The Daily Herald’s BYU sports experts Jared Lloyd and Darnell Dickson weigh in on five of the biggest questions facing the Cougars this week:
1. MVP for the win over USC
1. Who was your MVP of the BYU football team’s overtime win against USC?
DICKSON: I think the only way BYU’s offense can work is with a dangerous rusher, and Ty’Son Williams fits the bill. He rushed 19 times for 99 yards against USC, but his impact isn’t just when he’s carrying the ball. He’s such a threat to break a run that defenses have to account for him on every play, which opens up the play calling for Cougar offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. That allows for more freedom for sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson as well. From what I’ve seen, Williams is a good receiver out of the backfield and really good in pass protection as well.
LLOYD: I think the obvious choice is junior defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga. It’s always been enjoyable to watch him in the middle of the Cougar defensive line but against the Trojans, he was even more impressive. With BYU relying on just a three-man rush, Tonga frequently overwhelmed the USC blockers assigned to slow him down. That forced Trojan freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis to get rid of the ball before he wanted to. When Tonga got a sack against a seven-man protection from USC, the shocked, disbelieving look that was visible on Slovis’ face was something to see. Tonga and the rest of the BYU defensive linemen kept the Trojans from doing what they wanted to do and that was why the Cougars had a chance to win at the end.
2. Top BYU football assistant coach so far
2. What BYU football assistant is really earning his paycheck during the first three games of the season?
LLOYD: I’m going to have to split this one between safeties coach Preston Hadley and cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford. This was a Trojan team that wanted to throw the ball and did so very successfully on its first possession. But the Cougar secondary rose to the challenge and limited USC’s offensive success the rest of the game. The BYU defensive backfield coaches had their players ready to play and confident, even after making mistakes. That made a huge difference and allowed the Cougars to hang tough against the Trojans. BYU has also managed to avoid giving up many large chunk plays in any other games, so that secondary is forcing opponents to make a lot of little plays to score.
DICKSON: I’ll go with wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake. Those receivers were taken to task by the media and on social media because of drops and lack of production last season. Through the first three games, drops have been virtually non-existent. Micah Simon has had kind of a breakout so far and I’ve also seen great things from Gunner Romney. The Cougars haven’t been able to get Aleva Hifo on track yet, so there is still work to do. In addition, all the attention focused on tight end Matt Bushman has opened up some things for the receivers, and they’ve stepped up.
3. Key position group vs. Washington
3. What position group will be most on the spot against Washington this Saturday?
DICKSON: The BYU linebackers have been excellent so far. Not only are they making interceptions and tackles for loss but they have the kind of depth that allows for any number of guys to have an impact. Washington is just as athletic as USC but has an experienced quarterback. The Cougars ask a lot of their linebackers in pass coverage, and so far it has paid off. Washington will be a big test for this group.
LLOYD: I’m going to select the BYU offensive line, since the Huskies have shown that they still have a stingy defense. None of the first three Washington opponents were able to score more than 20 points and although that was enough for Cal to defeat the Huskies, I think BYU’s offense is going to need to do more. One of the big keys will be time of possession and having the Cougars be able to give the BYU defense enough time to recuperate. If BYU can create some running lanes for Ty’Son Williams and the other running backs, plus give Zach Wilson time to make smart throws, the Cougars will have a chance to get another home upset win.
4. Impact of throwback uniforms
4. Do you like the new BYU football uniforms that will be worn for the UW game and how much effect will they have on the outcome?
LLOYD: Unless they’ve coated the uniforms in some sort of super-slick substance that will make it harder for the Huskies to make tackles, I don’t see the uniforms having any real impact on the game itself. I’ve never been a huge fan of teams like Oregon wearing 1,000 different uniforms. It always seems like a bad marketing gimmick to try to sell fans more merchandise. This to me is different because of the legacy aspect. I’ll have to see how they look on the field to gauge how I like the overall impact but I think honoring the players of the past is a good thing. BYU fans have to be hoping the Cougars play better wearing the throwback helmets than a lot of their counterparts in the 1960s did (BYU’s record was 42-50-1 during that decade).
DICKSON: The uniforms are fine and of course, present a great opportunity for BYU to make more money in apparel sales. As far as an impact on the game, I would be skeptical but for a few comments by former players. They say that new uniforms are cool and can give a team a lift in a home setting against a top-25 opponent. I don’t think that can be sustainable, but it could work in BYU’s favor in the first quarter.
5. Women's volleyball prospects
5. How far do you think the BYU women’s volleyball team can go in 2019?
DICKSON: Last year’s incredible season creates some unreasonable expectations. All-Americans Roni Jones-Perry and Lyndie Haddock-Eppich are generational players and among the best ever at BYU in their positions. You don’t just plug anybody into those spots and stay in the Top 5 in the rankings. OK, maybe they do at Stanford, Penn State, Texas and Nebraska, but not here in Provo. Neither Jones-Perry nor Haddock-Eppich were heavily recruited outside of Utah, so the Cougars were fortunate that they developed into All-Americans. That being said, I think this year’s BYU team is good enough to win the West Coast Conference and win a couple of matches in the NCAA Tournament. Beyond that, the Cougars will be faced with playing at one of those powerhouse teams on their home floor in the Sweet 16, and that’s daunting for any team.
LLOYD: I think this question comes down to how much the team gels over the next couple of months. The Cougars have lost to both of the ranked opponents they have faced in 2019, although they have a couple more big opportunities in the next few days (at No. 18 Utah on Thursday and at No. 2 Stanford on Saturday). I’m still confident that this is a good BYU women’s volleyball team but unless it really comes together, I don’t think it is a great one. I’m going to take the safe route and say the Cougars will make it back to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament — but that will be as far as they will go this fall.
Bonus: Taysom Hill at QB in New Orleans
With the injury to Drew Brees, should Taysom Hill start at quarterback for the New Orleans Saints on Sunday?
LLOYD: If Drew Brees is out, the Saints certainly have offensive question marks. Teddy Bridgewater was just 17-of-30 for 165 yards against the Rams last week and didn’t get the team into the end zone. I’m still concerned that Taysom Hill won’t be accurate enough to be a long-term NFL quarterback but I think he deserves to get a shot.
DICKSON: The Saints have invested a lot of money in Bridgewater ($6.85 million with a $3.3 million signing bonus) and the NFL is all about the money, so he’ll get another shot on Sunday. But I think Hill is ready to be given an opportunity to do more than just spot work at other positions. With Brees out, what does New Orleans really have to lose by giving Hill the reins?