Cougar Sports Roundtable: Biggest Takeaways From BYU Football Spring Camp

Mar 27, 2024, 2:18 PM

The Cougar Sports Roundtable is a weekly BYU football, basketball, and athletics feature on KSL Sports with KSL NewsRadio’s Cougar Sports Saturday & Cougar Nation team of BYU Insider Mitch HarperMatt Baiamonte, and Nate Slack. You can listen to them on Saturdays from Noon to 3 p.m. on 102.7 FM, 1160 AM, or On-Demand on the Cougar Sports Saturday podcast.

PROVO, Utah – It’s time for another week of the Cougar Sports Roundtable.

Two questions on BYU basketball. Then, some takeaways from BYU football spring camp.

As spring ball wraps up, what has been your biggest BYU football takeaway from camp?

Slack: My biggest takeaway is that this defense is ready to take another big step forward.

It’s a little tough to get a read on things in spring ball because of the limited opportunities to see the team, but I really like what I’ve heard and seen out of that side of the ball, especially with Jack Kelly and Ephraim Asiata.

Kyle Van Noy had a Q&A on X and said BYU football needs to “stop getting Jimmy and Jonnys” to have a better pass rush.

Kelly and Asiata are tough, nasty dudes who love to cause problems. With all due respect to BYU’s recent defensive linemen, I think the additions of Kelly and Asiata are exactly what KVN says BYU needs.

Kelly had 8.5 sacks last year at Weber State and forced four fumbles, and Asiata has had some one-on-one highlights make the rounds on social media over the last few weeks. I think they and Tyler Batty will help with the pass rush and make this the best BYU football defense we’ve seen in over a decade.

Baiamonte: I can’t disagree with Nate on this one. The defense looks improved. There is high-end talent with more depth than I can remember in recent years.

Whether or not that will result in more wins is largely dependent on the offense being better, but it’s obvious to me the defense will be improved.

I’d also add that I think BYU has a loaded wide receiver room. There are seven or eight guys who could be in the two-deep. That’s a nice problem to have as long as the quarterback can distribute the ball appropriately, which remains a big question.

Harper: BYU football needs an elite ground attack this season.

No one will mistake BYU’s quarterback unit among the best in the Big 12. So they need an excellent running game to counter the deficiencies at quarterback. That’s my biggest takeaway coming out of spring ball.

LJ Martin has added 20 pounds and looks to be the starter. Fourth-year ball carrier Miles Davis has been a pleasant surprise. Once a role player at best in the backfield, Davis is emerging as the favorite to be the No. 2 running back behind Martin.

Then BYU also returns Hinckley Folau Ropati after he was sidelined last year with an ACL injury.

Freshman running back Pokaiaua Haunga is also good enough to contribute in games.

How will BYU basketball’s first-round NCAA loss to Duquesne impact your perception of the 2023-24 team?

Nate Slack: I’ll have a lot of good memories from this year’s team, but losing in the first round to Duquesne kept this year from being special. There were some great wins, like Iowa State, Baylor, and Kansas, but there were also a handful of head-scratching losses.

The team was still able to crush preseason expectations but couldn’t win when it really mattered. A few weeks ago, I said this was one of the top five teams in BYU history, but I’m not sure that can still be true after getting bounced in the first round by an 11-seed as a double-digit favorite.

Matt Baiamonte: How could it not? I said last week on Cougar Nation (KSL NewsRadio, available on podcast) that this team needed to win two games for this to be considered a great team.

It never crossed my mind that they would be upset in the opening round against Duquesne. Losing against the Dukes was the worst opening-round loss in the history of BYU in the NCAA tournament.

This was a fun team to watch. I loved head coach Mark Pope’s embrace of the three-point line with an up-tempo style. I believe that style will result in tournament wins down the road.

BYU certainly outperformed expectations in the Big 12, and they deserve some credit for that, but losing their last two games of the season in the fashion that they did will be a lasting memory from this season.

Mitch Harper: Despite going through the toughest conference in America, the cursed nature of BYU basketball in the NCAA Tournament continues. That ending leaves a sour taste on a special year for BYU.

I’m with Nate; after losing to Duquesne, I’ll have to rescind my take that this was a Top-Five BYU team of all time.

Ken Pomeroy said the NCAA committee did BYU “a huge favor” by lining them up against Duquesne. It didn’t matter—a slow start and poor shooting sunk BYU again on the March Madness stage.

The 2024 team should always be remembered for laying a foundation that BYU belongs in the Big 12. For that, this group should always be held in high regard.

What gives you hope better days are ahead for BYU hoops?

Slack: There are many reasons to be hopeful for the future of BYU hoops, but I think you have to start by looking at next year’s roster.

Spencer Johnson is graduating, and BYU will likely lose Jaxson Robinson to the NBA, but the bulk of the roster should be back.

I expect we will see a couple of players transfer out (Marcus Adams included). However, Dallin Hall, Richie Saunders, Fousseyni Traore, Aly Khalifa, and others returning have me feeling bullish about next season. Not to mention the addition of Dawson Baker, Collin Chandler, and Isaac Davis.

Hopefully, the returning production next year will help BYU find itself in the preseason Top 25 and land some good non-conference games. The Cougars will play in an MTE in San Diego on Thanksgiving weekend with Purdue, Arkansas, and Notre Dame. They’ll also have a good chance to play in the Big East-Big 12 Battle. It would be great if BYU could make a splash early and put itself in a position to land a higher seed in next year’s tournament.

Baiamonte: The experience, style of play, and incoming talent give me hope that BYU will return to the tournament next season.

Unlike Nate, I think there is a decent chance Jaxson Robinson will return next season. If he can duplicate what he did this season, he will improve his NBA draft stock. From an NBA standpoint, this could be another Jimmer situation where another year in Provo will help him, not hurt him.

If Pope can somehow land him, then this team could be a preseason top-25 team.

Dawson Baker’s health will be the biggest determining factor for next season. How badly did this team need his ball-handling and shot-making ability down the stretch? If he’s healthy, he’ll be a massive addition to this team next year.

I think it’s fair to assume some of the younger players will improve as well. Richie Saunders has a high ceiling and more playing time will only help him. The same goes for Dallin Hall. If he can become more reliable and consistent on a nightly basis, that gives me tremendous hope that brighter days are ahead.

Harper: Depth on the guard line.

That was sorely lacking for BYU this season. As Matt noted, Dawson Baker’s health will be critical. He was one of the top players in Training Camp last October before being sidelined with a foot injury.

But then you add Collin Chandler. Sure, it will take some time for him to get acclimated. When you sign a Top-40 recruit nationally, the expectation is that he has an NBA future. Chandler was dominant in the AAU circuit, causing him to soar in the recruiting rankings.

The depth on the front court will get better next year if BYU maintains its current personnel and gets healthy. Aly Khalifa played through knee injuries this past season, Fousseyni Traore dealt with a hamstring, and Atiki Ally Atiki had a thumb injury that needs surgery.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and hosts the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X: @Mitch_Harper.

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Cougar Sports Roundtable: Biggest Takeaways From BYU Football Spring Camp