Loyal Cougars

BYU 2017 Statistical Preview

With fall camp underway and the 2017 starters becoming more solidified every day, Brandon Jones takes a look at BYU’s statistical output from 2016 and how those numbers are expected to change heading into the 2017 season.

The 2016 BYU football season brought with it the largest systemic changes the program had seen since the retirement of LaVell Edwards following the 2000 season. Bronco Mendenhall and his assistants left for the University of Virginia, Kalani Sitake arrived in Provo with eight other new coaches in tow, and new offensive and defensive schemes were installed.

Below is a table of 80 statistical categories for the 2016 BYU team. Each total is ranked against the 11 previous teams’ totals for comparison against the Bronco Mendenhall era. The national rankings are also listed for those categories tracked by the NCAA. Finally, a projection is given for how BYU will perform in Year Two of the Kalani Sitake era; some areas will see slight increases or decreases, others will likely see major improvement or declines, and a few are expected to hover right around the same range. Following the table, I’ll break down the projections for each category and why I feel certain areas will improve or regress in 2017.

Passing

It’s nice to see so many green arrows in the passing game. As you can see, BYU’s 2016 team ranked at or near the bottom in most passing categories when compared to both Bronco Mendenhall-coached teams and the nation as a whole. Interceptions provided a bright spot on both sides of the ball, and with that unique exception, I feel it’s fair to expect improvement in every other passing category in 2017. BYU’s defensive backfield is infinitely better in both experience and depth than the 2016 squad. And with the departure of Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams, BYU will be forced to rely more heavily on the pass in 2017. The bright side? The Cougars should have more success in doing so with a deeper wide receiver group, an improved passer in Tanner Mangum, an offensive line corps that (by all accounts) has stepped up its talent in pass protection, the emergence of several capable tight ends, and an increased emphasis on pass-catching running backs. I do expect Mangum to throw more interceptions than we saw in 2016, but OC Ty Detmer will gladly trade a few more interceptions for a 4,000-yard passer- just look at the stats from his Heisman campaign: 41 TDs, 28 INTs, but 5,188 passing yards. And a 285-yard average over 14 games would put Mangum right around that 4,000-yard mark.

Rushing

The aforementioned graduation of both Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams, #5 and #1 on BYU’s all-time rushing list, will certainly take its toll on the BYU run game. Combine that with improvements in the passing game and the lack of a premier back emerging from the current “running back by committee” group, and it’s certain that BYU will be unable to duplicate 2016’s 200+ rushing yards per game. The BYU defense should be able to post similar numbers again, with a potential increase in sacks due to the return of Sione Takitaki. If BYU’s defense does not end up performing as well against the run in 2017, it may be due to two reasons: first, the Cougars must face one of the top rushers in the country this year in LSU’s Derrius Guice, and second, BYU opponents will undoubtedly be forced to run the ball more this season. Last year, BYU’s opponents ran the ball 402 times compared to 458 pass attempts. But an improved Cougar pass rush and a deeper BYU secondary should force opponents to rush more in 2017. And that many more attempts will mean more rushing yards, even if the yards per carry decreases.

First Downs

BYU’s extended drives and possession-based offense actually placed the Cougars 33rd in the nation in first downs last season with 299. However, that total still ranked behind eight offenses from the Bronco era. BYU will likely see a much-improved number of first downs through the air. But, the number on the ground may decline by a similar amount without Taysom and Jamaal. There’s no reason to expect anything but improvement from a defense that returns 6 full-time LB/DB starters and 3 part-year starters along the D-Line.

Conversions

The BYU offense performed well on 3rd Downs in 2016, converting 48% to rank 12th in the nation at year-end. Taysom and Jamaal’s absence will likely also be felt in this aspect as the BYU offense will likely not fare quite as well on 3rd Down in 2017. Defensively, BYU ranked a respectable 39th in the nation, allowing a 37% conversion rate. And while that number is only average when compared with Bronco Mendenhall’s defenses, I think there is hope for improvement in this respect in 2017. Will we see a 27% rate like we did from the 2012 BYU defense? Probably not. But, I certainly expect the 2017 number to fall somewhere between those two, especially with BYU’s increased emphasis on big bodies in the trenches.

Red Zone

BYU’s offense was somewhat of an anomaly in 2016: the Cougars scored points on 95% of their Red Zone trips (3rd best in FBS), but only scored touchdowns on 60% of Red Zone trips (73rd in FBS). What this means is that once BYU’s drives crossed the 20, touchdowns were harder to come by than we would expect. Yesterday, on Cougar Sports on ESPN 960 radio, John Beck mentioned a quote from Steve Young about how the perfect quarterback will only get field goals in the Red Zone, implying that taking a few calculated risks in that short-field situation is the only way to get passing touchdowns. In that way, Taysom Hill and Tanner Mangum could not be more polar opposites. And as such, I would expect the Red Zone points percentage to decrease in 2017, but the Red Zone touchdown percentage to increase, so the two numbers are closer together.

BYU’s pair of reliable short-distance field goal kickers in Rhett Almond and Jake Oldroyd guaranteed that the Cougars didn’t come away empty-handed in those Red Zone trips last season, but the difference between 7 points and 3 wass vast in a season in which BYU didn’t lose a single game by more than 3 points. Just one additional successful trip would turn each of those four losses into wins (though to be fair, BYU scored a TD on its only Red Zone trip against UCLA). The BYU defense performed well under the pressure of the Red Zone in 2016, ranking 10th in the nation at preventing points and 37th at preventing touchdowns. I foresee the defense performing similarly in 2017, with possibly a slight improvement in limiting touchdowns.

Penalties

Penalties are difficult to predict, but since the 2016 team was near the average of the Mendenhall era, I expect similar numbers in Sitake’s second season.

Kicking

I include this statistic only to illustrate how well BYU performed in extra points and field goal defense in 2016. And while Ed Lamb’s focus on Special Teams will continue to yield positive returns, the odds are pretty good that these numbers will regress, at least slightly.

Scoring

It would seem fairly likely that improvements on both sides of the ball will help BYU’s scoring numbers in both aspects. If that proves true, it’s pretty clear to have a reason for optimism in 2017. If the offense scores more points on average and the defense allows fewer on average, an increase in the win total should be expected. And just a four-point swing in 2016 would have taken BYU from 9-4 to 13-0.

Overall

Where time of possession is concerned, it will probably be difficult for BYU to maintain such a large advantage with an increased passing emphasis in 2017. The advantage in turnover margin will also be difficult to maintain when you consider: Kai Nacua’s departure, Tanner Mangum’s proclivity for jump balls, and the dropoff in ball security from Jamaal Williams to 2017’s running back by committee. As for total yardage, I expect BYU to rack up more with its new, diverse pass attack. And BYU’s improved pass defense should allow fewer total yards than what was surrendered by the 2016 defense. Much like the PPG situation, more yards on offense and fewer yards on defense can only mean good things for BYU in 2017.

Leave a Reply