Updated: Aug 13, 2019
In the months before every season, I devour every pre-season college football guide I can get my hands on. I read about every school, but the first page I turn to is always the BYU preview. It is intriguing to see how those outside the program view BYU and to see how they expect the season to play out for the Cougars. Although I always enjoy these previews, frequently it feels like the writer doesn’t understand the BYU roster beyond the stats from the previous season and how could they with so many schools being covered. With that being said I have decided to write my own BYU preview, from the perspective of someone who watched every game last year, attended spring practice and watched the highlights of each recruit coming to BYU and has read every hyperbolic practice and workout report. This preview will be different than those you have read before and don't be surprised to see some blue goggled opinions throughout. So here we go, lets preview the 2019 BYU Cougars.
The BYU offense returns 8 starters from last year and most importantly brings back quarterback Zach Wilson. Wilson finished the season with an 18-18 performance in the bowl game creating a wave of excitement building towards the August 29th showdown with the University of Utah. Aside from Wilson, BYU returns an offensive line loaded with experience. Freshman All-American James Empey and Brady Christensen will return for their sophomore season along with talented guard Tristen Hoge and a few up and comers who started games last year, Keanu Saleapaga and Keiffer Longson; those 5 are not the guaranteed starters on August 29th, Harris LaChance and Thomas Shoaf are both strong and talented and will push for playing time, don't forget that Thomas Shoaf was a Freshman All-American just a couple years ago. Zach Wilson will be behind one of the more talented offensive lines in recent history. Heading into the offseason the big question was who would be toting the rock behind that offensive line after the loss of Squally Canada and Matt Hadley; that question has been answered thanks to the hard work of BYU running backs coach, AJ Steward. BYU returns Lopini Katoa who ran for 423 yards last year and 8 touchdowns, the question with Katoa has never been ability the question has been durability. BYU secured two grad transfers to bolster the running backs group, Emmanuel Esukpa, and Ty’Son Williams. Esukpa comes from Rice University where he ran for 461 yards the last year and 3 touchdowns. Esukpa already has a relationship with Coach Steward and knows what he expects which will help him get accustomed to the BYU offense. BYU also brought in South Carolina transfer Ty’Son Williams. Out of high school, Williams was a 4-star recruit and the #21 ranked running back in the nation, and still possesses all the traits that made him a highly touted recruit. Last year he ran for 328 yards for the Gamecocks. If one of these running backs can step up and become the feature back, watch out for the BYU offense. The most unproven group on offensive side of the ball is the WR group. BYU returns Talon Shumway, Gunner Romney, Aleva Hifo Dax Milne, and Neil Pauu; all of them made an impact last year but no one stepped up as a go-to guy who could make big plays and convert tough 3rd downs. All of these guys have the potential to step up and help Zach Wilson stretch the field and find weaknesses in the defense, and BYU will need them to be ready out of the gate as they will face a tough secondary week one. Luckily, BYU won't solely rely on their receivers to catch the ball, I actually believe the leading receiver will be a Tight End this year. Matt Bushman has the talent to be an All-American this year and a future NFL player; he was seen as a go-to guy for Zach Wilson and someone who could be relied on against great defenses and in high-pressure situations. Bushman won't be the only TE catching passes this year, Moroni Laulu-Pututau got off to a hot start in 2018 before a season-ending knee injury and is poised to have a good senior season. BYU will have one of the best 1-2 punch TE combos in college football next season.
BYU fans can expect the offense to be much improved, and scoring in the 30s and 40s should be the expectation, not a surprise. If Jeff Grimes can be as aggressive as we have heard he will be, the offense will be the strength of the team. That is something that hasn’t been the norm at BYU for a long time.
