Saturday's Royal Purple Las Vegas bowl-slash-Holy War is fast approaching. Today we'll take a look at the BYU offense. Let's start by looking some of the key players for BYU's offense.
Freshman Tanner Mangum was pressed into action during the first game of the season against Nebraska after Taysom Hill went down with a broken foot. The 22 year old freshman from Idaho took the reins and never looked back, leading the Cougars to a 9-3 record and throwing two game winning hail mary's in the process.
Mangum has completed 62.1% of his passes this season and thrown for over 3,000 yards, tossing 21 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. Not bad for a freshman who was not expected to see much playing time this season. Mangum has a passer rating of 142.18 this season and has thrown for over 300 yards in a game four times this season.
The only game he really struggled in was against Michigan, which happens to be the only team BYU played this season still ranked. Against a tough, physical Michigan defense (similar to Utah's) Mangum completed less than half his passes for only 55 yards, no touchdowns and averaged only 2 yards per attempt. That game was Mangum's fourth collegiate game and only his third start and he has improved as a player since that point in the season, but Utah would be wise to closely study the Michigan defense when game planning for Saturday.
Algernon Brown is the feature back for BYU. At 6-1 235lbs. the junior from Magna runs with a punishing style reminiscient of former BYU great, Harvey Unga. Brown leads the team with 122 carries, 697 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground this season. Despite being the lead back, he has only eclipsed the century mark twice this season, once against East Carolina and once against FCS opponent Wagner. After a slow start to the season in which he sat out two games and only received eight carries through the first four games, Algernon has come on nicely, scoring at least one touchdown in each of the last seven games.
Freshman Francis Bernard will see some time on the field in relief of Algernon. The 6-0 235 lb. is averaging 6.13 yards per carry since making his debut against Michigan and has 6 touchdowns this season. His best game came against Connecticut where he carried the ball 11 times for 69 yards and a touchdown.
BYU has some physical backs, but have not relied on them to carry the team. The running game serves as a compliment to Mangum and the passing attack in most games. The run game has found some success this season, but has been largely inconsistent, with BYU failing to go over 100 yards rushing as a team in five games this season.
BYU has six receivers with over twenty receptions this season. Senior Mitch Mathews leads the bunch with 52 receptions for 729 yards and 11 touchdowns. Mathews is a big target for Mangum standing 6-6 and weighing 215 lbs. and has four multi-touchdown games this season. Mathews has proven himself against some of BYU's tougher opponents as well, having some of his best games this season against Nebraska (he caught the Hail Mary), UCLA and Utah State. Mathews' 158 receiving yards against the Aggies pushed him past 2,000 career receiving yards, making him just the 14th BYU receiver to reach that milestone.
Senior receiver Devon Blackmon has put together a nice season for himself with 43 receptions for 572 yards, but has yet to catch a touchdown in his BYU career. Saturday will be his last chance, so expect Mangum to try and get him the ball in the end zone at some point during the game.
Nick Kurtz, Mitchell Juergens, and Terenn Houk should all play a factor in the passing game as well. All three have more than 400 yards receiving, at least two touchdowns and average over two receptions per game.
BYU's offense relies heavily on the pass and the numbers bare that out. BYU ranks 21st in passing offense averaging 249.9 yards per game and is 31st in the country in pass attempts with 448. In comparison, BYU's rushing offense ranks 108th in the country averaging 133.08 yards a game and 122nd in rushing attempts with 388 attempts. Overall BYU opts to pass the ball 54% of the time.
The Cougars tendency to pass, plays in BYU's favor when facing a Utah defense whose strength is stopping the run. Utah currently ranks 97th is the country in pass defense allowing 7 pass yards per attempt and giving up 253.4 yards per game.
Utah has already played and beaten an offense that ranks higher in passing than BYU however. That team is Cal, who came into Rice-Eccles 5-0 way back in the beginning of October. Jared Goff had five interceptions in that game, which ended up being the difference. The Utah secondary has been very opportunistic this season with 19 interceptions tying them for 7th most in the country. BYU averages 34.2 points per game, more than Utah can probably count on scoring with no Devontae Booker. It is critical for Utah to get a few takaways to limit BYU's scoring opportunites and to set up short fields for the Utah offense.
Utah can't let Mangum or his receivers get comfortable on Saturday. Much like Michigan did in their domination over BYU earlier in the season, look for Utah to play press coverage on the Cougar receivers and disrupt BYU's routes and timing. Utah's corners aren't as big as Michigan's which could make a difference however. The front four of Fanaika, Fitts, Mokofisi and Lotuleilei will need to get pressure on Magum as well. Look out for Gionni Paul roaming the middle of the field. As one of the best linebackers in coverage in all of college football, I have a sneaking suspicion he gets his hands on at least one Tanner Mangum pass on Saturday.
If Utah can disrupt BYU's passing game and pressure Mangum, Utah should win. If they allow Mangum time in the pocket to find open receivers, Utah could be in trouble.