Preview: BYU 2015

Submitted by Brian on September 25th, 2015 at 2:06 PM

byu-little-cougar-logo[1]Essentials

WHAT BYU at Michigan
WHERE Michigan Stadium
Ann Arbor, MI
WHEN Noon Eastern
September 26th, 2015
THE LINE Michigan –6.5
TELEVISION ABC National
TICKETS From $52
PARKING From $20
WEATHER partly cloudy, mid 70s
0% chance of rain

Overview

BYU is simultaneously this year's luckiest and most cursed team. They've won two games on Hail Marys (or close enough, anyway). They've lost their starting QB, NT, RB, and TE—and the former two are the best players on the team.

What's left over isn't nearly as intimidating as BYU looked in the middle of summer, but neither are the Cougars suddenly bad. Last week they baffled Josh Rosen into three picks and a horrible day as they nearly upset UCLA; to be in position to win against Nebraska and Boise State with Hail Marys you have to be rather close.

Run Offense vs BYU

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Tuiloma's health is in doubt

Much depends on the health of monster BYU nose tackle Travis Tuiloma, who was knocked out of the Nebraska game with a knee injury and expected to miss 4-6 weeks. There have been rumblings about a return, and rumblings that such chatter was hopeful at best. The latest as of press time is "dunno." Most of the optimism seems to have come from Tuiloma himself on twitter. All else has been vague save for this potentially revealing slip-up from one of his DL teammates on Tuesday:

Peck talked as if nose tackle Travis Tuiloma (knee) won't play, and said the Cougars "will definitely miss Travis" in a game like this.

Tuiloma is a future pro and BYU has both coped and suffered without him. Nebraska's ground game went from nonexistent to extant once he left, and while the Cougars shut Boise State down they just got ripped for just under 300 yards at 7.8(!) yards a pop by UCLA.

Bronco Mendenhall was not pleased in the aftermath:

"Yeah, obviously everyone knows there has been a big issue with tackling. In coach Mendenhall's words, he calls this week a bloodbath. That is kind of what practice was," Peck said. "Wrapping up and bringing the scout team guys to the ground — not just wrapping up. And so there is an emphasis on tackling, and hopefully we will be able to get better at it this week."

BYU's 3-4 is one of those ever-morphing, slant-heavy, pretty-much-a-3-3-5 setups. They will seek to offset a size discrepancy by putting surprising guys in surprising gaps and hope to get to Michigan's tailbacks before they build up a head of steam. Tuiloma makes that job so much easier because he is virtually impossible to deal with one on one; without him they're much more susceptible to getting gashed when teams deal with their blitzes.

How BYU will react to Michigan's offense is a mystery. They've only faced spread teams to date, and they are decidedly small overall. Both starting OLBs are 230; they don't have an ILB who cracks 235; without Tuiloma they don't have a 300-pounder on the line. That's a bit of a problem when you are running a straight-up 3-4.

That sounds inviting for De'Veon Smith. If Smith can get past the first wave of defenders these are gentlemen who bounced off much smaller UCLA backs last week and project to do the same when Smith contacts them. Michigan has been repping and repping and repping against nine and even ten man fronts the last week, gradually showing more and more of the weird stuff Harbaugh mixes into bust big plays against stacked boxes. This will be a test, as BYU is well short of Utah in the front seven but well past Michigan's other two opponents.

KEY MATCHUP: Michigan Pullers and Tailbacks versus Wacky Slant Blitzes. Michigan's had opportunities to bust long plays against defenses that are sending guys all over; to date they have not quite gotten there. Either the tailback isn't seeing it or one block is getting messed up; if Michigan hits it right they should get motion on various guys on the front.

[Hit THE JUMP for THE GUN SHOW, OR GNU SHOW. WHATEVER.]

Pass Offense vs BYU

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Nacua (left) is coming off a 3 INT day

Where it could all come crashing down for Michigan. Simply put, if Jake Rudock plays like he did against UNLV, Michigan is not beating quality opponents. The good news is that Jake Rudock generally does not play like that; the bad news is that BYU just settled in on a rattled QB like a pack of wolves around a wounded elk. UCLA's Josh Rosen, the anointed one, threw three ugly picks and scraped out 5 YPA against the Cougars.

