BYU sports editor Jared Lloyd and columnist Darnell Dickson look at five questions facing BYU football and other Cougar sports this week:
1 Was BYU’s loss to LSU purely about a talent gap, or was it more about execution?
LLOYD: I still believe that the Cougar football team has talented players. Sure, they might not have the same speed and athleticism as LSU did but they were talented enough to hold their own. The reality is that BYU didn’t make plays, didn’t put any pressure on the Tigers and didn’t take advantage of its strengths. The Cougars have won a lot of games over the years where they weren’t the most athletically gifted team on the field but they outplayed their opponents. This BYU team has to do the same or the losses are going to pile up.
DICKSON: Against most P5 teams, BYU will be at a disadvantage in talent. Not at every position but overall, that is just a fact. But you can overcome that talent gap with two holdovers from the Bronco Mendenhall era: Effort and execution. The Cougars executed very poorly on offense against LSU and didn’t give themselves a chance in the game. So I’m going with execution.
2You’re in the BYU offensive coaches meeting room. It’s your turn to speak. What area of concern do you address first?
DICKSON: For me, everything starts with the offensive line. While pass blocking was OK against LSU, run blocking was not very good. On most running plays the BYU offensive line got zero push and LSU collapsed the line of scrimmage. For the Cougars to be successful against Utah, they have to be able to run the ball a little bit. That means the offensive line has to be much, much better at plowing the road.
LLOYD: By far the most glaring issue for the BYU offense is the complete lack of momentum. It never got much against Portland State and it was completely non-existent against LSU. This Cougar team needs to have its offense come out aggressive and make some things happen early so it can get some confidence. I think the best way to do that is to put things in the hands of your best player, junior quarterback Tanner Mangum. He needs to come out firing, knowing he has the trust of the coaches and the team.
3What, if anything, about the first two games gives you hope that BYU can beat Utah this week and end its six-game losing streak against the Utes?
LLOYD: The reality is that we know very little about how good Utah is, since their victory over North Dakota wasn’t the best gauge. The Utes weren’t perfect, which is something BYU can take advantage of if it happens again. I think BYU is talented enough defensively to make things very difficult for the Utah offense, particularly if they can tackle more efficiently. The Cougar offense, however, has yet to give me reason to believe it will do much against the Ute defense, so it has the makings of a low-scoring game. Those games often come down to a lucky break and maybe BYU is due one of those after all these years of close losses.
DICKSON: To be honest, it’s hard to identify any areas that give the Cougars an advantage. I would say the kick return game has been very good, and that would definitely help BYU to have a big return or two. Other than that, the Cougars will have to make a lot of improvement on both sides of the ball to break the losing streak.
4Someone has to step forward on the BYU offense this week. Who do you think it will be?
DICKSON: I really liked what I saw from wide receiver Micah Simon last week. He caught just two passes for 28 yards but he ran good routes and looked speedy. I think BYU should target him more this week.
LLOYD: I don’t believe that the current Cougar offense can consistently win relying on the running game, which means BYU needs to force defenses to spread out to cover the pass. So it comes down to whether Tanner Mangum can make that a reality. I have seen his talent and ability but he hasn’t been able to make the throws in games so far in 2017. BYU needs him at his best and if it takes some mistakes to get him in rhythm, they need to be willing to accept those as well.
5The 10th-ranked BYU women’s volleyball team is 6-0 headed to the Outriggers Tournament in Hawaii this week, with a showdown against No. 18 Utah in Salt Lake City on Sept. 14. How have the Cougars been able to overcome the losses of All-American middle blockers Amy Boswell and Whitney Howard?
LLOYD: This is what elite-level athletic programs do. No one expects Alabama in football or the Kentucky in basketball to be bad just because good players left. Everyone believes the next stars are waiting for their opportunities and that is what we are seeing from BYU. There are some big tests ahead but I like the consistency and confidence the Cougars have shown so far in 2017.
DICKSON: One key component of this year’s team has been the addition of Snow College transfer Sydnie Martindale as a defensive specialist. Boswell and Howard were big losses but the Makenna Santiago and Hannah Robison also graduated. Both were excellent passers who helped a ton in ball control. Martindale has been very good in serve receive and gives BYU another very solid passer in the back row. It makes Lyndie Haddock’s job as setter much easier when she gets consistent passing to set up the offense.