This is part two of three of my BYU Football 2011 Preview. Part 1.
The 2010 season defensively was a tale of two halves. Cougar fans were seeing outcomes like they never have before … blowout losses. This was definitely not something anyone was used to seeing from BYU. After bitter in-state rival Utah State beat BYU (and in demolishing fashion) Bronco Mendenhall was up for some serious reflection.
The next day he fired then defensive coordinator Jamie Hill and took the reigns himself. The Cougars went 6-2 in the last eight games after coach Mendenhall took over as the defensive coordinator. They allowed an average of seventeen points per game in that stretch as opposed to the 28.8 ppg in the previous five. That is a drastic change, though some would argue it was mainly the lack of talent BYU faced on the back-end of the schedule.
Bronco will remain the defensive coordinator in 2011 but he loses his top tackler in Andrew Rich who just signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted rookie in the NFL. Replacing a player like Rich will be a difficult task. Lets dive right into what the lineup will look like starting with the guys up front.
Defensive Line: A guy everyone is ready to see again is junior nose tackle Romney Fuga. Fuga went down against Nevada last year with a torn ACL on a dirty block in the back. Though he may not exactly be the starting NT for the Cougars. USC transfer Hebron Fangupo will also be seeing significant time as the starting front man for the D. Fangupo didn’t have to redshirt as normal NCAA transferring rules permit because of the sanctions USC has received recently. Players are allowed to transfer without sitting out a year. That will give much depth to the nose tackle position and will be good for Fuga as he recovers from his knee surgery.
Both defensive end positions have returning starters. Eathyn Manumaleuna has been doing great things for the Cougars for some time and is most known for his game winning blocked field goal in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl. Matt Putnam completes the starting lineup of the D-Line on the other side. Mike Muehlemann is a new addition to the squad as he moved over from Tight End. Other guys like Ian Dulan, Jordan Richardson, and Graham Rowley have also seen significant time on the line for the Cougars.
The depth chart:
DE1 1) #55 Eathyn Manumaleuna Jr. 6’2, 295. 2) #94 Jordan Richardson Jr. 6’3, 271. 3) #82 Mike Muehlemann So. 6’4, 240.
NT 1) #91 Hebron Fangupo Sr. 6’1, 310. 2) #98 Romney Fuga Jr. 6’2, 307.
DE2 1) #41 Matt Putnam Sr. 6’6, 271. 2) #77 Ian Dulan Sr. 6’1, 255. 3) #92 Graham Rowley So. 6’4, 261.
Linebackers: The linebacking core has Cougar fans very excited and for a good reason. There’s not been this much depth at the position for BYU since 2006 when guys like Cameron Jensen, Bryan Kehl, David Nixon, Brady Poppinga and Shawn Doman were all running down quarterbacks. This year seems to boast such NFL talent as well and perhaps even more.
’06 was arguably the best year for a Bronco Mendenhall coached Cougar defensive. They finished the season 11-2 and the two games they lost were by a total of ten points (at Arizona 16-13, and at Boston College 30-23 in overtime). Now with Bronco back at the helm of defensive coordinator things are expected to look more like those days.
There are three seniors who have seen significant playing time in Provo; Jordan Pendleton, Jameson Frazier and Jadon Wagner. Pendleton sat out the last half (the better half) of 2010 after an injury in the Utah State game. He’s more than anxious to get back onto the playing field. The fans are excited to see him on the field against Utah after the hit he laid on Ute quarterback Jordan Wynn in 2009. Look for much of that intensity all season. He hasn’t played the Utes since and would love nothing more than to get a win in Provo against them his senior year. Wagner was selected by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL in the 2011 draft but opted to return for his senior season.
Kyle Van Noy had an outstanding freshman season for BYU in 2010. Expect to see him in the starting lineup as a sophomore. Other sophomores who have experience on the field are Zac Stout and Iona Pritchard.
The guy everyone is talking about is USC transfer Uona Kaveinga who did have to sit out one year due to NCAA transfer rules (he transferred before USC’s sanctions were taken into effect). Coach Mendenhall has touted the intensity Uona brings to the table. Great things are expected from Kaveinga.