That was thanks in no small part to Kai Nacua, BYU's excellent free safety. Ace:

Nacua played stellar from the back, coming away with three interceptions. The first featured great man coverage from CB Michael Davis that allowed Nacua to read the quarterback's eyes and roam over for an easy pick:

He'd undercut an underthrown deep throw in the second half, again doing a great job following the QB's eyes, and finished the game off with a pick six on an overthrown ball into traffic on Boise's last-gasp drive. I didn't clip arguably his most impressive play: BSU tried a flea flicker and Nacua instantly recognized that he needed to spring from his deep middle zone to an open receiver on the sideline; he got there in time to break up the pass.

BYU's corners are fine. They're not great; they're fine. Unfortunately that projects to be just fine against Michigan's wobbly receiving corps. They may be able to make some hay on slants and drag routes and the like; if Rudock can find the gaps BYU will leave in their short zones the kind of things he is very good at should be there.

Michigan's also going to have to pick up a massive suite of blitzes. When BYU gets to a passing down they'll lift some of their down linemen and go with an ultra-Okie defense that sends anyone from anywhere whilst dropping linebackers into passing lanes. Michigan's pass protection has been very good so far this year but they have not faced that kind of pickup issue yet.

One thing that should continue to be profitable is Michigan's quick game. Ace:

BYU's secondary, especially field corner Micah Hannemann, had issues tackling in space, occasionally turning short gains into big chunks; Hannemann also showed poor technique against a bubble screen and ran himself out of the play. The Cougars often play their defensive backs well off the line when they get aggressive with their front seven; if they do that again, M could get some solid gains off simple throws.

That's fine. Steady production here is the goal.

KEY MATCHUP: Jake Rudock versus Sad Ghost Jake Rudock.

Run Defense vs BYU

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Hine is a scatback type

Running the ball was not a UCLA priority in the first game. They had a solid YPC outing against Nebraska on just 21 carries. Projected feature back Adam Hine had just four. Then Algernon Brown and Francis Bernard got knocked out, because BYU can't have nice things this year.

Hine got a grip on the job the next week and had had consecutive productive outings (19 for 93 yards against Boise State and 23 for 149 against UCLA), culminating in Hine unleashing his inner McGuffie:

This may be why he is nicknamed "the ninja." (Other possibilities: really good at Ninja Gaiden, working for Silicon Valley tech startup, is actually ninja with nunchucks.)

Both Brown and Bernard are possibilities on Saturday. Bernard is a much stronger one; the freshman broke his finger and is "expected to debut" in the Big House. According to BYU's offensive coordinator Brown has not practiced this week. He is unlikely to go. In any case, Hine appears to have his coach's backing to start. In addition to leaping tall defenders in single bounds, Hine has sprinter's speed—he had a 99 yard kickoff return touchdown last year.

Hill's absence hurts BYU in this department. As Texas can attest, he was a major threat to rip off 100-yard days at quarterback. Mangum is very much a pocket passer. His 23 attempts this year have netted –31 yards—they're mostly sacks and scrambles that edge over the line of scrimmage. Their first full game without Hill was grim overall despite Hine's reasonable day. Even without sacks their game total was 35 carries for 102 yards.

Meanwhile, Michigan has throttled all comers. They shut down Utah's Devontae Booker; Oregon State and UNLV did not have even the whisper of a chance. The only glimpse of efficiency an opposing rush offense has offered so far this year came when Utah's Travis Wilson went for 51 yards on 12 carries. Any possibility BYU could look to replicate that went out the window when Hill went down.

With BYU's success against UCLA more about bouncing things outside the tackles and finding that UCLA had not fit their runs correctly, Michigan projects to shut BYU down as well. The Cougar OL is middling at best; Michigan will hurl a deep and very good DL two deep at them. Peppers lurks on the edge for anyone considering a journey outside.

KEY MATCHUP: Adam Hine's Ninja Skills versus Michigan Attempting To Keep Him Inside The Tackle Box.

Pass Defense vs BYU

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Mangum likes to roam free and put things into low earth orbit

Welcome to the gun show. Or possibly gnu show. Tanner Mangum is the man you will be saying "that guy is still in college football?" about three years from now. His assets include outperforming Jameis Winston at the Elite 11 a few years ago (and proud we are of all of those eight throws), throwing deep balls on a V-2 trajectory, and ask again later. There is no better summation of Mangum's current skillset than the 84-yard touchdown he unleashed to open the scoring against Boise State:

"Cannon" does not quite do his arm strength justice. I'd go with "Terminator version of John Elway."