Projected Depth Chart
QB- Zach Wilson, Jaren Hall
RB- Ty'Son Williams, Lopini Katoa, Emmanuel Esukpa
TE- Matt Bushman, Moroni Laulu-Pututau
WR- Gunner Romney, Micah Simon
WR- Neil Pau’u, Talon Shumway
Slot- Aleva Hifo, Dax Milne
LT- Brady Christensen, Thomas Shoaf
LG- Keiffer Longson, Keanu Saleapaga
C- James Empey, Tristen Hoge
RG- Tristen Hoge, JT Gentry
RT- Harris LaChance, Thomas Shoaf
From an outsiders perspective, BYU will see a significant drop off on the defensive side of the ball with the losses of Corbin Kaufusi and Sione Takitaki. While those are both big losses leaving gaping holes behind, BYU fans know there are a lot of guys who can fill those holes. Along the defensive line, there are a lot of options to rotate in at Corbin's spot including his younger brother. Losing Corbins ability to get to the quarterback will hurt, but whoever fills in on the edge will be going 1 on 1 almost every down because of defensive tackles like Khyris Tonga, Lorenzo Fautea and Bracken El Bakri all drawing double teams inside. These 3 defensive tackles will be able to stop the run and provide the outside guys opportunities to go 1 on 1 and get to the quarterback. Khyris Tonga is likely the most talented player on BYUs team this year and he will be relied upon to cause trouble in the middle for opposing offenses. Losing the leading tackler and leader of the defense from last year Sione Takitaki will hurt, but BYU has always been able to reload at Linebacker. BYU brings back talented starters from last year Isaiah Kaufusi and Zayne Anderson; those two will lead the defense and are both able to play sideline to sideline, the third spot will be filled by one of Chaz Ah You, Jackson Kaufusi, Max Tooley or Keenen Pili. All of those players have the potential to be great LBs at BYU and continue the legacy of BYU linebackers. For the first time in a long time, BYU brings back a secondary that won't be considered the weak link of the team. Ilaisa Tuiaki will look to put the most talent possible on the field, meaning we will certainly see Dayan Ghanwoloku on the field almost every down at either corner or safety. If Dayan is at corner we will see Austin Lee and either Troy Warner or Malik Moore patrolling from the safety position. Lee, the Utah transfer is poised to have a great season building upon what he did last year. Malik Moore improved a lot throughout his freshman year and is someone the coaches believe has a lot of potential, I expect Moore to surprise a lot of people this year. Troy Warner will battle with both of them for playing time in the defensive backfield as he continues to recover from injuries that hampered him last season. At corner, BYU has a lot of options, the best being Dayan Ghanwoloku. Outside of Dayan I was really impressed by the play of D’Angelo Mandell last year and expect him to be a week one starter. Cougar fans hope Chris Wilcox will be recovered in time to start against Utah, but there is a good chance Wilcox will still be out due to the leg injury he suffered at the end of last season; usually, injuries to DBs are detrimental to what is usually a thin BYU secondary, not this year. Ed Lamb and Jenaro Gilford have done a great job building the secondary, Isaiah Herron Keenan Ellis, Eric Ellison, and Dimitri Gallow all will be contributors in the secondary this year. Ellison and Gallow are both JuCo transfers who will make an immediate impact. Im excited to see what this group can do this year and hope they can force more turnovers than they did last year. That may be the biggest weakness in this BYU defense, will they be able to force turnovers. No proven pass rushers to force QBs into bad decisions or force fumbles is something BYU needs to overcome in order to have a great defense like we have grown accustomed to.
Projected Depth Chart
DE- Devin Kaufusi, JJ Nwigwe
DT-Khyris Tonga, Bracken El Bakri
DT- Lorenzo Fautea, Earl Tuioti-Mariner
DE- Zac Dawe, Uriah Leiatua
Flash*- Zayne Anderson, Chaz Ah You
MLB*- Jackson Kaufusi, Max Tooley
OLB*- Isaiah Kaufusi, Keenan Pili
CB- Dayan Ghanwoloku or Isaiah Herron, Dimitri Gallow
SS- Dayan Ghanwoloku or Malik Moore, Troy Warner
FS- Austin Lee, Sawyer Powell
CB- Chris Wilcox or D’Angelo Mandell, Keenan Ellis Eric Ellison
BYU will have a kicking competition throughout fall camp pitting Jake Oldroyd against last years starter Skyler Southam. Oldroyd will always be remembered for his heroics against Arizona in Kalani Sitake’s first game as the head coach at BYU. Southam was reliable last season, he made what ended up being the game-winner against Wisconsin from 45 yards. During spring practice it seemed like Oldroyd had a slight lead over Southam but we will see what happens during fall camp. At punter, BYU will have another competition this time between Ryan Rehkow and Danny Jones. There have been rumblings that Jones may not return to BYU this fall, but only time will tell. In addition to those two, both of the guys competing to kick can also punt. BYU returns last years long snapper, Mitch Harris, Harris was consistent with his snaps all year and did a good job getting down the field in punt coverage.
Projected Depth Chart
K- Jake Oldroyd, Skyler Southam
P- Ryan Rehkow, Danny Jones
LS- Mitch Harris
Offensive Player of the Year- Matt Bushman
Defensive Player of the Year- Dayan Ghanwoloku
Newcomer of the Year- Ty’Son Williams
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