Brandon Ogletree is another junior who will start and will see much time for the Cougars. Starting safety Travis Uale has said Brandon and Uona are the two meanest players on the team. (Go to the 41:20 mark in the video on that link.)
This much depth and experience at the linebacker position should have opposing quarterbacks and running backs scared in their tracks. All are capable of making plays and attacking the ball. These guys have every ability to make an impact on the national radar and will be raising some eyebrows with the way they play defensive football for the Cougars.
The depth chart:
SLB 1a) #1 Jordan Pendleton Sr. 6’3, 239. 1b) #48 Jameson Frazier Sr. 6’2, 225. 3) #5 Iona Pritchard So. 6’0, 234.
MLB 1) #4 Uona Kaveinga Jr. 5’11, 255. 2) #5 Zac Stout So. 6’1, 229.
BLB 1) #44 Brandon Ogletree Jr. 5’11, 225. 2) #2 Spencer Hadley So. 6’1, 221.
WLB 1) #3 Kyle Van Noy So. 6’3, 219. 2) #49 Jadon Wagner Sr. 6’4, 246. 3) #43 Jordan Atkinson Sr. 6’3, 230.
Defensive Backs: The secondary has the most questions of the defensive unit. Uale along with cornerback Corby Eason are the only returning starters. Eason became a starter by default after injuries. Look for those two to be a leader for the other two open slots.
The front-runners for those two open starting positions are Preston Hadley, Daniel Sorenson, Robbie Buckner, Jray Galea’i, and Carter Mees. Hadley is a JC transfer from Snow College in Ephraim, UT and is expected to be game ready and have an impact. Buckner has seen some time on the field for BYU and his experience may get him a starting nod. Mees also saw limited action last season.
Freshman Jordan Johnson may get some time this year and Mike Hague switched from running back to provide more on field depth on defense for the Cougars. Joe Sampson is the cousin of former BYU cornerback Brian Logan and is expected to have an impact.
It could take a few games for this unit to be solidified and get into their rhythm. Luckily, in week one against Ole Miss they don’t face any major QB or WR threats. Week two at Texas could be different but they haven’t decided on a quarterback yet so they may not be as difficult a task as a Longhorn squad usually would. That gives the secondary a couple weeks to get things going before they face the Utes in the home opener. (There’s a precursor to my third and final part of this preview).
The depth chart:
CB1 1) #25 Corby Eason Sr. 5’8, 172. 2) #26 Robbie Buckner Jr. 5’10, 176
CB2 1) #7 Preston Hadley Jr. 6’0, 200. 2a) #17 Joe Sampson Jr. 6’0, 205. 2b) #28 Jordan Johnson Fr. 5’10, 175.
SS 1) #9 Daniel Sorenson So. 6’2, 200. 2) #18 Jray Galea’i So. 6’0, 179.
FS 1) #23 Travis Uale Sr. 6’2, 197. 2a) #15 Carter Mees Jr. 6’0, 195. 2b) #32 Mike Hague Jr. 5’10, 190.
Special Teams: The Cougars welcome back kicker Justin Sorensen and his golden leg. Field position after scores shouldn’t be a problem as he averaged 66.5 yards per kickoff as a freshman in 2008. He should take over all field goal kicking duties as a sophomore in 2011. He only kicked long FG’s in ’08. He could be a great weapon and insurance for the offense.
Riley Stephenson is back and will likely just focus primarily on punting while Sorensen will relieve him as the kickoff man. The junior had 20 punts inside the opposing teams’ twenty-yard line last year with seventeen being fifty-yards or longer and 60 being his longest. He also had eight that were touchbacks. He averaged 42 yards a punt last season.
The returning kick-returners will be the same as 2010. Wide Receivers Cody Hoffman and JD Falslev should be the primary kick-returners with Falslev returning the punts. Falslev’s dangerous speed and agility could serve the Cougars well and will compliment the defense after they force the opposing teams to punt to him … if they do.