BYU Football Midseason Report Card: Grading The Cougars Offense
PROVO, Utah – Somehow, the midway point of the BYU football season is upon us. COVID-19 rattled the flow and rhythm early on to the season, but the past four weeks have felt business as usual for BYU and the college football season.
BYU sits at 5-0 for the first time since 2008, nationally-ranked, and they look to be in a great spot to win a lot more games on its currently scheduled 10-game slate.
With the season at the midway point, it’s only appropriate I take the time to dish out some grades on this 2020 BYU football season.
BYU Football Midseason Report Card: Offense
Let’s dive right in, starting with the BYU offense that is currently No. 6 nationally in both total offense (541.0) and scoring offense (43.6).
Junior Zach Wilson has been spectacular this season for BYU. Wilson has put in the off-season with his body, film study, and leadership is showing in games this season. Wilson has passed through the first five games of the year for 1,641 yards, 12 touchdowns, and only one interception.
The former Corner Canyon product is in the thick of the Heisman race, and for a good reason. His style of play has drawn comparisons to some of the best in the NFL right now and he’s taking BYU football to heights they haven’t seen on the offense since Max Hall was the QB.
Wilson is completing an eye-popping 79 percent of his passes to date this season. What’s even more impressive with that number is that 61 of Wilson’s 136 passing attempts have gone at least ten yards downfield. He’s not dinking and dunking; Wilson is stretching the field and making big plays with his arm that now has the velocity on the ball he lacked recovering from a torn labrum surgery last year.
Opposing defenses are struggling to find ways to stop Wilson. If they blitz, he’s still completing 75 percent of his passes when facing a blitz. He can run the football as well as highlighted by his six touchdown runs this season.
Behind Wilson are players you can point to and say have a case to be the next big thing at quarterback for BYU. Sophomore Baylor Romney is number two, and he was impressive according to reports in fall camp.
Jaren Hall continues to recover from an injury but is around the team both for home and away games. At full health, Hall is one of the most dynamic athletes BYU has on its roster. A pair of true freshmen in Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters and Jacob Conover can say they once received scholarship offers from Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban respectively.
It’s a loaded room led by a superstar.
My Grade: A
The running back room entering the 2020 season had some question marks. But those questions were quickly erased as they emerged as strengths despite being down a handful of personnel in that room.
During fall camp, the media was told that the running backs consistently had big days in practice on numerous occasions. Well, folks, stop the presses because some fall camp reports came to fruition. BYU’s running backs have been one of the better storylines this season.
It starts with Tyler Allgeier, who leads BYU in rushing with 416 yards. The former Fontana, California native, was a powerful inside runner out of high school when BYU landed him as a preferred walk-on, but no one saw the top-end speed he has shown in some of his runs.
Along with Allgeier, Lopini Katoa’s style of play pairs up nicely with Allgeier to form a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield. Katoa is a versatile athlete toting the rock 43 times while also being fourth on the team in receptions with nine this season.
BYU has reinforcements coming with Sione Finau back with the team. He led the team in rushing yards a season ago and he was available in the win over Houston. Injuries to Jackson McChesney and Hinckely Ropati appeared to be devastating when they occurred, but BYU has been able to navigate the season without those guys.
Also, Miles Davis might be an intriguing prospect to watch down the road as he continues to develop.
My Grade: B+
During the Kalani Sitake era, BYU has lacked a clear-cut number one wide receiver on any of his teams. Until this year. This season, BYU has two guys who can step up in a WR No. 1 role if called upon.
Gunner Romney and Dax Milne have come up big for BYU this season, combining for 1,006 receiving yards between the two of them through five games and 54 receptions. Milne leads the team with 33 catches for 550 yards and four touchdowns. Romney is currently at 21 catches for 456 and two scores.
There was a lot of pressure on both players to step up this season. For Romney, Sitake always viewed him as a potential No. 1 target. Romney is a former four-star recruit, showing why he was a blue-chip prospect out of Chandler High School by catching everything thrown in his zip code.
