We are three short days away from kick-off and I had a chance to connect with Jake Welch from Vanquish the Foe to chat about the match-up this week. Read on to learn more about BYU's recent slew of suspensions, conference independence, tailgating in Provo and what it would take for UConn to win.
Here it is, straight from the Cougars mouth:
The UConn Blog: It appears a number of players have been injured or suspended over the summer, which key players won't be available on Friday?
Vanquish the Foe: As of right now (I say that because a lot can change in three days) the key players that will be missing in action will be RB Jamaal Williams and WR Devon Blackmon due to suspension and WR Nick Kurtz will be out with a stress fracture in his foot. Williams, who rushed for 1233 yards last season, is the biggest loss as he carried the load at the tailback position last year. BYU will look to Adam Hine and Algie Brown to set up and get more carries. Hine is more flash and dash where Brown is quite simply a very mean person.
TUCB: What is the strangest honor code-related suspension you have seen or heard of?
With the way honor code violations are handled, in that no information is released regarding the nature of the infraction, it's all up to the general public to speculate as to what actually happened. That being the case you hear some pretty strange stuff, my favorite being that some players were put on probation for not shaving every day. The current rumor du jour is the one player was suspended for wearing ear rings.
TUCB: What are the thoughts from the fanbase about remaining independent? Do they think it will last?
Generally the fans are happy with independence, with the only concerns coming from the fact that BYU could be left out of the Power 5 conference conglomeration and ultimately the College Football Playoff. Bronco Mendenhall mentioned in an interview during the offseason that he thinks BYU would be a great fit in the Big 12 and if you look at BYU's schedule in the next 5 years, just about every PAC-12 team will be making a trip to Provo. If either of those two came offering, BYU would jump on board.
Otherwise I think BYU will stick with independence unless something drastically changes in landscape of college football. It seems like there is a nice semi-allegiance between BYU and the American Conference but I don't think it would ever become a full member. The travel alone would be brutal for the Cougars, who haven't fared well in their travels to the East coast.
TUCB: What are the fan expectations for this year's BYU team? How does it feel to already know your bowl fate?
The fans expectations are that with a more favorable schedule and a lot of returning talent on offense, BYU should win 10 games. After last season when the Cougars lost multiple games that they should have won, the fans are ready for this team to play consistently on both sides of the ball. Historically BYU is known for their high flying offense and porous defense but over the last four years that has started to change. Fans are hoping that this year the offense can match the intensity and swagger of the defense.
Knowing what bowl game you are going to before the season starts is almost like an arranged marriage. In theory it's nice to know where you're going to end up but at the end of the day you wish you had the opportunity to try and woo the beautiful actress / model who also knows a lot about sports and baked goods.
TUCB: UConn's O-line may be a weakness, how effective is your pass rush?
BYU's 3-4 defense adheres to the principle of the three down lineman eating up blocks so the linebackers can roam free and generate pressure on the quarterback. For the past few years BYU's pass rush came in the form of one Kyle Van Noy. Now that he has moved onto the NFL, BYU will look to their outside linebackers Alani Fua and Bronson Kafusi to be the key playmakers on defense. Kafusi will be the player to watch as he is transitioning from his defensive line position to linebacker. He's not lacking in athletic ability (he played basketball for BYU in 2012-13) but it will be interesting to see how he handles the transition in his first game.
TUCB: For the UConn fans who may make the trip to the BYU away game next year, how is the tailgating in Provo?
BYU didn't have much tailgating as a part of their game day experience up until the last couple of years. There is now a strong contingent that has started to grow, so much so that the athletic department has designated more space tailgaters to set up shop. If anything, the UConn fans should be prepared for a lot of friendly people who will be willing to share their root beer or orange soda.
TUCB: How would you describe the offense under QB Taysom Hill?
Metaphorically Taysom Hill is about as close as you can get to a tornado. When he is on, there is no stopping him. He proved last year that he can carry the team with his legs (vs Texas) and his arm (vs Houston). The core of the offense is based around the zone read option (just like every other college football team) with some extensions into the downfield passing game. Be sure to watch out for some funky rugby style tosses that use every part of the field. The key this year will be putting it together on a consistent basis and scoring touchdowns when they get into the red zone, which is where they struggled mightily in 2013.
TUCB: What would it take for UConn to win this game?
If UConn hopes to win this game they will need to confuse Taysom Hill at the line of scrimmage. If their front seven can get a good push and make it hard for Hill to get his reads then they might be able to slow down the BYU offense. If Taysom has room to operate, then he will make you pay. Also, the wide receiving core doesn't have a good history with physical defensive backs, as Bob Diaco knows from last year.
On offense, UConn will need to be patient and have long sustained drives. The BYU defense prides itself on not giving up the big play and keeping everything in front of them. They are find giving up 5-7 yard chunks so UConn will need to take those short to intermediate routes. The longer UConn can keep Taysom Hill and company on the sidelines, the better off they will be.