When not throwing across half a continent, Mangum has been erratic. While "if you ignore the big plays" analysis is often ignoring something sort of important, in this case the big plays are so big and so random that it is informative. Mangum had a 42-yard Hail Mary against Nebraska, the 35-yard virtual Hail Mary against Boise State, and two monster bombs downfield after he fled the pocket and saw Boise had busted deep. Those plays account for 231 of Mangum's 664 yards on the year. When not doing… that, he is averaging 5.2 yards per attempt. Key matchup: HE CAN THROW REAL DEEP GUYS. Maybe he's more Terminator Rex Grossman.

If Michigan keeps Mangum in the pocket they stand a good chance at preventing him from unleashing the wholesome family fun cannon. BYU has given up 11 sacks in just three games. The combination of a freshman quarterback who tends to hold the ball until he gets glory or death with an offensive line that's a bit rickety in pass protection has lead to a sack rate that is tied for 123rd nationally, one behind… wait for it… Penn State.

That goes a long way towards explaining why the big hits for BYU are scramble bombs and the day to day is rather pedestrian. Also filling in the details as to the boom or bust nature of the BYU passing offense are the ogre-sized BYU receivers. The Cougars run out three guys 6'5" or taller, all the better to flag down long jump balls. They are not particularly adept at shaking guys underneath. Mangum is completing a healthy number of short passes; BYU lacks the guys who can turn those into big gains. They do have a slot guy in Malcolm Juergens, but he is more of a steady move-the-chains type than an Oregon dude with speed for days.

On Michigan's side of the ball, the secondary is coming off a lights-out performance against UNLV that seems to bode well for this matchup in particular. Jourdan Lewis, Jeremy Clark, and Channing Stribling were tested frequently on deep balls down the sideline; they passed 100% of the tests presented them. BYU presents a taller and more accomplished challenge. There will be opportunities to hit passes that Lewis can do little about; those will be very narrow windows indeed.

Meanwhile Michigan's pass rush has been encouraging against weak competition so far. There is no one star; Michigan plays five or six different guys who are all pass-rush factors. This should go very well for Michigan until it goes very badly.

KEY MATCHUP: Michigan's scramble drill versus HE CAN THROW REAL DEEP GUYS. You may not think a guy rolling out can throw a 60-yard ball without even setting his feet. This would not be correct in Tanner Mangum's case. The best solution here is to keep the dude in the pocket, something Michigan's been very good at so far this year. Another solution is to keep Jarrod Wilson 20 yards deep, which Michigan is already doing.

Special Teams

Fifth-year BYU kicker Trevor Samson is highly reliable, having hit 17 of his 19 career attempts.

[Update: whoops on the punter, fixed.]  BYU punter Johnny Linehan is a Kiwi import who fires the occasional line drive right at a returner. BYU escaped consequences against Boise State thanks to some unwise fair catch decisions but reaped the whirlwind against UCLA when the Bruins returner ripped off a 50 yarder. BYU gave up 4 20+ yard returns a year ago, which was 102nd nationally. (In case you're wondering, Michigan gave up six, which was tied with EMU and better than just Rice.) This could be a game where Peppers has a major impact as a returner. Linehan is averaging a solid 43 yards a kick.

On Michigan's side of the ball, Kenny Allen is still 3/4 on the year after not attempting a field goal against UNLV. Blake O'Neill had one shank but otherwise proved a major asset, dumping a ball down to the three yard line and blasting a 59-yarder with no return. He has not seen a ball of his go for a touchback yet this year.

Also, John Baxter lurks.

KEY MATCHUP: YOU PUT THE BALL THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS

Intangibles

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Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Mangum escapes the pocket.
  • Hine bounces outside.
  • Rudock looks like sad ghost Rudock again.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Peppers catches a 45-yard line drive.
  • Michigan is delivering tailbacks to the second level.
  • BYU is boxed in on offense.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 (Baseline 5; +1 for Hello Actual Opponent, +1 for YES KORDELL STEWART STILL STINGS ZACH SHAW OF THE MICHIGAN DAILY THANKS FOR BRINGING THAT UP THIS WEEK JERK, –1 for Mangum Is A Pocket Passer Who Is Currently Not Good In The Pocket, –1 for Many BYU Players Not Available, –1 for This Defense Is So Salty, +1 for Sad Ghost Rudock, –1 for This Is A Good Matchup For The Run O And D.)

