BYU presents dangerous underdog to face LSU in season opener
LSU’s opening football season opponent, the BYU Cougars, looks to be an intriguing challenge Sept 2. The program out of Provo, Utah is coming into 2017 off of consecutive nine-win seasons.
First game jitters will only be a concern for the Tigers. BYU will already have a game under their belt, having played Portland State August 26.
BYU forced turnovers last season, finishing plus-12 in differential. Safety Kai Nacua had six interceptions but he has graduated. However, the Cougars are an opportunistic bunch. BYU head coach Kalani Sitake was previously a defensive coordinator at Utah and Oregon State.
Sitake enters his second season at the helm. He inherited the program from Bronco Mendenhall after the latter left for the University of Virginia.
BYU defeated Arizona (18-16), Michigan State (31-14), Mississippi State (28-21), Cincinnati (20-3) and Utah State (28-10). The Cougars were within eight total points of finishing 12-1 after tough losses to Utah (20-19), UCLA (17-14), West Virginia (35-32) and Boise State (28-27).
Junior quarterback Tanner Mangum backed up starter Taysom Hill last fall, completing 66.7 percent of his tosses with one touchdown and three interceptions.
Mangum played often for an injured Hill in 2015, notching 3,777 yards passing. He takes chances with his throws. The Cougars were successful in scoring on 95 percent of their trips to the red zone last season, fourth best in nation. Mangum will have to avoid mistakes and hope to match the production of the dual-threat Hill provided behind center.
Running back Ula Tolutau is a name to watch. Although not listed as a starter, the 6-foot-1, 225 pounder originally signed with Wisconsin before enrolling at BYU and taking off to an LDS mission. Tolutau is back now and needed to replace BYU power runner Jamaal Williams. Not a fancy runner, Tolutau is a downhill power back.
Washington State transfer Squally Canada (5’11-205) missed three contests, yet managed 315 rushing yards last season.
BYU lost their top two rushers and leading three receivers so look for the tight end to be prominent in this year’s attack. Moroni Laulu-Pututau (6-4, 225 Jr.) and Matt Bushman (6-5, 225 Fr.) are a pair of tall targets at the position.
Ty Detmer, 1990 Heisman winner and BYU alum, is the offensive coordinator. He runs a pro style attack, having spent 14 seasons in the NFL.
Four offensive line starters return to form the strongest part of the team. Thomas Shoaf slides over from right tackle to the left tackle spot. Shoaf, a 21-year old sophomore, was a Freshman All-American in 2016 when he started nine games after serving on an LDS mission in Hawaii 2013-15. He is underweight for the position at 275 pounds but Shoaf is a nimble athlete.
Veteran center Tejan Koroma (38 career starts) is a chiseled 5-11, 295 pound senior hawhos started since his freshman season. They call him a “freak of nature” because of his enormous power and strength. He was a freshman All American and now one of the best college centers in the nation. LSU nose tackle Greg Gilmore will have his hands full.
The starting o-line averages over 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds per starter.
The Cougars offense converted 47.6 percent on third down conversions last season. They finished games strong, outscoring opposition 126-66 in fourth quarter. That happens when you run the ball effectively, and LSU must not allow BYU to grind out first downs to the move the chains and clock.
Defensively, the Cougars return their three top tacklers from 2016.
Senior linebacker Fred Warner (6-4, 230) recorded 86 stops with nine tackles for loss (TFLs) and three interceptions. He had 14 tackles against West Virginia. For his career, he has totaled 175 tackles, 23.5 TFLs and six interceptions.
Coming out of high school, Warner was pursued by USC, Nebraska, Arizona State, Washington and Washington State. He is a top level performer.
Middle linebacker Butch Pau’u (6-0, 225) was the second leading tackler last year) playing in nine games and accumulating 83 stops and 5.5 TFLs. He had a career day with 19 tackles against UCLA last season. The junior maintains his ground, takes good angles and fills gaps quickly.
The entire defensive line must be replaced but one of the nation’s top cornerback tandems return. Fred’s brother Troy Werner (6’1-185 So.) had nine starts as a freshman with seven pass breakups and 21 stops. Dayan Ghanwoloku (5-11 195), a native of Liberia in Africa, mans the opposite corner with eight games, 48 tackles and 3 interceptions to his credit in 2016.
Freshman safety Chaz Ah You capped off the recruiting process Feb. 1 by landing in a helicopter at Lavell Edwards Stadium. The four-star talent rejected offers from UCLA, Louisville, Boise State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and Wisconsin.
Defensive end Sione Takitaki (6-2, 245), the team’s best pass rusher, didn’t play at all in 2016. He is termed one scout as a “scary pass rusher” who can change games. In 2015, he had 7 TFLs and 3.5 sacks. Takitaki will line up at an outside linebacker spot but he must be accounted for coming off the edge.
Corbin Kaufusi (6-9, 285 Jr.) is a different kind of player on the edge entirely. The defensive end played basketball at BYU the past three seasons. The son of BYU linebackers coach Steve Kaufusi blocked two kicks in 2016. Kaufusi gets great penetration with his long arms.
LSU may be a double-digit favorite, but BYU is no slouch. With experience and talent in key areas, the Cougars will pose a great challenge to the Bengal Tigers in Houston.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…