Michigan closes out its non-conference slate with a big bout against No. 22 BYU on Saturday. This is a significant game for both schools. A win over a ranked team would be a nice confidence booster for Michigan before the start of Big Ten play and give the Wolverines their first three-game winning streak in almost two years. On the other hand, I doubt there are many Cougars fans that thought BYU could escape a treacherous September with a 3-1 record after losing key starters at quarterback, running back, tight end, and nose tackle. Yet, that is what is on the line.
So we decided to sit down Kevin Kennedy, who is the assistant managing editor at Vanquish the Foe, which is SB Nation's BYU team site, and ask him for his insight and BYU's perspective on this weekend's contest. What was it like winning consecutive games on Hail Josephs? With Taysom Hill injured, what does Tanner Mangum bring to the table? Will BYU leave the Big House with a win? Find the answers and more below!
Also, you can find my answers to the Q&A I did with Vanquish the Foe here.
There may not be a team in the nation that has a more difficult four-game stretch to open the 2015 season than BYU. The Cougars opened with a road game at Nebraska, hosted then-No. 20 Boise State, and now must make the second of back-to-back trips to Los Angeles (then-No. 10 UCLA) and Ann Arbor (Michigan). The first three games all have gone down to the wire, and BYU could be sitting here at 3-0 just as easily as it could at 0-3. Yet the Cougars are 2-1. How does BYU's performance the first three weeks compare to preseason expectations? And how do fans feel about BYU opening with such a tough stretch? Do they wish BYU had an easier foe to roll over first?
In all reality, the expectations were thrown out as soon as Taysom Hill went out against Nebraska. Before the season, all expectations rode on having Hill as the QB and Jamaal Williams as our running back. With them, many people felt it was possible to go 2-2, but the concern was always there that BYU could drop all four games. At this point, with the adversity of losing their top two offensive players, and handing the reins over to a freshman that was only 3 months removed from an LDS mission, fans are excited with the 2-1 record and very winnable game against a top 10 team. Most fans are excited to be playing the teams on the schedule, but I don’t think they would have minded one of these teams trading places with Wagner as far as dates go.
BYU's first two wins against Nebraska and Boise State were earned thanks to miracle fourth-down touchdown passes -- a 42-yarder against the Huskers and a 35-yarder against the Broncos -- in the final minute. Hail Joseph! May you describe the feeling you and the BYU fan base had after each of those touchdown passes were completed?
Ecstatic is the best way to describe it. Many fans have only seen these type of touchdown passes on replays of Jim McMahon and Doug Flutie. Rarely does a fan get to see one involving their own team, let alone in person. With Nebraska, the excitement was almost thick enough to cut with a knife because it was a game on the road, with a new quarterback, against a storied program.
As for the Boise State game, it was electric. Nobody in the stadium could anticipate that a similar situation would present itself, and people were even commenting at the time, "This can’t happen two weeks in a row, can it?" When it did, the sold out stadium was as loud and as excited as I have heard it in years. With a budding rivalry and the first home game of the season, many fans may have missed the pick-six to seal the game as they were still celebrating in disbelief of the pass play.
Before the season, I stated that BYU could be a trap game for Michigan because Taysom Hill is a stud dual-threat quarterback that could rip through Michigan's defense. Unfortunately, after missing the second half of the 2014 season with a fractured leg, Hill suffered yet another season-ending injury in the opener. However, freshman and former four-star recruit Tanner Mangum has returned from his mission and seems to have stepped in quite well (54-86, 664 pass yards, 4 TD, 3 INT). What does Mangum bring to the table? How would you evaluate Mangum thus far?
Tanner Mangum is definitely not the runner that Hill was, however he brings a much more traditional passing game to the Cougars offense. One of the keys to Magnum's success is patience and not looking to run, although fans wished he did a little bit more of that when the field opens up. One of his strengths is that he can stay in the pocket and hit the short to medium passes as he did against UCLA, but, if he gets flushed out of the pocket, he becomes even more dangerous as he showed against Nebraska and Boise State.
As expected, he will make freshman mistakes and has done so. However, he continues to impress the coaches, players, and fans as he is head and shoulders above where he was expected to be. Perhaps the most impressive thing he has done is manage the games. He has helped keep the team close enough for these situations to materialize. If anybody had told us that Mangum would start his career against Nebraska and hold the starting job for the rest of the year, everyone would say the team would be 0-4/1-3 after Week 5.
Running back Jamaal Williams (217 car., 1233 yards, 7 TD in 2013) was expected to return from an injury-shortened season in 2014 and shine as a senior in 2015. However, it was reported in August that he will miss the season with an undisclosed rules violation. In his place, Adam Hine has been effective (46 car., 279 yards, 6.07 YPC, 2 TD) as the main running back. How would you describe his running style? What are his chances of success against a very stout Michigan defensive front seven?