Desperate need to win level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for Very Tractable Current Top 25 Team, +1 for This Defense Can Validate Salty And Provide Good Feelings, +1 for These Guys Are Dirty As Hell, –1 for We Can Still Blame Hoke For Everything, +1 for Good Feelings Are Nice.)

Loss will cause me to... if it comes by Hail Mary, convert to Mormonism (Missionaries: offer not valid)

Win will cause me to... we can totally beat MSU and OSU for real guys

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

This looks like a great matchup for Michigan's defense as long as they can keep Mangum in the pocket. So many of his highlights over the last three games are Mangum running around and then hurling a ball long or medium distances. He is a freshman who does not know what he's looking at very frequently; his line is not good at pass protection. Michigan should get to him, and then…

On offense I don't know man. I think the line will be much better than it was against Utah but not good enough to move Michigan down the field without a reasonable performance from Rudock, and I'm pretty leery about him right now. But I think Mangum is more likely to implode, because he'll be more likely to eat pressure.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Mangum hits one monster play and is otherwise horrible.
  • Rudock recovers to tolerably average, with 7 YPA.
  • Peppers rips off a big return.
  • Michigan, 25-17

Comments

turd ferguson

September 25th, 2015 at 2:14 PM ^

I think this game will shape predictions for the rest of the season as much as any game in recent memory.  If Michigan wins, we'll get a lot of people asking, "Why not us in the Big Ten, with MSU and OSU both coming to Ann Arbor?"  If Michigan loses, a lot of people will go back to "it's a long-term project" mode, with expectations closer to 7-5 for the season.  In terms of expectations, this feels to me like a huge swing game.

Danwillhor

September 25th, 2015 at 3:01 PM ^

I don't (and didn't) see this game as a win but coming out 3-1 would be HUGE. Especially when you consider that Utah didn't do the damage thought they would against us. In fact, I thought we could and should have won that game after. I have BYU winning big (just a feeling) but a victory would really change my outlook on the conference. I still don't like our running consistency and ability to generate a push vs defenses with a pulse but on the flip side we haven't seen anything but trash from Ruddddock. If he just becomes an average QB I think this team is better than I feel we are. This is a huge game and it will cause me to go from 7-5 to genuine hope vs everyone. We just can't win many games with our QB turning it over and missing absolutely wide open, gimme throws. Defensively I still think we're "good". I don't think we're great or even very good. I think true top-level teams and teams that specialize in one thing (GT, TT, etc) are going to score on us. Yet, it's good enough to win IF the offense can really get going and that'll only happen via Rudock.

Esterhaus

September 25th, 2015 at 8:53 PM ^

 

It won't be able to run on us after first possession. The Coug's will need to air it out. Our D will contain Mangum, a freshman, and force turnovers. The secondary and LBs are up for their challenges. Our defensive unit and special teams are going to make a statement this game, mark my optimistic words. Please oh please, we're at home fergodsakes and this is Michigan.

alum96

September 25th, 2015 at 4:25 PM ^

I agree and if ghost of Iowa rudock doesnt show up all those pitchforks thrown into storage once evil David fell will be brought out, and the #FreeWilton club will explode in population. 

While Minn and NW and PSU are probably similar to BYU in total team strength, BYU appears to be the only one with a real pass game (unless ghost of Hack 2013 returns) so those matchups of the 4 remaining "toss up" games favor our defense more.  But even those games rudock needs to be 2014 Iowa meh rudock.

kzoomgr

September 25th, 2015 at 2:25 PM ^

I for one am really pleased with the kicking game thus far.  PK was a major question mark at the start of the season, and Kenny has looked remarkably solid.  Even his miss against Utah was well struck.  Not to say he's on the short list for All American, or that he won't miss more FG this season, but he looks like a real kicker.  And his KO's are rockets that are usually unreturnable. As Forrest would say, "that's good - one less thing..."

Wolverine fan …

September 25th, 2015 at 2:27 PM ^

picking off a jump ball that was thrown hastily due to pressure. It appears to be a good matchup for our D. I don't think they will have any success running the ball, which puts too weight on the freshman's shoulders. Magnum gets sacked 5 times and after the game changes his last name to slimfit.

west2

September 25th, 2015 at 2:42 PM ^

that will point to a either a dissapointing 7-5 season or hopefully a respectable 9-3 season.   Of the 4 games that are questionable for M, this is one that I have penciled in as a W on track for a 9-3 season.  I see it close in the first half with M pulling away late in the 3rd qtr.