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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inveitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer

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Mid-major powerhouse back on the rise, or permanent mediocrity? Mendenhall's second year should determine this proud program's direction

PAST FIVE SEASONS: 32-29 (21-15 Mtn. West) / 2005: 6-6 (5-3 Mtn. West); Lost Las Vegas Bowl
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 16 (8 Offense, 8 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: The defense, supposedly, and not for nothing: Mormon U. bestowed 417 yards and 30 points worth of love per game upon opposing offenses last year. Says Bronco Mendenhall, via super secret inside disher Matt Hayes, "the unorthodox 3-3-5 wasn't working against the read option offenses of the Mountain West."
In its place, Mendenhall - whose parents clearly had the fullest intentions of breeding a professional wrestler - is installing a "50" defense instead; only, according to Hayes, "the Cougars' variation will have three linemen and four linebackers (think Pittsburgh Steelers)." So...the "50" is really a 3-4? Because the Steelers run a 3-4 - you know, three linemen, four linebackers? Hence the numerology. And because a 50 requires, um, five down linemen - hence the numerology.
Not that it figures to matter much, partly because a) Who other than Air Force in the Mountain West runs a read option-based offense? b) Mendenhall called the change "minimal," anyway, and mainly because...
WHAT'S THE SAME: ...c) virtually everyone from that crappy defense is back. So more points galore.
The Cougars will be scoring plenty again, too, though, because virtually everyone from the very good offense is back. Most importantly, there's All-Mountain West quarterback John Beck, who had seven 300-yard games and a two-to-one TD-INT ratio as a junior in the just kind of pass-happy attack the NCAA should mandate BYU to run every year.
Also, a couple other All-MWC picks: Versatile running back Curtis Brown, too quickly forgotten in eventual losses last year, and apparently suction-handed tight end Johnny Harline. Score, baby, score.
HOW GOOD IS BECK? Yardage totals are misleading, because he tossed up more than 40 passes in nine games and under 29 only once to get to 3,700 yards and 27 TDs, and the team went largely with Beck's performance: he threw multiple touchdowns in five of six wins and multiple picks in four of six losses. In fact, capable as he is of lighting up a box score, BYU was better off the less Beck had to throw in 2005: four of the team's most comfortable wins, against Eastern Illinois, Colorado State, UNLV and Wyoming, were also four of Beck's lowest passing totals. So, as usual, achieving balance with Brown is the key, and the Cougs' ultimate goal.
BUT WHAT ABOUT PLAYING CATCH-UP? Ay, the rub. Balance is tough when the defense is giving up chunks itself, and for a team that faces a bunch of read option offenses, BYU sure got shredded through the air. Will the new defense, whatever its consistency, do anything about that? The anticipated improvement to conference contender - SMQ expects this to be BYU's widely predicted role this preseason - depends on it.
SO CAN THESE DUDES RUN? Both starting cornerbacks and, with burner Todd Watkins gone, seven of the eight returning non-running backs who caught a pass last season on this team are caucasian. That doesn't necessarily in and of itself mean speed is an issue - because race has nothing to do with athleticism, right? Right? - but, um, speed is an issue.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER With more than 700 alumni and guests on hand at the team's first scrimmage last Firday, it was a good thing the Cougars "looked strong on both the defensive and offensive ends of the field":
The camaraderie of all the players, both old and new, was something that everyone was smiling about. Hall-of-Fame football coach LaVell Edwards was there to see how the team is progressing, "The program is definitely moving in the right direction," he said.

"Bronco is doing a great job in handling the program and recruiting," said alumni tackle Dee Davis (1961-1962). "I am sold on this program. Bronco made good progress with the team last year and I have great faith in them this year. There is a feeling of brotherhood, with the new team and the old team."
Sometime this fall, when that comraderie is strained by a read option offense of the Mountain West, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, Mendenhall can tell them to go in there with all they've got and win one for Dee Davis!
REASON FOR HOPE: Beck, Brown, NCAA-mandated 45 pass attempts per game, feeling of brotherhood. The team did post a winning regular season and slip back into a bowl for the first time since 2001 in Mendenhall's first season.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Does the coach, an "innovator" on defense, know the difference between a 50 and 3-4? With the exact same secondary back that allowed an average of 270 yards passing, does it matter?
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY RANDOM POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Comedian/actor Jim Gaffigan - been around a while, fairly consistent, excessively white, usually entertaining, but ultimately forgettable and rarely accomplishes anything all that substantial.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING: 7-5, anonymous minor bowl. One more win is technically "in the right direction," though SMQ suspects more than 700 BYU alumni and fans are hoping for more.

Previous absurdly premature assesments:
April 3: Central Michigan

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3:47 PM

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