Milne, a former preferred walk-on, has gotten where he is through hard work. But the Houston game was a career-night performance showing that he’s more than just a possession receiver or a guy used on jet sweep/reverses. He can beat defenders lined up in man-to-man coverage and make big plays. A luxury BYU’s offense hasn’t had since Mitch Mathews.
Neil Pau’u is BYU’s clear-cut No. 3 receiver and in that role, Pau’u brings great value as a big target that can create mismatches. Pau’u has 17 catches for 191 yards and an acrobatic fourth-down TD grab against UTSA.
Behind the top three, there’s a big drop off in snaps played and catches. Brayden Cosper and Keanu Hill appear to be the next in line; each has two catches this season. Then guys like Kody Epps and Chris Jackson round out the depth.
My Grade: A
Losing Matt Bushman for the entire 2020 season to an Achilles had some worried that the BYU offense was going to struggle. That hasn’t happened as other areas have stepped up to replace the All-American tight end, including a handful of young tight ends who are learning on the job this season and gaining valuable experiencing during a year where BYU is rolling.
The leaders in this room have been Isaac Rex and Masen Wake. Yes, Wake is a tight end, with nearly 70 percent of his snaps coming as a tight end. I’m grouping him here even though you can’t help but love how he is making fullbacks great again for BYU football.
Rex has seven catches for 109 yards this season, including a touchdown grab that brought back the old school Cabbage Patch dance. To this point, Rex’s biggest strength might be as a pass blocker. Rex is farther ahead than where Bushman was as a blocker in his second year with the program in terms of blocking. Still, in the receiving game, he’s a nice option over the middle.
Carter Wheat also has a touchdown grab this season and three starts under his belt. Junior college transfer Lane Lunt is a prospect who has played in four games this year and was a pleasant surprise this past March during BYU football spring practices.
BYU also added Hank Tuipulotu, who has been dressing for games the past few weeks. Tuipulotu is recovering from two ACL injuries in back-to-back years. But when he went down with an injury in 2019, he was viewed as the clear-cut number two tight end behind Bushman.
This is a young group that has had some bumps along the way, but they are improving every week, and each of them has a high ceiling in their BYU careers.
My Grade: B
This group, when they are at full strength, might be the best BYU offensive line the Cougars have had since LaVell Edwards retired in 2000. That’s lofty praise because the Cougars have had some excellent offensive line’s the past two decades, but this group is in the conversation to be at the top.
It starts with Brady Christensen, who Pro Football Focus currently ranks as the No. 1 graded tackle in college football right now. Zach Wilson’s blindside is in good hands with Christensen protecting him. BYU hasn’t had an offensive lineman selected in the NFL Draft since 2005; Christensen appears to be the guy that has the best odds of ending that drought.
Center James Empey has been banged up dealing with an ankle injury that he reinjured against Houston. Joe Tukuafu stepped in and had a great game against LA Tech and did a nice job against an aggressive Houston defensive line. Before this season, Tukuafu had never played a snap at offensive line in his football career.
Tristen Hoge has battled pneumonia the past few weeks and is set to return to earn his starting job at right guard again. Clark Barrington has been a pleasant surprise this season, especially against Navy, where he dominated the Midshipmen upfront. Chandon Herring is a “freak” running 4.9 40-times and he has improved in his run blocking this season.
Blake Freeland is now one full calendar down in his time as an offensive lineman. The former quarterback/tight end/athlete in high school is still young in learning the position, but he has made significant leaps forward in his game. Consistency will be something to watch in the future as Freeland continues improving.
BYU then has reserves that would see playing time at many Power 5 programs in Kieffer Longson and Keanu Saleapaga.
When at full strength, this group is as good as it gets for BYU. But injuries have knocked their grade just a touch to the midway point of the season.
My Grade: A-
Coming up Wednesday: BYU Defense midseason report card.
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.
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