrett, but he reasserted himself in a big way during Saturday’s win. His two interceptions were exceptional and played absolutely pivotal in the outcome. He locked down his assignment throughout the game while showing prowess in taking aggressive angles leading to big hits while continually keeping the Bearkats from mounting much of a scoring threat.
- Ryan Rehkow: Rehkow punted way more than fans would have liked, although his nine boots on an average of 53.2 yards per punt played big in providing BYU with a field position advantage throughout the win.
- Heckard and Garrett: We’d be remiss not to list the play of both Eddie Heckard and Kamden Garrett after praising Jakob Robinson. No, the two didn’t record the standout plays Robinson did, but each of them had stand out efforts in their own rite. Heckard didn’t have much of anything thrown his way throughout the game, and there’s a reason for that. Garrett, meanwhile, saw a bevy of targets thrown his direction early and responded with lockdown coverage on just about every occasion. It’s rare to note BYU’s cornerback play as the best facet of the defense, but we feel there’s little doubt of that fact during Saturday’s win.
- Marcus McKenzie: It’s rare to note the play of a gunner on punt coverage, but nine punts allows for a lot of notice, with the 5-foot-11, 172 pound freshman speedster standing out time and again with his coverage abilities.
- Run-stuffing: BYU’s inability to stop the run last season was the fundamental problem for the entire defensive performance. On Saturday, the Cougar front allowed just 38 yards on 24 attempts. Again, we fully understand that Sam Houston doesn’t provide the best test for any opposing defense, but honestly, what more could the front seven done in providing optimism in turning around the Cougars’ biggest defensive deficiency from last season? Special praise should be lended to the edge position where the play of Tyler Batty, Isaiah Bagnah and Blake Mangelson prevented the Bearkats from bouncing much of anything effectively to the outside.
WHAT NEEDS WORK
- Passing Efficiency: Kedon Slovis went just 20-33 through through the air for a measly 145 yards in what was easily one of the most disappointing stat lines of the evening. Granted that Slovis had to make do without the services of starters Keanu Hill and Kody Epps, but he didn’t validate the raving reviews we’ve heard throughout fall camp by a big margin. Perhaps maybe too much was expected from Slovis, considering it was his first game played in a new system? Probably, although improvements need to be made fast should BYU prove competitive in Big12 Conference play.
- Rushing attack: Outside of LJ Martin rushing for 91 yards on 16 yards, BYU’s stat line on the ground was 18 rushes for 21 yards. Yeesh. Transfer Aidan Robbins never found his groove, finishing with just 23 yards on seven carries while sitting out much of the second half in favor of Martin. Deion Smith didn’t fare better, accounting for negative two yards on his three carries. Of course no one is putting it all the running backs, as the offensive line deserves much of blame for lack of an effective ground game through too much of the contest. The holes did become bigger as the game wore on and a much more effective passing attack should work to fix what ailed the ground game through too much of the game.
- Lack of timely adjustments: BYU’s offense wasn’t finding much success, at all, running its outside zone system. The offense shifted toward more inside zone running concepts while running more power, but the adjustment didn’t come quickly enough. Granted, outside zone is the staple of this offense and is the system that’s led to a lot of the success over recent years. But that brings us back to the lack of an effective passing attack. BYU will always pass to set up the run in Offensive Coordinator Aaron Roderick’s system, and when that throw game isn’t humming then not much of anything will likely suffice without proper schematic adjustments.