2015 BYU Football Preview

Submitted by alum96 on July 17th, 2015 at 2:22 PM

Hello all.  With the slowing down of apparel threads - much to our collective chagrin - I thought I'd take some time to look at some of our opponents.  I'll start with the team that intrigues me the most on the 2015 schedule - the BYU Cougars. 

Soliloquy

Last year around this time I pointed to game 4 vs Utah as the game on the schedule that could most dictate the direction of the 2014 season.   UM at worst would be entering that game 2-1 (App State, Miami OH wins, ND loss) or 3-0 and then face - at home - a well coached Utah squad, a team that doesn't get much respect in the casual football fans eyes but is fundamentally sound, has a top 25ish coach, and is just a tough matchup.  We know how that went.  

While I will not point to BYU as much of a "make or break" game in 2015 because Harbaugh >>>>> Hoke and I expect UM to actually improve as the year goes by (novel concept around these parts the past 7+ years) this is one of 3-4 games that will swing UM anywhere from a 6-7 win team to a 9-10 win team.  It also happens to fall into the same slot as last year's Utah game and again UM should enter no worse than 2-1 (UNLV, Ore State, @Utah).  So it's a big game that the casual UM fan will count as a "very probable" win but serious CFB fans will see as a very problematic game.  Frankly if Hoke was coaching I'd mark this as a near sure loss as I have this game tied with Minn as the 4th toughest on the schedule. #Harbaugh

Image result for byu cougars football

 

Last year

BYU was on its way to a top 20ish type season with a 4-0 start, including a complete demolishment of Charlie Strong's Texas (41-7) in Austin.  Now that Texas team had UM 2013 and PSU/Florida 2014 like offense but a very good defense - and was just undressed in Oregon v UM (Dennis Dixon like) fashion.  Then their all everything dark horse Heisman candidate QB Taysom Hill fell to injury in game 5 and the season spun out of control for a while (0-4 but against 3 quality teams).  BYU recovered to go 4-0 to finish out the season - depsite losing their main rb in November - before a crazy bowl game 2 OT loss.  With that said Boise State was the only team that clearly outclassed BYU last year so a healthy Hill would have probably had BYU as a 10-11 win squad.   Another reason not to underestimate this team. 

Aside from Hill, top RB Jamaal Williams had a tough year - after missing game 1 due to suspension he came back to play only 4 games in a truly healthy state.  This is not the BYU of your childhood (for you guys in your 30s/40s) - while they still throw a lot they are much more run oriented so losing their best RB (who happens to play QB) and their 2nd best rb was a lot to overcome.  That said they found a nice backup QB who in the Big 10 (on paper) would probably have been the 4th or 5th best QB in the league.  Somehow it is easy for other teams to develop QBs.... sigh.

This year

BYU actually brings back a team with many similar strengths and weaknesses to its 2014 squad.  But much healthier.  Prolific offense with dynamic QB - stout run defense, horrid pass defense.  Also after last year's defensive debacle in the bowl Bronco Mendenhall has deciced to take back the reins of the defense personally.   I highly recommend Bill Connelly's fantastic preview here

Now it is always difficult to compare an independent to a team in a P5 conference because the competition is not quite there but BYU would be very competitive in the 2nd tier of the Big 10 behind OSU and MSU IMO.   While they all have different strengths and weaknesses I'd put BYU in the cabal with UM, PSU, Nebraska, etc.   On any given Saturday any of these could beat the other - if they played 10 times the series would probably be 5-5ish or 6-4ish. 

And wouldn't you know it - BYU plays 2 of those teams in the first 4 weeks.   In fact BYU's September will be the toughest in the nation - road trips to UCLA, UM, Nebraska (3 of the best venues in sports!), sandwiched around a home game vs a resurgent Boise State who will be gunning for a legit undefeated season (and playoff berth) this year.  (12-2 last year)   This is a brutal start to the year on paper but all the P5 teams have issues - both Neb and UM are breaking in new coaches and have lost NFL talent on both the offense and defense and UCLA is breaking in a new QB - who might be a true freshman (Josh Rosen).  In fact, the Boise State will be the team with the least questions that BYU faces early.

Image result for byu cougars taysom hill

The elephant in the room - Taysom Hill

Fun fact:  Taysom Hill was an original Stanford recruit....of Jim Harbaugh.   He is that old (Mormon missions) that Jim could leave for the NFL for 4 years and return and still face a former recruit.  Not so fun fact? Everything else I am about to write.

Forgive me for my PTSD when it comes to running QBs when it comes to UM.  This guy just scares me and I envision him giving UM all the trouble in the world.  From the McNabb's to Dixon's to Young's to Smith's to ... well I need not go on.   There is a long and ugly history of mobile / running QBs single handidly destroying a UM defense.   Let us hope Hill is not another name we add to this list.

