The Daily Herald’s BYU sports experts Jared Lloyd and Darnell Dickson raise five of the biggest questions the Cougars are facing this week:
1. Is BYU Tyler Allgeier undervalued by cougar fans?
DICKSON: With all the attention paid to Zach Wilson, I wouldn’t be surprised if BYU fans didn’t think a lot about Allgeier when asked about the 2021 season. I thought Allgeier was great and bordered on spectacle while the game was running. He was the beneficiary of a very strong offensive line and a passing game that was the darling of college football. I don’t know that he can duplicate his 2020 numbers for a number of reasons. First, the back room will be much deeper, with newbie Miles Davis strong, Sione Finau healthy, and Jackson McChesney and Hinckley Ropati returning from injury. The coaches will likely spread the benefits more. In addition, a new offensive lines coach and the loss of some key offensive linemen through graduation and NFL will be challenging.
Nevertheless, Allgeier should still get the majority of the carrier and I think he will have a very good season.
LLOYD: I think it’s likely that they overlook Allgeier’s worth, even if they think they fully appreciate what he’s doing on the field. Do you know when the last time a cougar running back ended a season with more rushing yards than the 1,130 yards Allgeier counted in 2020? It was Jamaal Williams who hurried for 1,375 yards in 2016. The only seven Cougars have ever posted seasons better than Allgeier (and many had more games to do it), with only four having done so since 2000. Those four are Williams, Taysom Hill, Luke Staley, and Harvey Unga, who are a fairly elite society. Nevertheless, I think that Allgeier can develop into a greater threat as a passport catcher outside of the field. He only had 14 receptions for 174 yards last year. I also look forward to seeing how he does when the level of competition is expected to increase in 2021.
2. After BYU quarterback Zach Wilson’s performance in 2020, it will be tough for anyone who wins the job. What kind of production do you expect from the quarterback spot next season?
LLOYD: Following a really good quarterback can be difficult – but being in a solid system sure helps. Just ask Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, and Robbie Bosco, who all faced this challenge but did well for themselves. I think the Cougars develop a sense of identity on the offensive that won’t change even if Jeff Grimes and Eric Mateos go to Baylor. That’s why I have high expectations of the BYU QB who wins the job. This is a team that may have lost four offensive linemen but have plenty of upfront experience, as well as a range of weapons on the receiver, narrow end, and run back. While I ask Jaren Hall, Baylor Romney, Jacob Conover, or Sol-Jay Maiva-Peters to throw almost 3,700 yards with 33 TDs, just three picks, and a rating of 196, I think it is reasonable to expect 3,000 yards. 25 TDs and less than 10 interceptions.
DICKSON: The schedule is much tougher in 2021, and I don’t think anyone can argue that Wilson’s stats wouldn’t have been nearly as flashy if faced with the likes of Utah, Michigan State, and Stanford instead of Texas State. Navy and Western Kentucky. So whoever wins the job will face much sportier and stronger defense mechanisms in 2021 – with a different offensive staff, as Jeff Grimes and Eric Mateos have left for Baylor. Reasonably, you can expect between 2,500 and 3,000 yards and 20-25 touchdowns, but I would also predict double digit interceptions. The offensive score will go down and there will be more pressure on the defense to get stops.
3. The BYU men’s basketball team had two consecutive elite defensive performances on the road last week in victories in Saint Mary’s and San Francisco. What did the cougars do to hit the defensive end?
DICKSON: Mark Pope and his coaching staff have started to delve into the depth of this team and it really paid off against Saint Mary’s and San Francisco. In both games BYU ran 22-2 late in the game. That shows me that the Cougars wear down their opponents. To do that on the street is very impressive. Earlier this season, I was stunned by BYU’s defensive performance in the first half against San Diego State. The last two games have shown a different level of defense that I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen in Provo. There are so many ways for the coaching team to use defense.
LLOYD: I have to give BYU’s bank a lot of credit for taking the Cougars to another level at the end of the defensive. I’ve always thought Spencer Johnson was one of the most relentless on-ball defenders BYU has, but then you add in the raw strength and physicality of Richard Harward and see Gideon George become a differentiator with his length. I love how committed these guys are to playing with intensity when trying to stop opponents. I also think they have worn out teams with their depth, which is why both Saint Mary’s and San Francisco struggled in the second half. It’s great to see how things fit together defensively for the Cougars because I don’t know if this will ever be an unstoppable offensive juggernaut like Gonzaga. BYU has to make many stops to make a profit.
4. It’s a big week for BYU women’s basketball to be played in Portland and # 20 Gonzaga. What’s the most important thing the cougars have to do to win on the streets?
LLOYD: This BYU women’s team can be really fun and was impressive when victorious. All eight wins were scored with at least 10 points, which is certainly a remarkable achievement. But I still think this squad can be better when more players can become more versatile. BYU has a dynamic goalscorer and defender in Shaylee Gonzales and an elite rebounder and goalscorer in Lauren Gustin. I think Paisley Harding is a big key as she is a relentless defender and is able to come up with some big numbers. I would also love to see more of Sara Hamson, who with her blocking and locking on the edge can be such a huge impact. The Cougars will need these players and others to improve their game and have hope of beating Portland and Gonzaga.
DICKSON: Take care of the ball, cougars.
One area that will take BYU far is better ball handling against pressure. It’s surprising the Cougars fought here because they have so much experience on the guard line. BYU currently generates an average of 15 sales per game. That’s way too much for a team trying to win a conference title and get to the NCAA. Sometimes Shaylee Gonzales tries to do too much about pressure and she has to rely more on her teammates to help her. When you’re on the go, sales can multiply when the frustration sets in. I think this team has some good pieces and they are really being tested by Portland and Gonzaga this week.
5. To play home games during the spring football season, BYU women must play their first three home games in Herriman in the Zions Bank Real Academy hall. What kind of disadvantage will that be for the cougars?
DICKSON: Every team at BYU and at universities across the country faced all sorts of changes and setbacks during the pandemic. On campus, BYU women’s volleyball and soccer teams enjoy one of the greatest home / field advantages in the country, and Cougar Nation has a lot to do with it. Most athletes will tell you that when they focus on the field they don’t hear the fans that much. But they are very noticeable during game breaks, time outs and the like. Plus, every coach I’ve spoken to said the only way to do this is to bring in your own energy and focus on it.
LLOYD: I really don’t think it will change things that much for BYU. It’s a beautiful property so the area itself shouldn’t do too much for the cougar players. No, they won’t be able to have the fan support they normally would at South Field – but that wasn’t going to happen this spring anyway. I hope that the parents can continue to participate in these games that I would consider possible in Herriman. I am definitely looking forward to BYU taking on Utah on February 6th. This should be another good rivalry competition no matter where it is played.