The Bronco Mendenhall era ended with a loss to hated rival Utah in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl. However, there's plenty of positive momentum at BYU, as new coach Kalani Sitake is plenty capable of keeping this program performing at a high level. The defense should take strides this fall led by safety Kai Nacua (six interceptions) and versatile linebacker Harvey Langi (68 tackles and 4.5 sacks). However, the real intrigue is at quarterback. Will the Cougars turn to Taysom Hill once again? Or will Tanner Mangum edge Hill for the starting job?
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Previewing BYU’s Offense
BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum became an instant star as a freshman, passing for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns and rescuing wins over Nebraska and Boise State with last-minute TD passes in his first two games. Now, he has to fight to keep his job. Taysom Hill is listed as a co-starter going into August, even though he was limited during spring drills while recovering from a Lisfranc dislocation of his foot in the 2015 season opener. The quarterbacks will operate in a pro-style offense that has them taking snaps from under center on most plays instead of standing in the shotgun formation. The Cougars also are huddling, moving away from their former fast-tempo approach.
Jamaal Williams is a dynamic runner who needs 929 yards to break BYU’s career rushing record. He ran for 1,233 yards in 12 games in 2013, his last full season of action before he was injured in the middle of the following year. Even after thriving in a pass-oriented offense as a BYU quarterback, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer is emphasizing the running game, largely because of Williams’ presence.
Part of the reason for Detmer’s balanced approach is that the Cougars lack receiving depth after losing top playmakers Mitch Mathews and Devon Blackmon. BYU will ask more of Nick Kurtz and Mitchell Juergens, who combined for 76 catches last season. Colby Pearson and Moroni Laulu-Pututau also should emerge, and immediate help is expected from junior college transfer Jonah Trinnaman.
Some mystery accompanies BYU’s line. Two-year starting center Tejan Koroma was not enrolled in school, missing spring drills, and guard Kyle Johnson was sidelined by injury. However, all signs point to a return by Koroma, which is a huge positive for BYU’s front five. Left guard Ului Lapuaho could move to right tackle if Johnson is available.
Previewing BYU’s Defense
, which includes an in-depth look at BYU and the Pac-12, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
In moving to a 4-3 scheme, defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki wondered if enough linemen could be found among BYU’s current personnel to make the alignment work. Apparently so, because BYU lists co-starters at all four line positions, and also hopes junior college transfer Handsome Tanielu will contribute right away.
Harvey Langi made a successful transition from running back to linebacker, and BYU hopes a similar move works for Francis Bernard. Langi will become the middle linebacker in the new alignment, with Fred Warner and Bernard on the outside. Bernard was BYU’s leading rusher vs. Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl but has found a home at linebacker.
The new scheme will demand much more man-to-man coverage from BYU’s cornerbacks. Michael Davis is a consistent player, but freshman Troy Warner or sophomore Akile Davis will have to develop quickly at the other corner.
Previewing BYU’s Specialists
Former BYU rugby player Jonny Linehan proved to be a good discovery as a punter, averaging 42.7 yards in his first season of football. The Cougars need to improve their coverage, though, after posting a 37.1-yard net punting average. Freshman James Baird was a surprising winner of the placekicking job in spring practice.
Kalani Sitake is happy to be home. Introduced as BYU’s head coach in December following Bronco Mendenhall’s move to Virginia, Sitake has re-energized the fan base with his outgoing personality. It helped that he hired eight ex-BYU players as assistant coaches. “We’re on track,” Sitake says. “I’m pleased with how well everybody’s adjusting to what we’re asking them to do.”
The challenge for 2016 lies in the schedule. In the first eight games, BYU faces six schools from Power 5 conferences, plus two strong Group of 5 programs, Toledo and Boise State. The Cougars need to come out of those eight games with a decent record to generate some momentum.