Who is Hill most like?  Take your pick - a "good day" for Braxton Miller, a "normal day" for college Tim Tebow,  Drew Stanton with better wheels.  The 2013 Taysom Hill was more easily defendable - he was a great runner who completed passes at a 53.9% clip (but still put up 3000 yards!) while running for 1300+ plus!  (5.5 yard ave that INCLUDES sacks)   Those are Denard Robinson like data points.  Scary player but one you can defend with a quality defense.

The early 2014 Taysom Hill? Frightening - the completion % surged to 66.7% while the rushing yardage was consistent as 2013 both in total yards and average.  If you exclude sacks Hill ran for 7.4 yards per carry!  That is called a "non defensible" QB.  You just hope he makes errors in the passing game.  His main weakness is supposedly long distance throws but you can imagine how safeties have to cheat up to account for his running so he'll have wider windows to deal with downfield than the average bear.  And it's not just his pure running that kills you - it's how difficult he is to bring down in a pocket - how many Troy Smith plays did we see year after year when we had him in our grasp on a drop back only to see his scamper for 8 yards on 3rd and 6?  That's what a day vs Taysom Hill is all about.  When I watch Hill highlights what I marvel at is his balance - guys constantly swipe at his legs and feet and he is able to maintain balance through that.  It's impressive as hell.  If you don't have 2 arms around him, you rarely bring him down.  That's an issue.

I pro-rated Hill's first 4.5 games of 2014 over 14 games and measured v Tebow's senior yr.  Hill would have thrown for more yards (albeit a lower yards per attempt).   And Tebow never hit 1K+ yards rushing in a season, Hill already had 500 when he went down.  (and again 1350ish the year before).  Again you have to adjust for quality of competition but we are comparing Hill to one of the best CFB playes in the past 20 yrs.  Hill's history is also well ahead of the rushing pace Braxton Miller ever put up.  He good; real good.  It will be a Saturday full of butt clenching when we are on defense.

(Do not watch the video below without the assistance of alcohol)

The rest of the offense

Disclaimer - some call me a pessimist, I call me a realist.  

As I line up BYU's offense vs UM's offense I don't see a spot UM comes out ahead aside from TE.  That sucks.  Their top QB is dynamic top 10 in the country.  Ours* is a solid high floor guy who lost his job.  Their backup QB had stats similar to Connor Cook despite playing 4.5 games fewer and getting paltry preseason snaps as a sure #2 (2600 yards, 57% completion rate, 25 TD, 9 INT).  Ours is [redacted for sanity].  Their top running back goes off for 5 yards per carry.  Ours might have been the 5th string at USC.  Or is currently recovering from a 2nd ACL.  Their top WR had just under 1000 yards despite being thrown to by a backup QB 2/3rds of the year.   Ours is a Carolina Panther.   Their 2013 OL was one of the best in the country ranking # 7 nationally in adjusted line yards (Football Outsiders measure of OL) - then suffered a boat load of injuries in 2014 and despite playing tons of backups plummeted all the way down to...errr #18.  Michigan - despite being mostly healthy in 2014 was #50.   2013?  Just Funk off.  Thankfully Football Outsiders only starting publishing the OL stat in 2014.  But we have Jake Butt so take that BYU!!!!  BYU's TE had 20 catches last year but is now in the NFL.

Image result for byu cougars mitch mathews

 

Long story short this is going to be IMO tied with MSU for the 2nd best offense UM plays in 2015.  They have a stud senior QB, very good senior running back, and very good senior #1 wide receiver, with an experienced OL.  This is exactly the type of offense (sans running threat at QB) which UM used to run out regularly in the 1990s.  While Cook is a better pro prospect, Hill is a true dual threat which I utterly hate facing.  I'd rather be dissected by a Hackenberg than play a Hill type.   It's the one position that can take over a game - Devin did it here for us vs Notre Dame, Indiana, and even OSU 2013.  With Jamaal Williams in the backfield you can't just concentrate on Hill as a running threat.  And senior WR Mitch Mathews is no slouch with his 73 catches and 922 yards.   BYU did lose its #2 receiver but return a few guys of the Darboh / Chesson ilk who had 200-400 type yard years.   All this behind an OL that lost players to graduation but the bevy of injuries in '14 allowed 10 guys to start at some point last year so I would not expect a drop off.  Also assume most of these OL guys are going to be 22 to 24 years old due to their missions. 

Again this is an offense that destroyed Charlie Strong's Texas defense in Austin - a defense  that was better than UM's by a good amount last year (#20ish on both FEI and S&P+ vs UM's #35-40ish)

Cumong man - you make them sound like Miami from the 1980s

Well we haven't talked about defense yet.  And BYU does have a pros and cons on their defense.   Pro is their rush defense.   Per Connolly they gave up a national best 6 rushes of 20+ yards all last year.   Overall they run defense ranked pretty similar to UM's but their ability to not give up huge runs is the main difference vs UM's.   So you don't get big plays against their rush defense.  Period.  However their con is you can destroy BYU through the air.   They ranked in the bottom 15 in pass yards allowed at 269.7 per game.  BYU also does not have a great pass rush esp from their DL.  They did move 260! lb OLB Bronson Kaufusi back to his original position on the DL late last year and apparently that is the place to keep him - he netted 7 sacks and 11.5 TFL.  All other DEs combined for 2.5 sacks so that's an issue.

