Note: BYU football beat writer Jared Lloyd and columnist Darnell Dickson answer some of the big questions regarding the Cougars as BYU heads towards its season-opener at UConn.
1. Which BYU receiver will have the best game against UConn?
LLOYD: Nick Kurtz … no, wait, I mean Devon Blackmon … no, wait … Both of those guys might’ve been candidates if they were available but since they aren’t it will be someone else. Mitch Mathews is the one who I think is the odds-on favorite but I’ll go with senior Jordan Leslie because I think he will be utilized in a lot of different ways. Look for him to go over the middle and make a big play deep.
DICKSON: I’d like to see Jordan Leslie have a big game because it would be from the inside receiver spot and that could loosen things up for the outside guys. But I’m going to say Mitch Mathews. UConn’s secondary is short (only one starter over 6 feet) and Mathews, at 6-foot-6, will have a field day.
2. Which defensive player will have a big game?
DICKSON: You might not be able to look at the stats after the game and point to sophomore defensive lineman Travis Tuiloma, but I think he’ll affect the game a lot. He’s big, strong and quick, and he’ll gum things up in the middle for the Cougars just like Eathyn Manumaleuna used to.
LLOYD: This is going to be Manoa Pikula’s coming out party. He’s in a key position at Buck linebacker and has a solid mixture of athleticism and experience. Look for Pikula to wreak havoc on the UConn backfield and be all over the field making plays.
3. BYU has struggled scoring points in road openers. Will the Cougars score more or less than 20 points against UConn?
LLOYD: Does anyone remember the last time BYU tallied more than 20 points in a season opener on the road? Yeah, 1999 at Washington, a 35-28 win. But the 15-year drought ends this week since the Cougars have experienced players in all the key positions and are familiar with the offense. Still, I’m saying the Cougars don’t hit the 30-point mark, but win comfortably.
DICKSON: The players and coaches have been talking all fall camp about how much more comfortable they are since it’s their second year in Robert Anae’s offensive system. As long as the weather holds, I don’t see how BYU could not score more than 20 points, just by sheer volume of plays and UConn’s suspect defense. So I’ll take the over, but first games can be so hard to predict. BYU might score less than 20 points and still win.
4. Who will score the first points for BYU in 2014?
DICKSON: I’ve got Paul Lasike getting the first try of the season … oh, wait, that’s rugby. I’m taking Taysom Hill, who will scramble out of the pocket in the Blue Zone and dive over the goal line for six.
LLOYD: KVN pick-6, baby! Shoot, Kyle Van Noy is on the Detroit Lions now, isn’t he? So my pick is junior running back Adam Hine. I’m going to predict a nice drive by the Cougars early in the game that gets them into the Blue Zone. This year, however, the BYU offensive line opens up a nice hole and Hine takes it to the house to get the Cougars on the board.
5. What’s the biggest question mark for BYU going into the UConn game?
LLOYD: It’s got to be the offensive line. That’s the unit that will decide whether BYU rises or falls on the gridiron this fall. If it is good-to-great, BYU’s offense will move the ball, score touchdowns regularly and really put the pressure on opposing defenses with the tempo. If it is mediocre-to-bad, the offense will be headed off the field so fast the defense won’t get a chance to catch its breath. The big guys up front need to take a huge step forward.
DICKSON: There are plenty on both sides of the ball, but I’m going with the running game. Jamal Williams is out. Adam Hine has looked good in scrimmages and fullback Paul Lasike can get tough yards inside. But the Cougars need an effective running game -- other than Tayson Hill -- to set up the play-action pass. I think if BYU can run against UConn, the Cougars will blow the game open. If not, this one could be close.