In our usual springtime tradition of checking in with LSU’s opponents for the coming season, we lead off with BYU. Robby McCombs of SB Nation’s Vanquish the Foe fills us in on how the Cougars’ spring went.
1. This is certainly a different type of intersectional matchup. What's the general opinion on the BYU side of things?
LSU will be one of the most talented teams BYU has faced in the last 10 years. BYU has faced teams with NFL talent (2009 Oklahoma, TCU teams from MWC days) and LSU is way up there. The general feel is that BYU will have the horses on defense to keep LSU from putting up too many points, but that LSU will be way too fast and athletic for BYU’s offense. BYU has had success in season opening games (Arizona last season, Nebraska 2015, 2009 vs a top-3 Oklahoma team) and the "week zero" game versus Portland State will help get some of the rust off, but LSU just has more raw talent than BYU.
2. Coming off of a 9-4 2016, what's the sense of BYU's direction in the coming season? Improvement, or maybe some rebuilding?
BYU lost its starting QB Taysom Hill and star running back Jamaal Williams, but the general sense is that BYU is heading in the right direction, on the field and on the recruiting trail. BYU had a lot of young contributors last season, and the sense is that BYU will build on the momentum from Kalani Sitake’s first season and reach double-digit wins this year. The first month of the season will dictate a lot of the success, as BYU has a 3-game stretch with LSU, Utah, and Wisconsin. Coaches are very aware of the recruiting impact the LSU game will have, so BYU will come out with a well prepared to try to pull off the upset.
3. How's the offense look?
BYU is known for high-flying passing offenses that light up the scoreboard, but that’s not likely to be the case this year. Junior QB Tanner Mangum is back running the offense after backing up Hill last season. As a freshman in 2015, he threw for more than 3,300 yards and had his share of highlight-worthy plays. The sense is that he fits very well in Ty Detmer’s pro-style offense, but his bowl game performance in terrible weather last season and the quality of receivers he has to throw to may keep him from replicating his 2015 numbers.
BYU has a lot of unproven guys at wide receiver, and really struggled at that position last season. True freshman Matt Bushman looks like a future star at tight end, but he is still only a freshman.
BYU looks like it will go with a running back by committee approach to replace Williams, as no one separated himself during spring ball. Junior Squally Canada and freshman thumper Ula Tolutau look like the two best options.
BYU returns 4 of 5 starters on the offensive line, highlighted by senior center Tejan Koroma; o-line looks like the strength of the offense.
In short, BYU’s offense will probably struggle the first month of the season.
4. How about the defense?
BYU was one of nation’s leaders last season in turnovers forced, and the defense looks like it will be even better this year.
BYU’s best position group on either side of the ball is linebacker. BYU returns all thee linebackers in a 4-3 scheme. The star is senior outside linebacker Fred Warner, who is a dynamic playmaker in both the running and passing game. Middle linebacker Butch Pau’u is a tackling machine.
In the secondary, BYU is young but talented. BYU returns three of four starters, including both corners who started as freshmen last year. BYU rarely gets NFL-caliber players in the secondary, but the Cougars look to have to future NFLers in corners Troy Warner and Dayan Lake.
BYU has a lot of young, promising players on the D-Line, but this group is the biggest question on the defense. Despite having a good defense last season, BYU struggled to pressure the quarterback with its front four. BYU may still be finding its rotation along the D-Line during the first part of the season to find which group of players can get after the quarterback.
5. The Cougars are in year two of Kalani Sitake, following up a great run under Bronco Mendenhall. How's the feeling towards him so far?
BYU fans everywhere LOVE Head Coach Kalani Sitake, who finished his first season last year. He is the first alumnus to ever coach at BYU, and has brought much needed excitement and enthusiasm that was lacking under the previous coaching regime.
The coaching staff has preached "love" on the recruiting trail and to current players; players love Coach Sitake, and lay it all out on the field for him.
BYU doesn’t have the same talent level as LSU, but the players will give maximum effort to play for their coach.