Image result for Bronson Kaufusi

 

Matchups

UM rush off v BYU rush def - Adv: BYU.  UM's rush offense was solid vs MAC teams or when Drake Johnson ran late in the year.  Otherwise it was mostly a meh year.   And that was with a QB who was a running threat.  While Rudock* has some mobility he is not going to have DC's game plan vs the run like Denard or Devin.  So it means UM needs to be able to run using you know... running backs.   A lost art here since Molk's 2011 squad.   BYU has a UM like rush defense that does not give up big plays and UM hasn't done well against top 20ish rush defenses in years.

UM pass off v BYU pass def - Adv: UM.   For UM to win this has to be a big win.  Jake* needs a 250+ yd game IMO and the OL needs to have a good game in pass protect.  Which shouldn't be TOO difficult considering BYU basically has 1 sack threat.  Darboh needs a big game, Butt needs a big game and someone not named Darboh or Butt needs to emerge for balance in the pass game.   BYU will score so UM needs to match that - and it's going to have to come via the air.

BYU rush off v UM rush def - Adv: BYU.  This one is tricky because UM generally had a nice rush defense in 2014 when NOT playing badass rush offenses.  Then Minn comes to town and makes UM rush defense look like tissue paper.   MSU ran basically at will (I think they only threw 4x in the 2nd half).   So let's compare to Minn.   While Cobb was a better running back than Williams is, Hill is way better than Mitch Leidner.  And BYU actually throws to non tight ends.  Realistically speaking, Taysom Hill will probably be the best running back on the field that Saturday.  So my worry here is how exposed the "stout" rush defense is when actually playing teams that excel at running.  And with a QB who runs 7.4 yds per carry you have to give this to BYU.   UM also lacks speed on the edges in their linebackers IMO outside of James Ross so I fear Hill getting outside the hashes and breaking off a 40+ type run. Or two.

BYU pass off v UM pass def - Adv: BYU.   Pass defense was UM's worst unit last year.   Peppers is there now but he is still a young pup and could be tasked with spying on Hill all game.  The linebackers are going to be busy tasked with the run game and containing Hill as well so this is going to open up seams and the DBs will be asked to do a lot in relative isolation  Until they prove they can (outside of Lewis) you have to be concerned.

Image result for coin toss

Overall

Maybe it is oversimplying the bazillion words above but I see this game as QB v QB.  If Taysom Hill has a great day I don't see UM winning.  If he has a bad day, UM has a great chance.  If Taysom Hill has a "normal day", Jake Rudock* needs to have a great game.      UM needs to prove it can contain a dual threat QB, it can stop a strong rush offense and its pass defense has improved from 2014.  Jake Rudock* is more than capable of carving up BYU's secondary.  But he needs the OL to provide time, and he need some semblance of a running game to keep BYU from cheating to the pass all game.  A secondary receiving threat not named Darboh or Butt emerging (Canteen? Ways?  Cole? Chesson?) would be a big help for this game.

The path both teams get to this game is interesting.  UM will face the complete opposite of BYU in Utah in game 1 - a special teams, defensive powered unit that has a ho hum offense (but a very nice RB).  Then face one of the bottom three Pac 12 teams in Oregon State and then have an effective bye with UNLV.   They will be enjoying the comforts of hope for 3 weeks.  Meanwhile BYU will be going through a hell of a gauntlet traveling to Nebraska and UCLA and hosting a very good Boise State squad.  You can look at this either as a pessimist or optimist - UM will have time to test some things and get players experience post Utah but will they be ready to match the intensity BYU will constantly forced to have through September?   Will BYU stay healthy after playing two P5 teams and a top non P5 squad?  Will they be mentally exhausted with the travel by then?

I expect a high scoring affair in the 30s as both defenses have areas to exploit and the opposing team has weapons to exploit those holes.  I expect a lot of exasperation from UM fans as Hill makes "stick save" types of plays all day.  If Rudock* has a 250+ yard passing type game I expect a game decided on a FG in the last minute - either way.   Last line was UM favored by 6ish; it seems smart to take those points and expect a nail biter.

Silver lining?  UM fans should be thrilled Harbaugh found little known Taysom Hill (3 star, #762 overall. #29 QB).  Having a QB like down the road that would be a dream....right Victor Viramontes?

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**  I wrote this piece assuming Rudock is our starting QB.  The variabilities of a Shane Morris start are far to broad to even forecast with the limited data points.

 

 

Comments

alum96

July 17th, 2015 at 3:54 PM ^

Here is how I have the games disbursed in 4 buckets:

  • Strong lean (3) = UNLV, Oregon State, Rutgers.
  • Lean (3) = @Maryland (very overrated in people's minds due to last year - they were destroyed by real teams Wisc, OSU, MSU and lost a lot of talent), Northwestern (we seem to have a curse over them), @Indiana
  • Toss ups (3) = @Utah, BYU, @Minn
  • Unfavored (3) = OSU, MSU, @PSU

PSU is in that last group not due to talent advantage but due to environment, Hack rebounding as the OL goes from putrid to just below average, and a DC that people have yet to recognize as top notch (his work at Vandy was the reason Franklin got the PSU job and PSU had the best defense in the Big 10 IMO last year in his first year there too).  I dont think PSU and UM are very different in talent overall.