Adam Hine has a very unique style as he can run through or around players. In fact, as last week showed, he can even go over players when given the chance in a one-on-one matchup. Much of his success will be determined by the Cougars offensive line. Hine won’t normally make a bunch of plays that break down like Williams could, but he will take what is given to him. Many fans are still trying to get a feel for Hine because, before the season, he was third in the three deep and was expected to play his largest role as a kick returner. He has incredible speed in the open field, so the Michigan front seven can’t let him get past them and into the secondary. Or he could rattle off a few long runs.
BYU loves to throw the ball around. The Cougars have attempted almost 41 passes per game through the first three weeks, which is the 15th-most in the nation. BYU has been quite successful with this strategy, too, given that Mitchell Juergens, Mitch Mathews, and Devon Blackmon each have at least 13 catches and 170 receiving yards this season. There is no question that those three will be a big test for Michigan's secondary. There is a question, though, about BYU's offensive line, which is tied for 123rd in the nation in sacks allowed (3.67 per game). Has the Cougars' offensive line been poor at pass-blocking? Or is this just a consequence of BYU throwing the ball around so much?
I think it is a combination of a few things. One would be that the sheer volume of passes tend to lead to a few more sacks. I think it is also a combination of having a freshman quarterback that hasn’t quite figured out when to throw the ball away or when to tuck it and run. There have been a few sacks per game that happened because Mangum just held onto the ball too long. A more experienced quarterback would have either thrown the ball away, to a receiver, or tucked it before the line collapsed. And the last thing I believe has to be in the equation is the fact that they have played some very physical defensive lines that have a player or two that can just flat out play ball.
Michigan will try run with its new man-blocking schemes behind the legs of De'Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, and Drake Johnson. So far, the Wolverines' run offense is 24th in S&P+. On the other hand, BYU's run defense seems to have dropped off from last season. It was 29th in S&P+ in 2014, and it's only 71st in 2015. However, a main reason for this decline may be the absence of nose tackle Travis Tuiloma -- a future NFL player that has missed the prior two games with a knee injury. However, there have been reports that Tuiloma may return to game action against Michigan. Do you think that will be the case? If so, how does Tuiloma's presence stiffen BYU's run defense?
At this point, the question is still lingering. He continues to say that the goal is to return this week, but coaches have not confirmed this, although they have openly said it would be a great week for him to return. I am a bit skeptical myself since they initially stated it would be a 4-6 week recovery and the game Saturday would mark the end of the 3rd full week. As for how much of a difference he makes, all you have to do is look at the Nebraska game. In the first half, where he played the majority of the half, the Cougars run defense was tough, hard-nosed, and went after the runner. When he went out after the injury late in the half, you saw a completely different run defense in the second half. Nebraska seemed to get momentum in the running game, and the Cougars couldn’t seem to find a way to consistently stop it without their star nose tackle.
Michigan's pass offense may be 48th in S&P+, but quarterback Jake Rudock is coming off his worst game of the season. His accuracy on both long and short throws was off, he was late with his reads, and he seemed unsure of himself by the end of the game. And this was a game against UNLV, who's a bottom-tier FBS program. BYU doesn't seem to have a great pass defense -- 70th in S&P+ -- but it may be able to force Rudock into some crucial mistakes. How do the Cougars plan to defend Rudock and Michigan's pass offense? For which BYU defender should Michigan fans be looking?
The Cougars defense is based on confusion and blitzes. They are willing to give up yards as long as they keep points off the board. As they showed against UCLA, they can run a number of different packages that they disguise in order to bait the QB and throw them off the game. If they can get pressure on the offense and blitz from all over, they expect to create turnovers. Bronco Mendenhall feels that if they can make a team drive the entire field and rely on more plays, the chances for mistakes increase.
Keep an eye out for a couple of defenders. The first would be Kai Nacua. Nacua was suspended for the first game due to his role in the bowl game last year but came back against Boise State with three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. He added another against UCLA and just dropped a second. He seems to find the ball wherever he is on the field. The other would be Bronson Kaufusi. He is a monster on the defensive line and loves to run down quarterbacks and running backs from behind. He is deceptively quick and will give most offensive lines problems as he camps out in the backfield.
For BYU to walk out of Ann Arbor with a win over Michigan, what must happen -- other than the Cougars outscoring the Wolverines on the scoreboard, of course?
The Cougars must find a way to prevent the long runs that Perkins had in the UCLA game. Tackling has been an issue all year, and, against UCLA, the team allowed 5 rushes for 173 yards on a player where there was at least one missed tackle. If they can shore up their tackling and the running game, they will be in good position. For the offense, the Cougars need to let Mangum manage the game and not expect him to make every play.
BYU is No. 22 in the AP poll, but unranked Michigan is the home favorite (-5.5). Who has it right: the AP voters or the Vegas oddsmakers? Who wins on Saturday? What's the score?
This is an interesting question because the Cougars are on the road against yet another storied program, in another historic stadium. If the emotional drain from the three previous games has finally caught up to the young guys, it could very easily favor the Wolverines. However, they have also shown that they can hang tough with these type of teams, and they find themselves in every game. I think it comes down to who wins the turnover battle. In this case, I think BYU will just edge out the Wolverines in a close one. Maybe 27-24.
A big thank you to Kevin for answering our questions! Follow him on Twitter here.