Eight games down, four to go: A mid-season evaluation of the football team

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With a winning percentage of just more than .700 during the Mendenhall era, high standards and even higher expectations are nothing new for the BYU football team.

Midway through the season with a 6-2 record, BYU football head coach Bronco Mendenhall and the boys in blue have come a long way from the tough, rainy loss at Virginia to become bowl eligible with a win against Boise State.

Quarterback Taysom Hill’s greatly improved passing game, the rise of the receiving corps and an ever-stalwart defense have caused fans to respond with pride and confidence, leading the faithful to wonder of the possibilities that await the rest of the season.

Cody Hoffman catches a pass from Taysom Hill for a touchdown during the game against Georgia Tech. Photo by Sarah Hill.
Cody Hoffman catches a pass from Taysom Hill for a touchdown during the game against Georgia Tech. (Photo by Sarah Hill)

With the full support of BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe in the form of a contract extension through the 2016 season, Mendenhall will lead the football team against a Pac-12 opponent in the 2013 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.

“Bronco Mendenhall, in eight years, has not only continued that tradition but has built upon that,” Holmoe said of Mendenhall and the winning history of the Cougars.

The offense

Following the 2012 season, Mendenhall revamped his offensive coaching staff and hired Robert Anae, Mark Atuaia, Jason Beck, Guy Holliday and Garett Tujague to boost the Cougars.

Many true blue fans were left scratching their heads and worried after a 19-16 loss to Virginia, a game made memorable by a two-hour weather delay. Quarterback Taysom Hill was sacked three times and threw an interception that led to Virginia’s game-winning touchdown.

Hill’s health was a concern at the start of the season after taking a helmet to the knee in 2012 ending his freshman season. After the Virginia game, the offense as a whole became a new concern.

Cougar nation questioned Anae’s “Go fast, go hard” philosophy after watching the team struggle to gain yardage and score.

Worries were temporarily removed with the destruction of the visiting Texas Longhorns. The final score of 40-21 left fans excited after BYU ran 550 yards, with Hill responsible for three scores and 259 yards on the ground.

The stress returned with the tough 20-13 loss to Utah at home. Hill struggled to connect with his receivers, and Mendenhall’s record against the Utes moved to 3-6.

Since the rivalry game, Hill has led the team on a five-game winning streak, averaging 252.4 passing yards per game and completing 52.9 percent of his passes. Hill continues to lead the team in rushing with 105.1 yards per game.

Running back Jamaal Williams follows Hill closely in the rushing category, averaging 104.7 yards per game despite missing the Middle Tennessee game due to a concussion received against Utah.

The return of Cody Hoffman and the rise of Skyler Ridley and Mitch Matthews have given the Cougars more scoring options through the air. Although serving mainly as blockers for Hill’s running game at the start of the season, the receiving corps has stepped up its game, helping BYU outscore opponents 259-170.

“It’s always been the will before the skill for me,” Mendenhall said of the success of the “go fast, go hard” approach. “All we’re doing is asking the offense to do what the defense and special teams had already been doing.”

The defense

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy’s return has provided much-needed leadership for BYU’s defense this season. With the loss of former standouts Ziggy Ansah and Brandon Ogletree, and the three-game suspension of Spencer Hadley, Van Noy has continued to produce this season with 47 tackles, four sacks, one interception, one fumble recovery, a safety and a defensive touchdown.

Van Noy, who is on several end-of-the-year watchlists, and fellow linebacker Alani Fua have created fear in the secondary, each scoring a touchdown after intercepting opposing quarterbacks.

Kyle Van Noy celebrates a tackle during the game against Georgia Tech. Photo by Sarah Hill.
Kyle Van Noy celebrates a tackle during the game against Georgia Tech. (Photo by Sarah Hill)

Uani Unga currently leads the team in tackles with 84 and five tackles-for-loss this season.

Special teams

After losing several games last season due to poor place kicking, Mendenhall and his staff have placed a higher emphasis on the special teams unit.

Punter Scott Arellano is averaging 41.2 yards per punt, but the coverage team led by senior safety Daniel Sorensen has been outstanding, which has made all the difference.

“(Sorensen) is probably the best gunner in the country,” said special teams coordinator Kelly Poppinga. “I would like to find a guy that is better than that guy, because I don’t think there is one.”

Kicker Justin Sorensen has improved, completing 14 of 17 field goal attempts, and is two-for-three for attempts longer than forty yards.

The rest of the season

Eight games down and four to go, BYU will be taking on Wisconsin, Idaho State, Notre Dame and Nevada to finish off the season.

BYU continues to be at the cusp of making the Top 25 lists for multiple polls, including the BCS poll.

As long as Hill stays healthy and productive and Van Noy and his crew continue to eat up offenses across the nation, Cougar nation can rest easy and Mendenhall will continue his impressive tenure.

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