Utah and Minn are very similar in that they are special teams/defensive oriented very well coached teams that are tough as hell - since one is very early in the year and the other is late it will be interesting to see how much our team progresses between early Sept and late Oct as I find those 2 teams near carbon copies.

If it's a typical early year in a Harbaugh reign we'll lose one of those "leans" and then offset that with a surprise win vs an "unfavored". 

tbeindit

July 20th, 2015 at 1:36 PM ^

I would switch Utah and PSU. The Utes have shown me way more than James Franklin. He got outcoached by Hoke and PSU had a worse Big Ten record than Michigan last year. I feel like people are buying into PSU based on them scheduling completely horrible teams in non-con play.

MayOhioEatTurds

July 17th, 2015 at 4:02 PM ^

me this year.  I worry about them as much as MSU this year. 

It feels strange, but it's quite sincere.  Taysom Hill as an individual is an absolute nightmare; Utah as a whole is the same.  

Harbaugh, work your magic.   

alum96

July 17th, 2015 at 4:24 PM ^

I actually think Utah will take a step back this year and this is from someone who was pounding the table on them all last off season as major danger.  (I did think we'd do better then we actually did in that weird game).

They lost their best Wr and the 1 dominant defensive player they had (Orchard).   Their rb Booker is scary - he was just coming into his own last year and UM really handled him but dude blossomed and will be there with Elliott as the best 2 rbs we face this year I think.  But the QB is very average and the defense while very very well coached doesnt have a lot of difference makers.  Both starting CBs graduated and then their new starting CB was just kicked off the team.   But they are definitely an example of the sum > the individual parts and that goes to coaching.  Whittingham is a top 20 coach IMO.  I'd love to have seen what he could have done with resources at a school like Nebraska.  Also note they lost both coordinators as their AD was cheap.

That said you have to view these games where they are on the schedule and location.  A home game in game 7 v Utah and I think UM could win by 7-10 as long as UM's offense progresses as we assume.  But road game in game 1 is a lot more difficult.  

I think BYU is a lot more difficult matchup because UM will need to score a lot of pts to match BYU and I dont know if this current UM offense can be asked to put up 30s+ vs quality competition.  No one does - the offense is just a big mystery.  Meanwhile if UM can contain Utah's running back its a relatively ho hum offense.  You can beat Utah 17-16 or similar.

 

MayOhioEatTurds

July 17th, 2015 at 6:32 PM ^

still scared to death of Utah this year. 

I agree that where the game is played is a huge issue.  In this case, we play at Utah. 

I also believe the fact of opening at Utah is critical, what with Michigan fielding a new QB, new system on O, new coaches everywhere, etc. 

I concur that Utah is a sum > parts sort of team, and that Whittingham is a top 20 coach.  I too would have loved to see him at Nebraska.

Where I differ is whether it matters that Utah lost their coordinators.  I, too, was hoping this would pose a problem for Utah early in the year--but an OL (specifically a guard) in one of my classes has convinced me it's no big deal.  The old OL coach was promoted to OC, and as a result not only are the concepts the same, not only are the plays the same, but even the terminology is identical.  At least according to my student.  He's trying to convince me the defense hasn't really changed much, etiher; I confess his evidence on that point is less persuasive. 

The worst bit is that the Utah locker room's exuberance about playing Michigan.  Their morale is reaching maniacal levels.  They are quite pleased with the bump in the polls they've taken by playing us away over the last few years, and they can't wait to have a shot as Michigan in their own stadium with a new coaching staff, new systems, new quarterback, etc. on the very first game of the season. 

I hope we prove Utah's morale unjustified, but it's going to be tough opener. 

alum96

July 17th, 2015 at 6:42 PM ^

Yeah Utah has become to  us what we have become to Northwestern.  They have our #.

I doubt Utah cares much about losing the OC - they have been trying to find one to stick for years but the DC loss is big.  In fact it was an affront.  Andersen was a DC for Whittingham and then he gets the job at Oregon State and steals Whittingham's DC!   Its like a Househusbands of Utah episode.   I do think he will be a big loss - but Whittingham is a DC by nature too.

I just think its a good matchup in terms of being able to match them in points.  And Orchard was a ridiculous player.  Should be a good test.  I expect a very close game.

61_Shasta

July 18th, 2015 at 3:49 PM ^

If you guys don't mind I'd like to come back later after camp has started with a more detailed look at the game from a Utah perspective but here are some comments on Alum96's observations. 
 
First, well written all around, Alum 96.  You are without question one of the best commenters on any board I've been on.
 
