New Orleans • No responsible person should draw complete conclusions from a less-than-stellar season opener for BYU against a Big Sky team that won three games last year. But heading into a game with LSU, incomplete ones are available for all of us, responsible and irresponsible alike, to chuck in the air and bat around.
Before we get to them, this is Tigers coach Ed Orgeron’s partial conclusion on BYU, as he described it this week: “This is a very good football team, and it’s going to be a battle. … They are very physical and they are very big. … I think they are very good up front. They are coached very well. … They are very good on special teams. … They stay in tight games and they want to win it at the end.”
Right, said Ed.
Here are a bunch of other subset conclusions, inside of a major few:
• Ty Detmer’s offense will struggle to be any sort of explosive against quality opponents, such as You-Know-Who.
Hopes for a return to glory for BYU’s attack hang in uncertainty. And the reasons slammed everyone in the forehead last Saturday, starting with receivers who labored to shake loose from man-press coverage. If they couldn’t free themselves via physicality/speed/craftiness against Portland State, how might that go against the Tigers, Utes and Badgers?
Not well. That’s how.
Look back at BYU’s great seasons of the past. In every one of them, the receivers were savvy and capable.
The question now becomes whether last week’s inability was a matter of talent, confusion or effort. Some amount of befuddlement and dogging it would be preferable, because receivers at least can stir within themselves more focus, more toughness. If they are straight weak … what is Detmer supposed to do with that?
Lose. That’s what.
The run game had some moments, but, again, against the backdrop of an FCS opponent, it was middling. Those shortcomings came from a mix of lack of push from the O-line and a shared rotation at running back.
At times, it appeared as though Detmer was more concerned with correlating certain packages than he was with extending drives. Conversely, BYU was never in danger of losing. Being sporadically out of whack to better prepare the effort against superior upcoming opponents figured into his game plan. Orgeron alluded to this in his comments, expecting more BYU firepower in New Orleans.
For a team that does not feature a running quarterback, BYU must improve on the ground. Squally Canada (94 yards on 15 carries) or Kavika Fonua (63 yards, seven carries) or somebody else has to give the Cougars a dose of Jamaal Williams, if not his complete measure. But even with that, if the offensive front doesn’t create more space, it won’t matter.
“Kavika did some good things,” Sitake said.
Tanner Mangum threw for 194 yards, which would have been expected had he played just one half and rested through the second. Instead, he went the whole way and opened up his arm on some throws and shanked a few bloopers on others.
Mangum’s arm is not the issue. Here’s what is: anticipation and trust.
The quarterback sometimes held the ball too long, having a crisis of confidence that his receivers would be where they were designed to be. And for good reason. This has to be solved if BYU is going to survive the next few weeks.
Against Portland State, the positive came in the form of this stat: Mangum hit 10 different receivers. The negative — seven of those guys caught one pass. The other three got nine, including Aleva Hifo (four for 16 yards), Matt Bushman (three for 56) and Talon Shumway (two for 47).
Bushman, a freshman tight end, is an absolute bright spot. This kid is a playmaker. But how much company does he have?
Sitake said some of the receivers’ problems stemmed not from lack of ability, but from too many third-and-long situations, situations in which Portland State’s defensive backs knew the pass was coming. He said more third-and-shorts would ease the trouble.
He also rightly emphasized cleaning up mistakes. Penalties, missed assignments, mental breakdowns cost the Cougars multiple drives — BYU ended up with 13 first downs and a total of 365 yards — and up to three touchdowns. Question remains: How much tightening can be accomplished over the course of one week?
BYU’s offense has this promise — it will smooth its ride against the lesser teams on a schedule that includes UMass, Fresno State, San Jose State and UNLV. The biggies, though, will bring the bumps.
• The defense is good enough to keep BYU afloat in games against top-drawer competition.
That D wasn’t flawless against the Vikings, but it still held them to one touchdown. Something to count on moving forward, as the offense builds.
Only two teams scored more than 20 points against LSU last season, and the Tigers lost four games — by the counts of 16-14, to Wisconsin, 18-13, to Auburn, 10-0, to Alabama, 16-10, to Florida.
Those are some heady opponents, but BYU’s defense, led by Sione Takitaki, Fred Warner and the return of Butch Pau’u — “We’re confident Butch will play,” Sitake said — will make the Cougars a tough out. As it stands, BYU is favored in all but three of its remaining games.
Detmer’s offense won’t have to be stupid prolific, then, for BYU to be competitive. But it will have to sustain drives, be, as Mangum said, more consistent, and, as Sitake said, avoid boneheaded errors.
Orgeron’s assessment included this: “They are tough. They are hard-nosed. They are experienced.”
• They also are vulnerable.
The ragged showing — still, a win — in Game 1 was more a blown tire than it was a blown engine. But in the difficult stretch of road ahead, if it isn’t properly fixed, the former will be as devastating as the latter.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.