The BYU offense wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but since it’s the first game of the year, there is a little room to be more critical, especially when the game was a convincing win over a Pac-12 school. Here is how BYU graded out on its win over Washington State, starting with the offense.
The offense overall had a very productive day for the first game of the season. Its ability to mix in a quick tempo at will, and do so with few mental mistakes, was impressive. BYU racked up a total of 426 yards with an aggressive offensive attack that oftentimes put Washington State on its heels. Overall, it was a very good game to start the 2012 season. The grade would have been higher had the offense not stalled when trying to find the end zone three times in the blue zone in the second half. Still, BYU handed WSU a resounding defeat.
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson did very well against an upperclassman-laden defensive backfield that was supposed to be the strength of the defense. Completing 25 of 36 for 285 yards with two touchdowns, Nelson got it done both through the air and on the ground to tire out and frustrate the WSU defense. His pass efficiency of 154.28 is good, and converting at least one more time within the blue zone would have raised the grade. Still, Nelson’s performance was a solid one.
The running backs turned in a steady performance on the ground when needed, oftentimes creating positive yardage on their own. The running trio of Michael Alisa, David Foote and Riley Nelson kept the WSU defense honest, and that allowed Nelson to become more of a threat in the short passing game.
The BYU wide receivers faced some very talented defensive backs in Damante Horton, Nolan Washington, Deone Bucannon and Taylor Taliulu. However, crisp routes and smart play allowed the BYU pass-catchers to rack up some yards. Two of those receivers were former walk-ons in Skyler Ridley and J.D. Falslev. Not a bad day’s work for the Cougar receivers, especially after primary threat Cody Hoffman left in the first quarter with a quad contusion.
Tight end Kaneakua Friel busted out in the season opener by making six catches for 101 yards and scoring two touchdowns. The 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound junior tight end, like Dennis Pitta of old, found the soft spots in the defense to turn in a career performance. Friel led all receivers in total yards and scores in BYU’s 2012 debut.
The BYU offensive line was playing against a WSU defensive front three that was thin and not up to full strength. With that being said, there was a much higher expectation of a greater push between the tackles. The WSU defensive three were able to fill gaps rather nicely, allowing for linebackers to get into the backfield. Nelson was sacked twice, and no BYU running back singlehandedly gained 100 yards of rushing against a front that was considered the weakest part of the WSU defense. BYU only averaged three yards per rush.
The BYU defense showed up to play, and play they did against the strength of the Washington State program. The WSU system under Mike Leach, coupled with the level of talent on the roster, was supposed to pose a great challenge for BYU. The biggest opponent for BYU’s defense was itself, as it was called for a number of penalties that helped WSU move down the field. Despite the infractions called – and some could question the validity of a few of them – the BYU defense was fast to the ball, tackled well, and bottled up WSU’s offense for a total of -5 rushing yards on 10 carries, 229 passing yards and zero touchdowns. That is a lesson on how to play tough defense, but this could have been a shutout had there been fewer mental errors, which would have raised the grade.
The BYU front three had a very solid game, but with the WSU offensive line being a questionable group altogether it was expected. BYU’s front three disrupted passing lanes in between the gaps of WSU’s splits, pressured Jeff Tuel many times, and flowed to the ball with perfect timing. Ezekiel Ansah did very well turning on the heat from his outside rush end position, and Romney Fuga demanded a double team all night. It was even surprising to see true freshman Bronson Kaufusi get some playing time later in the game and, with a fresh pair of legs, was able to apply some pressure. Overall, it a good performance by the first line of defense.
If there were any questions regarding how well BYU would be able to defend the air raid offense with its linebackers, BYU fans got their answer. The linebackers showed why this group is the most talented to play at BYU since 2006. Kyle Van Noy cashed in two sacks while also covering effectively out in space. Spencer Hadley was given the task of taking on 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound tight end Andrei Lintz and virtually shut him down. Uona Kaveinga recorded a diving interception and Brandon Ogletree was tough as nails in the middle shutting down the fly sweep and disrupting bubble screens. From the outside, Van Noy, Hadley and Alani Fua were very disruptive, forcing Tuel out of the pocket and making him uncomfortable in the pocket. Despite facing a pass-heavy team, the linebackers showed discipline and were never fooled with the occasional rushes by Washington State.
The man-zone defense of BYU’s secondary was able to hold what was supposed to be the strength of WSU’s offense to only 229 yards, with an average of just 5.1 yards per reception. WSU receiver Marquess Wilson had the biggest day, hauling in 61 yards on four receptions, but other than that, BYU’s secondary held their own against the strength of WSU’s offense. Jordan Johnson was called for a few penalties but was able to register a 64-yard interception return in his starting debut.
Overall it was a very good day for the Cougars of BYU, both offensively and defensively. Mike Leach’s return to his alma mater was probably not what he expected, as BYU took WSU to the woodshed for a lesson in how to play football.