I don't know a huge amount about BYU so far but a few observations that I've been hearing from local sports radio people include concerns about lack of speed in their secondary, Hill being groomed to be more of a passer than a runner and Williams being in a position to be a real threat this year. Once again, BYU's offensive philosophy will be its "Go Fast, Go Hard where their OC Robert Anae attempts to have ten seconds or less between the dead ball and the snap.  Your defense will need to be ready to move quickly.
 
While it was a factor, money wasn't the key factor in DC Kalani Sitake leaving, in fact in the end Utah offered him more than OSU. At the point of the issue was that Kalani wanted to be known for his own defensive schemes in order to get more consideration as a head coach.  He felt that there was a perception that all he was doing was running Kyle's defense, not his own.  (In actuality, it isn't even Kyle's defense, it's Fred Whittingham's basic defensive scheme from the 90s but it still works)
 
As for Dave Christensen, the OC, the players, coaches and staff couldn't get him out of here fast enough.  The offensive players & coaches hated him and at I've heard of at least two physical confrontations in the locker room between Christensen and other coaches. Not only was Christensen a locker room cancer, he killed Travis Wilson's confidence last year.  A former player told me that Christensen was very vocal that the reason he was there was to stop Travis from f--king up. New OC Aaron Roderick and Travis get along great and A-Rod's scheme is very conducive to what Travis does well.
 
(By the way, Travis's parents tell us that he has promised not to mistake the line of scrimmage marker for the down marker again and go airborne four yards short of the first down.)
 
True, Utah lost Dres Anderson at WR but we also return Kenneth Scott at full speed from a broken ankle two years ago.  Scott said after the season he felt like he was only 75% all year. Also Bubba Poole who lost his RB job to Devonte Booker was quite impressive at slot receiver this spring but then again, it's spring ball. 
 
Defensive line is being talked about on PAC-12 network as one of the best in the conference with Hunter Dimick stepping in for Nate Orchard just as Nate did for current New York Jet Trevor Reilly.   Lowell Lotleilei is being mentioned in the same breath as older brother Star as a middle clogging NT.
 
The biggest question of all are the corners.  As you mentioned, Coach Whitt dismissed expected starter Dominique Hatfield after Hatfield was arrested for Aggravated Robbery and Possession of Stolen Property.  However, since then both charges have been dismissed and the DA's office has stated that they have clearly stated that the Aggravated Robbery charges will not be re-filed. Coach Whitt issued a statement that there is a possible window of opportunity for Hatfield to earn his way back on the team although I would still be surprised if he plays against UM. If there's a weakness on the defense, it's in the secondary.
 
Otherwise a very fair assessment regarding the sum being greater than its pieces.  It will be very interesting to see what happens in September.  Hopefully you can make the trip to Salt Lake City!  It would be great to meet you and all Michigan fans coming here.
 

alum96

July 19th, 2015 at 11:42 AM ^

Thanks -- I remember you from last offseason due to your camper photo.

Hopefully this is a lot better contest.  As I watched last year I just saw 2 teams with not dissimilar talent (which is sort of a knock on UM's coaches because they get a much higher pool of recruits) where one did all the small things correct to maximize their talent....and the other was led by Brady Hoke.

While I know we will still make mistakes it's going to be a sea change in 2-3 years to see a team that doesn't make constant mental mistakes and looks like they were taught the fundamentals.  You see that in Whittingham's teams even in years they struggle.  It is a lot like our basketball team- some years we have injuries and just not enough talent but I never feel the kids or fans are cheated by the coaching staff.  With Hoke I felt that constantly.

I will take a closer look at Utah in the near future - my thoughts were based on a fan from afar and obviously I dont see the teams day in and day out  and follow them like their own fans. Will research the DL some - that is a great thing that you can lose a guy with 18.5 sacks and just reload.  UM has had such trouble finding pass rush threats for much of the past decade - its been very weird and annoying when other teams find 3 stars and make them NFL ends.  (we did do that with Clark but he was not a guy getting you 12-15 sacks a year)

I do think we dodged a bullet with Booker not yet gaining the starting job when we played last year and I was just not that impressed with Wilson and from what I read from afar some think his job is not guaranteed.   So we'll see.  The Pac 12 is teeming with great QBs and UM fans seem to think Wilson  is "all that" because the Big 10 QBs mostly have sucked the past 10 years but he is bottom third in that conference.  Maybe it was due to the OC.  If he can be even middle third Pac 12 QB combined with that sort of rb Utah's offense could take a nice uptick. I just need to see it to believe it.

Hotel Putingrad

July 17th, 2015 at 4:28 PM ^

I could totally envision us coming into this game 3-0 and having a major meltdown. But Harbaugh, so I'll say 4-0 it is. Peppers will spy Hill all day, keeping necessary contain. Also, is this game at noon?

alum96

July 17th, 2015 at 4:46 PM ^

You think Hoke and Shane Morris would have taken  UM on the road to win at Utah in game 1? 

If so please study Hoke's road wins vs teams who finished over .500. It is not dissimilar to Matt Stafford's w/l record vs teams who finish over .500.

