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. Changes for BYU football moving forward
1. After watching the BYU football team drop another close game with its loss in the Hawaii Bowl, what do you think is the biggest change that needs to be made?
LLOYD: I want to see a huge increase in swagger. It’s felt all year that the Cougars didn’t really trust the secondary (thus the drop-8 scheme) and often didn’t trust the offensive line (goal line failures, throwing on third-and-2 against Hawaii, etc.). Every team is trying to play to its strengths and avoid getting its deficiencies exposed but I didn’t think BYU came in to many of the games with a truly domineering approach. That’s what really good teams have. They put players in positions to be successful and then the players back up that trust, resulting in the development of team-wide swagger. I feel like that’s still evolving for the Cougars because of the youth — but BYU won’t truly reach its potential until it consistently displays and maintains that confidence.
DICKSON: I feel like there needs to be more trust in the run game. At times against Hawaii it seemed the Cougars would have a run that worked for only a couple of yards and the following half dozen plays would all be passes. BYU ran for 231 yards in the Hawaii Bowl but didn’t have enough trust in the run game to pick up two yards on a critical third down in the last two minutes. If BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes wants to have a balanced offense — something he has voiced repeatedly — there has to be a commitment to staying with the run. The play calling in the second half of both San Diego State and Hawaii — close games — was very pass heavy and I think that gave those opponents an edge in the fourth quarter.
2. Was 2019 football season a success?
2. Do you view the 2019 football season as a whole as a success or a failure for the Cougars?
DICKSON: It depends on what your definition of success is. Mine is a program that is getting better and moving forward. A 7-6 record and two losses to end the season does not indicate progress in my mind. I know there are those who would point to the 2019 schedule as tougher, or that the team was really, really young. I just know that back-to-back 7-6 records doesn’t provide any forward momentum for the program. In that sense, I would not consider 2019 as a successful season.
LLOYD: I think this is a tougher question than people might think. On the surface, I think you have to say that having a 7-6 record with a bowl loss is worse overall than 2018 (7-6 with a bowl win) and that makes it a failure. Given the level of adversity BYU faced at key positions like quarterback, running back, cornerback and safety, I don’t know if I view it as being as much of a negative as I otherwise would. Do wins over USC, Tennessee, Boise State and Utah State trump losses to Toledo, South Florida, San Diego State and Hawaii? No, but they do show that the Cougars are capable of being pretty good. They just aren’t able to do it consistently yet. I think I have to view it as a slight failure of a season but certainly not as a complete disaster.
3. Reasons to be optimistic about football in 2020
3. What do you think is the best reason BYU football fans should be optimistic about 2020?
LLOYD: Are you ready to be blown away by my answer? Believe it or not, I’m going to say it is the schedule. Many make it out to be very daunting but I’m not in that camp. I see a lot of intriguing possibilities. Yes, the Cougars start at Utah, but this is a Ute squad that loses a lot of experience to graduation. BYU has some Power-5 matchups against Michigan State, Arizona State, Missouri and Stanford but I see all of those as winnable, particularly given how those squads performed this year. Even Minnesota, which had a great year in 2019, played a lot of close games. San Diego State, Boise State, Utah State and Houston are good teams to face but none looked truly unbeatable. Do I think BYU can go undefeated against that slate? Probably not. But I think there are going to be a lot of fun games where the Cougars can make big steps forward.
DICKSON: BYU had 50 different players who started at least one game this season and the Cougars played a ton of freshmen and sophomores. BYU fans should be optimistic because freshmen and sophomores become sophomores and juniors. Those young players should be better in 2020. Better not only in games but in practices, which creates a more competitive environment on a daily basis. The key is for a number of those players to take big steps by Game 1 of next season.
4. Men's hoops plays final non-conference game
4. The Cougar men’s basketball team faces one final test before starting West Coast Conference play. What does BYU need to show you against Oral Roberts on Saturday?
DICKSON: One of the most encouraging trends for the basketball team is they are starting to overwhelm opponents in the Marriott Center. Nevada and Weber State both fell by more than 30 points. It’s good to see the program dominate at home. For that trend to continue, the Cougars will have to continue to overachieve as rebounders. Oral Roberts has some big, strong power forward-types who won’t be moved off the block, so it will be important to be fundamentally sound on the boards.
LLOYD: The Golden Eagles have had a decent start to the year and are ranked No. 109 in the NET rankings, so this will be a decent test for the Cougars. I want to see how BYU handles adversity, particularly if Yoeli Childs is limited again, but I don’t know if that will happen in this game. The most important thing for this contest is how consistently the Cougars maintain their free-flowing, team-first mindset at both ends of the court. On defense, I want to see BYU players making the right decisions on rotations and being in good positions. On offense, I don’t want to see the ball get “sticky” with players trying to do too much. Those are things that absolutely have to be crisp for the Cougars heading into league action, particularly with a trip to Saint Mary’s looming.
5. Cougar women's basketball's struggles
5. Why do you think the Cougar women’s basketball team has had such a tough time to start 2019-20?
LLOYD: It has been head-scratching to see a BYU team with this combination of size, talent and ability sitting at .500 (5-5) after the preseason. It’s easy to point to the loss of guard Shaylee Gonzales and her diverse scoring abilities as a huge factor — and it is — but I don’t think that’s the biggest problem. I see a Cougar team that simply hasn’t got everything clicking yet and I’m not sure exactly why that is. With the amount of experience and ability BYU puts on the floor, it shouldn’t have the lapses that it has during games. I think the Cougars just need to get into a groove and establish the identity of this team, then things will improve quickly.
DICKSON: Gonzales had an innate ability to penetrate and score, especially with her nifty little floater or attacking the goal. I don’t see anyone doing that on a consistent basis yet this season. I think Paisley Johnson and Brenna Chase-Drollinger need to do more of that, even though it isn’t the biggest strength of their games. The BYU defense is good enough to be a contender in the WCC; the offense isn’t right now and that will have to change.