BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall overhauled his entire offensive staff following a disappointing performance in 2012, rehiring former coordinator Robert Anae, who had been at Arizona the past two years, and adding four new assistants.
Quarterback Taysom Hill’s freshman season ended when he sustained a major knee injury in the late stages of a victory over Utah State in early October, when a miscommunication resulted in a standard running play, rather than a kneel-down. That episode fit into BYU’s season of quarterbacking controversy, as three players started at least two games each. Two of those players graduated. In his two starts in 2012, Hill proved to be a capable passer and runner who should thrive in the fast-paced scheme that Anae learned from coach Rich Rodriguez at Arizona.
Hill’s chances of success improved when Cody Hoffman chose to remain at BYU for his senior season. Hoffman, who’s 6'4" and adept at catching the ball in traffic, ranked 10th in the country with 100 catches for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns.
A midseason injury to starter Michael Alisa gave running back Jamaal Williams a greater opportunity as a freshman, and he took advantage of it. Williams rushed for 775 yards and 12 touchdowns while also showing good receiving skills.
Questions remain about the offensive line, with four junior college transfers joining the team in August. Left tackle Ryker Mathews will anchor the line after starting 13 games as a freshman.
At this time last year, nobody figured that replacing Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah would be the BYU defense’s biggest issue in 2013. Only when Eathyn Manumaleuna was injured in the middle of the season did Ansah become a starter and develop into one of the NFL’s most intriguing prospects. Ansah helped BYU’s defense rank No. 3 in the country, allowing 266.1 yards per game.
Like Hoffman on offense, Kyle Van Noy improved BYU’s defensive outlook tremendously by returning for his senior season. He recorded 13 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss as a junior.
BYU expected junior college transfer Trenton Trammell to solidify its secondary, but he was lost for the season to a knee injury on the first day of spring drills. Jordan Johnson, who broke up 15 passes in 2012, is entrenched at the other corner. BYU’s safeties are outstanding. Daniel Sorensen ranked second on the team in tackles, while intercepting three passes and forcing two fumbles. Craig Bills, known for his aggressiveness, emerged in the second half of the season.
BYU’s longest successful field goal was only 35 yards in 2012. Justin Sorensen was bothered by injuries and made only 6-of-12 field goals. He expects to be healthy and have a much better senior season. The Cougars must replace star punter Riley Stephenson. Scott Arellano, who averaged 40.6 yards in junior college, won the job in the spring. JD Falslev is an outstanding return man. He averaged 26.0 yards on kickoff returns and 9.5 yards on punt returns.
Staging a slideshow to illustrate his points, Mendenhall outlined BYU’s success on and off the field in his first eight seasons with a Signing Day news conference that served as an impassioned defense of his program. Of course, BYU’s most pressing issue is upgrading the offense. Its ineffectiveness kept the Cougars from capitalizing on the best defensive performance in school history.
Matching last season’s 8–5 record will be a challenge in 2013, even if Anae’s fast-tempo offense is more productive. The Cougars are facing what Mendenhall labels their toughest schedule ever, with home games against Boise State and Texas and visits to Wisconsin and Notre Dame.