There would be no rudock with Hoke - we'd have Morris Speight Malzone and prob with the way Hoke did things Bellomy as our 2nd string.   No Gentry,  no O'Korn and who knows who the '16 QB would be. 

As I wrote this and saw the player development on the OL for BYU (classes ranked in the 50s and 60s) and the back up QB (who with 2nd string snaps in preseason as a clear #2) who was immediately able to play and be very effective (25 TD, 9 INT, 2500+ yards) and I just got angry again thinking of what a waste we had with the last staff. 

Uper73

July 17th, 2015 at 4:54 PM ^

I view this non conference schedule ( exceptUNLV) as a real early test of the Harbaugh difference. All three (Utah, Byu, OSU) are good, well coached non conference opponents. No gimmes here.

Last year, IMHO, we started out on fire on D against Utah, but as the minutes ticked off we did less and less. My POV is we could have beat Utah, probably should have beat Utah, however, it may have been the poster child game for Hoke and staff getting schooled by an opposing staff.

I believe Harbaughs team will not get out coached, however, I still have a big question mark on how much of a change they can make with our offensive personnel. I hope a lot. If they don't, we could be 1-3 going into the regular season. Sure, QB is biggest ?, but RB, WR and line are all a challenge. Despite our DBackfield issues, our defense is good enough if our offense can score points and control TOP.

These three games boil down to what this staff does with our offense.

alum96

July 17th, 2015 at 5:21 PM ^

Oregon State is not in the same class - they were a pretty bad team last year and their QB was a NFL talent and graduated.  Traveling 3k miles across the country they should be a pretty easy test as far as a P5 team. 

They are also going thru a coaching change and took Utah's DC.   I do think they will be on the upswing longer term insofar as I like the coaching changes for them.  But they were a 5-7 team (3 of those wins against nobodies out of conf) who does not recruit anything like UM and didnt have much talent, and lost their starting QB.  Among 9 starters - for a team that won't ever have depth.

I will also say - like Utah - Oregon State's offense plays into Michigan's 2015 hands.  It's not going to be an exciting high scoring offense.

Here were OSU's 2014 road results - again this is with a NFL prospect at QB:

  • @Hawaii W 38-30  (Hawaii was 4-9)
  • @USC L 35-10
  • @Colo W 36-31 (Colo was 2-10)
  • @Stanford L 38-14
  • @Washington L 37-13

They didnt just lose on the road against decent teams, they were demolished to the tune of mid 30s to 10s each time.  Not that good of a squad.

On top of that the backup QB transferred.  UM will be facing either a true freshman or one of 2 redshirt freshmen - all of which have never played a real game except for the week before the UM game.  Honestly UM should roll.

Padog

July 17th, 2015 at 5:36 PM ^

Please bookmark this and update it after our first game and their first game. I would be interested to see how your views change. In my mind, our defense was good enough last year to get us to 5 wins, in many games they ran out of gas from being on the field so long. If the offense improves just a little, and we can be competent on that side of the ball, I think we beat BYU.

alum96

July 17th, 2015 at 6:00 PM ^

It is going to be fun to watch BYU this Sept as they have 3 litmus tests in a row we can all watch and "scout"- Nebraska UCLA and Boise State.  All should be on national TV.

I think they can beat Nebraska as Tommy Armstrong is not that good (53% completion rate).  Losing Abdullah and Gregory is a lot.  Kenny Bell also is gone I believe.  Nebraska - unlike UM - has not been a good run stopping team - see Wisconsin 2014.  This is also a team that got destroyed by UCLA in 2013 at home in non conf and almost lost to a FCS team if not for an Abdullah run late in 2014. Prime upset watch here with new staff on board and personnel losses.  I'd take BYU!

UCLA it depends on if Rosen starts of they go with Neuhiasel (sp?).  Asking a true freshman to start is tough.  UCLA has a top 10-15 team IMO aside from the question at QB - should be a fun game.  Boise State is gunning for 14-0 this year.  All 3 of those games IMO will be must watch for serious football fans, esp in an era so few non conf games excite.

Hill will be worth the price of admission alone.  If we were not playing BYU I'd be a big BYU fan this year. :)

wildbackdunesman

July 17th, 2015 at 10:22 PM ^

Phil Steele had BYU outside of his top 40 and Nebraska #26, UCLA #15, and Boise State #23.  I am not saying that it will happen, but it wouldn't be shocking to see BYU come in to Ann Arbor at 0-3.  Of course, they have talent and could win all of those games.  

I think our defense will be improved and our offense capable just enough.  With the game at home, I think the odds are in our favor more than a coin flip, but far from certain.

 

alum96

July 18th, 2015 at 9:14 AM ^

Yeah I am a big believer that a ridiculous QB is the great equalizer even if your talent level overall is lower.   See Devin v OSU in 2013  - on paper UM had no right to be in that game.  TCU without Boykin would be a solid top 25ish team - with him they are in the conversation for NC.  That position is so impactful - especially on any 1 given Saturday - you can throw a lot of the position by position stuff out the door. 

