Eye on the Y: Finding an identity against Wyoming, tight end usage and starting to feel absence of Nacua and Romney

Heading into first homestand of the season, BYU needs to use this lull in the schedule to find an identity.

BYU quarterback Jaren Hall (3) loos to pass against Oregon during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Andy Nelson)

At the quarter mark of the season, you usually start to see an identity emerge on a team.

Whether the offense likes to run or throw. What the strengths of the defense are. A general understanding of what to expect on Saturdays.

At BYU, we know Jaren Hall is usually the best player on the field and his young receivers have promise. Everything else? It seems to change from week to week.

After three games this season, there isn’t much we can definitively say about this group. The defense has been fantastic at times (against Baylor), and below average at others (against Oregon). The running game has shown promise in spurts, then turns around for two straight weeks of shockingly bad numbers.

We really don’t even know the personnel. Puka Nacua’s and Gunner Romney’s status have been uncertainties since the first week of the season.

So, as BYU settles into its first homestand, it will be time to recalibrate and find the real identity of this group.

I think part of the reason we know so little about BYU is because of the schedule. The Cougars have started the season in three different time zones, playing three very different styles of opponents.

Against South Florida, there were a lot of fluky plays. A 75-yard jet sweep, a pick-six, and a 52-yard touchdown made the 50-point showing almost feel hollow at times.

Against Baylor, it was a smash-mouth game where BYU stopped the run so effectively it was able to knock off a top-10 team in the country. The offense, though, struggled to move the ball for large portions of the night.

And then at Oregon, nothing seemed to work on either side of the ball.

Now, BYU gets its first real break in the schedule. Two home games against Wyoming and Utah State should be challenges a top-20 team in the country can handle fairly easily.

It should give BYU time to bring back some of the players, like Nacua, into the system during a lull. Maybe it will also be able to figure out the running game and get the defense back on track.

Usually ranked teams open up their schedules with easier games. It makes finding an identity and working out the kinks easier. BYU, as an independent, has to front-load everything. It makes it that much harder to adjust on the fly when facing two ranked teams, and traveling to the East Coast.

Tight ends starting to get more involved?

Talking about finding the identity of this group, one place I look at is the usage of the tight ends.

Last week, we saw Isaac Rex break loose for a 28-yard touchdown. It was his first major play of the season.

And, to be honest, one of the surprises thus far has been how the tight ends haven’t been consistently involved in the passing game. Rex has 62 yards receiving thus far. Dallin Holker has 86 yards through three games — and now multiple sources have confirmed to that Holker plans to enter the NCAA Transfer Portal.

It is all the more surprising because Rex and Holker were expected to be stalwarts of this offense this year. Two years ago, Rex led the country with touchdowns at the tight end position with 12. Last year, Holker had 200 yards receiving in seven games in his first year back from a mission.

Everything in the preseason indicated both would be major targets for Hall. They have been at times. They combined for five catches against South Florida. But against Baylor, they combined for two catches for under 20 yards. Last week, Holker had five catches and Rex had a touchdown.

I asked Rex about it this week and he said it is early in the year and the offense is still adjusting.

He is also still healing from an injury last year. He admits it still bothers him at times during games and he is about 90% healthy by his estimation.

And right now the numbers out of the tight end spot aren’t awful. It is just not maybe what we expected. Maybe things can open up against Wyoming.

Wide receiver separation

The one thing the offensive line has done a very good job of is pass protection. Hall has had time to throw the ball.

The issue on Saturday was the receivers just weren’t able to get separation consistently. Hall had to run the ball several times — six in total on the day — because receivers weren’t open downfield.

It is tough to criticize the young core of receivers currently playing for BYU. Chase Roberts has been very good, leading the team in yards each of the first three weeks. Kody Epps came on strong against Oregon. Keanu Hill has been steady.

But maybe this is where BYU misses Nacua and Romney — veterans who are proven guys at stretching the defense.

Against Baylor, it was such a running game that is was tough to really say if BYU missed those two players. But BYU did struggle to move the ball consistently throughout the game.

Last week, it felt like the Cougars really felt their absence. If one of them can come back, it would change the dynamic of the receiving room.

Other reading

We took a look at Jaren Hall off the field, and how he has stepped into a role without a blueprint. Amid expectations from everyone, Hall is staying true to himself.

Want to know more about how Jake Oldroyd is handling himself right now? We spoke to him last week about what the last week has been like.