BYU 1-on-1: Early signing day thoughts and getting ready for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
The Daily Herald’s BYU sports experts Jared Lloyd and Darnell Dickson weigh in on five of the biggest questions facing the Cougars this week:
1. BYU is No. 73 in the national football recruiting rankings, according to 247 Sports. What are your thoughts on the 2019 class?
DICKSON: Every school wants to get “OKG’s” – our kind of guys – that fit the programs needs and style. I believe Kalani Sitake and his coaches are doing that, not just this season but the last couple of seasons as well. All you have to do is see how many true freshmen and redshirt freshman have played this year. A couple of guys stand out to me in this class. One of them is Michael Daley, a linebacker out of Lone Peak High School. He is a relentless pass rusher and at times was simply unblockable this season. I also really like wide receiver Chase Roberts out of American Fork. He’s got great size and terrific hands.
It’s interesting that Utah is only three spots ahead of BYU in the national recruiting rankings.
LLOYD: I admit that I look at recruiting rankings like I look at those New Year’s party poppers … they are good for a cheap thrill but don’t mean much in the long run. Still, the first thing that jumped out at me with this class is the timing for the Cougars at the marquee position of quarterback. If everything goes perfectly, then Jacob Conover from Chandler, Arizona, will be getting back from his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in time to get a year or two of tutelage under Zach Wilson and/or Jaren Hall before he takes over the reigns of the Cougar offense. That’s a pretty good way to give a guy like Conover a chance to learn and then plenty of time on the field. I also like how BYU added some potential threats to their wide receiving position but I think everyone can agree that the Cougars still need to get more help at running back.
2. What is the area of most concern for BYU as it takes on Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl?
LLOYD: When you look at what the Cougars have done to win games this year, the constant has been that they have had success running the ball. That has me a little apprehensive going into the bowl game because of the injuries. If Squally Canada is back at full speed, that will be a big benefit but he hasn’t played a lot in recent weeks so I don’t know how he will do. Behind Canada, it sounds like Lopini Katoa is a question mark. I love Riley Burt’s speed but I haven’t seen him consistently be able to find holes. Maybe freshmen Tyler Allgeier makes some plays. I just don’t want everything to be on Zach Wilson, because it hasn’t resulted in wins when BYU has had to rely too heavily on the QBs.
DICKSON: My biggest concern is a couple of big holes on the defensive side. Defensive end Corbin Kaufusi has already had knee surgery and is out, as is linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi. There just isn’t the depth on the defensive side this late in the season and there are players who will have to step up and play bigger roles in the bowl game. Devin Kaufusi and Uriah Leiataua will share time at defensive end and we’ll see Tanner Jacobson and Riggs Powell at the Flash linebacker spot.
3. Pick a BYU offensive player who will have a big impact on Friday’s bowl-game outcome.
DICKSON: Junior wide receiver Aleva Hifo has been pretty quiet lately with just three catches in the past four games. He was shut out against Utah. I think he needs to be much more involved in the offense in the bowl game. Get him the ball in both the pass game and the run game and good things will happen.
LLOYD: I’m putting the spotlight squarely on Matt Bushman at tight end. We have seen so many glimpses of his strength, athleticism and ability but there have been some drops and costly fumbles that have scuffed things up a little bit. BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said when he got to Provo that the Cougars had big-time tight ends and I have always thought BYU is at its best when those guys are utilized. Bushman needs to shine by making plays in coverage and with contact, by showing he can be a guy that goes and gets the ball when the team needs a first down. That would open up a lot of things for the rest of the Cougar offense.
4. After a heartbreaking, last-second loss at UNLV last Saturday, the BYU men’s basketball team takes on another former Mountain West Conference team with a road game at San Diego State. What aspect of the game does BYU need to improve to win?
LLOYD: This is something that has surprised me a little bit, considering the relative experience of this squad, but I’m going to say they have to show more big-moment moxie. BYU had two pretty good opportunities to win at UNLV in regulation but couldn’t do it (although to be fair Jahshire Hardnett’s runner in the final seconds of overtime fit the bill). They failed to make similar plays in overtime at Illinois State. They faded down the stretch at Nevada and against Houston. Big-time players make big-time plays when the game is hanging in the balance and the Cougars aren’t getting enough of those right now. I don’t see BYU blowing out the Aztecs on the road, so if the Cougars are anywhere close at the end, they have to do more to get the job done.
DICKSON: It’s easy to say “defense” but I need to be more specific. The defense has to be much better early in the game, especially when closing out on 3-point shooters. UNLV came into the game shooting 27 percent from the 3-point line but the Cougars let them get really comfortable beyond the arc early and the Rebels ended up shooting 48 percent and making 13 3-pointers. San Diego State isn’t very good from the 3-point line either (30 percent). More attention to the 3-point line early will pay dividends late in the game.
5. The BYU men’s volleyball team is ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll. After making the Final Four last season, is this too high or too low?
DICKSON: That might be a little bit high, considering the Cougars will be replacing setter Leo Dukin, outside hitter Brenden Sander and middle blocker Price Jarman. Those three players accounted for 258 starts over the course of their careers and they made three Final Fours. I think BYU can be a top 10 team. There is plenty of talent but an awful lot of youth in the program, plus two new assistant coaches. The adjustment period early could be a little bit rough.
LLOYD: I’m going to peg this ranking as being about right for the Cougars heading into 2019. Yes, BYU has some holes to fill and there will likely be some growing pains -- but the Cougars have a tremendous history in volleyball and usually reload instead of rebuilding. There is only one senior on the roster (libero Taylor Richards) but I have confidence that a lot of the other guys are ready. Two of BYU’s top three offensive weapons from last year (sophomore Gabi Garcia Fernandez and junior Storm Fa’agata-Tufuga) are back, so the Cougars have some firepower. Finally, there are only 38 NCAA Division I men’s volleyball programs, so getting a high ranking isn’t as significant as it is in other sports.