I am also just not as sold on Nebraska as a lot of people this year - the main thing helping them is their schedule is very easy but you dont lose Gregory, Bell, Abdullah and just bounce back unless Armstrong has made major strides - he is a very poor man's Denard robinson.  

UCLA is diff - they probably outclass BYU at most positions outside of QB.  But again special players can equalize a lot of things as long as the rest of the roster is not garbage - its not like he is a special player operating behind a garbage OL for example. 

BYU is a team that is going to win any of those games by outscoring opponents.  If they can put up 41 on a FEI 20ish type defense they can put up 30s/40s pretty regularly even if they give up 30+most games.  It will be on the shoulders of their opponents to abuse BYU's defense to keep up.

 

Eye of the Tiger

July 17th, 2015 at 5:55 PM ^

With 2014 Hoke we almost certainly lose this won (though with Borges calling wild pass plays for the 2013 team against a crappy pass d, you never know). This year is a mystery as well--there is little beyond confidence in our new coach to suggest a different result, but then again, we don't know the exact degree of underperformance under the old regime--and I suspect it was significant. There are guys who were pretty meh last year who may make a major leap with the upgrade in coaching, and that's what makes this and every other game aside from the one near-guaranteed win (UNLV) and the two near-guarantees losses (MSU, OSU) so difficult to predict.

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MayOhioEatTurds

July 17th, 2015 at 7:53 PM ^

to the point of tears.  When the rival QB's highlights make you get off your old ass and rip out a training session like when you were young. 

Buckle up, boys. 

I'm outa here--40 mile bikeride through the Uintas. 

SalvatoreQuattro

July 17th, 2015 at 8:13 PM ^

But we know nothing about what Michigan is going to look like and we cannot discount the impact of the intangibles.(Utah replacing both coordinators, BYU playing four tough games in a row).

What also isn't being discussed is Hill's injury history. He has had two seasons ended by injury. The kid is fragile. A great player, but fragile.

Nutbuncher

July 18th, 2015 at 1:20 PM ^

I remember a time when I was deeply upset when Michigan lost. Now, I've grown accustomed to it so nothing really "scares" me since I've already seen the worst, and have had the feeling that they could lose any game. That being said, Harbaugh stuff will happen and Michigan will win.

Cougarz

July 18th, 2015 at 1:57 PM ^

BYU fan here - I seldom comment on opponent's boards given the uber-homerism that occurs (yeah we have that in abundance too), but your take is probably the most accurate about BYU I've seen in a long time - including the stuff we see on our board.  You obviously did your homework and I don't think I could add anything to make it better.  Basically, if our defense shows up (huge question mark this year), we'll have a shot at winning. If not, Cougs will have a very long afternoon.  You guys have tradition, historic venue, and now a great coach.  It will be tough to come out with a V, but it should be an entertaining game. Here's to no injuries on either side and thanks again for your great analysis!

jrj84105

July 18th, 2015 at 2:05 PM ^

Some additional info on Utah's coordinator changes:

OC: Dave Christensen departed. He was hated by the rest of the staff and it was rumored that had he stayed Devontae Booker RB would have declared for the draft while K Scott (top returning WR) and T Wilson (QB) would have transferred. Christensen favored backup QB K Thompson as the starter (the guy who threw the pick 6 vs Michigan) and very much limited Wilson by taking away his ability to audible based on presnap reads (no more constraint plays against stacked boxes, which was Utah's bread and butter in the 2013 season and responsible for the big play potential).

Replacing DC are Aaron Roderick and Harding. Harding was DC's long time O-line coach and run game coordinator. He retains his duties as run game coordinator and was promoted to Co-OC. Roderick is the only assistant remaining from Whittingham's 2004 staff and was offensive coordinator in 2009-2010 and passing game coordinator from 2011 to 2014. His roots are in Lavell Edward's West coast offense with a strong later influence from spread to run philosophies of Urban Meyer and Dennis Erickson. Utah will throw the ball much more under Roderick. The bigger question marks with Utah's offense are personnel rather than coaching related with questions at WR and depth/talent issues at the tackle positions. QB could be interesting as there are likely to be situational packages for RS freshman running threat C Hansen.

DC: K Sitake was one of Utah's top recruiters and was a big loss for Utah in that respect. Utah replaces Sitake with former Utah and Oakland Raiders DC John Pease. Utah will run Fred Whittingham's defense with a staff very comfortable with that defense. Expect little change in the Utah defense based on the DC change.

991GT3

July 18th, 2015 at 4:51 PM ^

on wins and losses. This is a work in progress. Sit back enjoy the football. I believe it will competitive and entertaining. If they lose, I will keep it in perspective. If they win it is a bonus.

SpikeFan2016

July 18th, 2015 at 6:21 PM ^

Great post!!!

 

An interesting point I strongly agree with is that "the casual UM fan will chalk this up as a win" (sorry, paraphrasing). 

 

From a fan perspective, I feel as though this game is a lose-lose. I don't think our general fans will come in amped up or excited for this opponent (I think the best example to this point is the fact that a November Rutgers game is essentially sold out while many tickets remain for a late September/nice weather game vs BYU). Therefore, especially given I very strongly believe that we will be playing a 1-2 BYU (no way IMO they beat Boise State and doubtful they win at both UCLA and Nebraska), I think our fans will come in, and, unless we are surprisingly dominant early in the game, not provide the strong home atmosphere that could actually be very useful in this game (like they would vs a mid-level SEC opponent, or Wisconsin, for two examples who I perceive we'd have similar chances against as this year's BYU). If, in the end, most fans (and also stupid national media pundits) either see us win a close very close game (note: BYU would then be 1-3)/lose a very close game/lose a not very close game, I believe this has the largest potential of any game this year to be the ultimate damper on Harbaugh's first season as the vast majority of fans will view BYU as a school we must/should beat, but we very well may not. 

 

That said, hopefully we beat them by 20 and are riding into College Park 4-0. We can hope, right?

 

 

SpikeFan2016

July 18th, 2015 at 6:43 PM ^

As a current student, I think that if this game goes poorly it could harm student attendance at the MSU game this season which is, unfortunately, during Fall Break. This is especially possible for out of state students, who now total about 42-43% of undergraduates (and a sizable majority of graduate students). 

 

It worries me that if we lose games like this one early on, and MSU is doing as well as they have been, students (and maybe non-students as well, a la OSU 2013) will choose to go home for break instead of attend a non-night game that we will be viewed by the media to almost assuredly lose. The only thing I'm very, very disapointed in Hackett for was how he handled "the" night-game. It was terrible all around (lying to fans for months, then backtracking in a one sentence statement at the bottom of a press release about a night game at Minnesota). I feel like having one would've been amazing and important this year, even if it wasn't MSU. 

 

I know I'm sounding very negative on our fans, who I do overall still think are definitely among the very best in the conference and country, but given the horror show that has been mid-2013 through 2014, we need momentum back. Badly. This game is crucial for that. 

 

Go Blue, Beat BYU!

UMgradMSUdad

July 19th, 2015 at 5:46 PM ^

There's an interesting story from a few days ago about the connection between Harbaugh and Hill.  Harbaugh recruited Hill to Stanford and Hill even signed a National Letter of Intent, but Harbaugh went to the NFL,  Hill went on an LDS mission, and they went their separate ways.  

“I’m very excited to go to Michigan and play in that venue, to play coach Harbaugh,” Hill said at BYU's media day in June. “He and I have exchanged a few text messages since he accepted the job. We’ve talked about it. I’m very excited about it … I would have never imagined this. I sent him a text and said, ‘It’s not ideal, it’s not like we planned, but I’m grateful and super-excited to finally be on the same field as you.’ His response was, ‘I’m not looking forward to playing you, my friend'.”

 

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865632727/BYUs-Taysom-Hill-looking-forward-to-game-against-Jim-Harbaugh-who-once-recruited-him.html?pg=all

Hannibal.

July 20th, 2015 at 3:48 PM ^

Ugh -- I hate this game.  When we saw we are -6 in the initial spreads, I was surprised.  BYU is tough.  Really tough.  Although you may be giving their offense a little too much credit for rolling up impressive numbers against some poor competition.  They might not be that complete of a team.  Hill could be a nightmare to contain though, so this might be one of those games where we need to score 40+ to win.  I don't feel too good about that with this offense in its fourth game under Harbaugh.  It might take a year to Harbaugh to turn the program around. 

There are lots of examples of elite QBs almost singlehandedly winning games but there also a lot of examples of QBs not being able to do this when his teams got beaten at the LOS (e.g. Oregon against OSU last year, Denard sometimes).  So we'll see what happens.  Don't forget that Michigan at least has the athletes for a great defense.  I don't know if that means anything, but we have them. 

Bodogblog

July 20th, 2015 at 5:06 PM ^

The spreads surprised me as well, but I assumed I didn't know enough about what they lost.  This is a sobering look, but if accurate (and it appears so based on the other fans comments), I'm glad to have it. 

But hey, a win will be that much better.  Hopefully the interior DL makes life tough for the QB, and we get some plays from Peppers and Lewis. 

Michigan4Life

July 20th, 2015 at 7:13 PM ^

BYU get their best LB and pass rusher back from injury in Kyler Fackerall. Scouts have him on the radar for the NFL draft and he is long and athletic player. Mason Cole will be the one who handles him off the edge but Fackerall will line up all over the field to get an advantage against a mediocre OL

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spiff

July 21st, 2015 at 9:34 PM ^

I just saw their schedule. They open @Nebraska, home vs Boise, @UCLA, then at the BIg House. We'll see their whole playbook, and they may be a little worn out by week 4.

spiff

July 21st, 2015 at 9:34 PM ^

I just saw their schedule. They open @Nebraska, home vs Boise, @UCLA, then at the BIg House. We'll see their whole playbook, and they may be a little worn out by week 4.