Losing sucks. Losing two weeks in a row sucks even more. Times like this are often full of doom and gloom among fans. You might even see a few articles and posts over the next few days asking if BYU was a fraud, if coaches need to be fired, and if BYU should just drop athletics altogether. If I may, I would like to play devil’s advocate amidst the self-imposed hell plaguing BYU fans over the last two weeks. Here are nine takeaways from Saturday’s loss that should have BYU fans bleeding blue rather than feeling it:
1. BYU’s offense is as explosive as we thought
No one thought the 2021 BYU offense would be as explosive as the 2020 version that averaged a national best 7.7 yards per play, but they’ve been close. At 6.4 yards per play, BYU ranks 27th nationally and has done so against three top 40 defenses including 7.4 yards per play against 36th ranked Baylor. The good news for BYU is that only one remaining opponent is ranked better than 97th nationally (Washington State [66th]).
2. BYU wide receivers are BIG XII ready
BYU has one of the best quarterback rooms in the country, but its easy to look good when you have a receiving corp that will catch anything thrown in their ZIP code. BYU's receivers have totaled only four drops all season and bring in 54% of contested targets. Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney were unguardable against Baylor - the insistence of Baylor to keep them in single coverage is beyond me. Nacua is averaging a staggering 22.2 yards per catch, good enough for 4th in the nation.
3. Jaren Hall is not the problem
Over his last two games, Jaren Hall has amassed 644 yards passing, a 65% completion percentage, 3 total TDs, and a passer rating of 151.0, all without the benefit of a run game. That is elite QB play. I understand that Hall has limitations. For example, he seems to be a step slow at times as evidenced by a couple underthrown deep balls and an end zone throw to Samson Nacua which carried him out the back of the end zone. Remember, that was Jaren’s fifth start in two years and his seventh start since high school. He is only a sophomore and will catch up to the speed of the game with more time and training.
Regardless, any calls for Jaren to get benched are completely unwarranted. In fact, Jaren has graded higher against better competition than Romney has. Whether you want to admit it or not, Jaren and Puka have been the best parts of the offense the last two weeks. Hall's long-term ceiling has always been higher, and as much as I love Baylor, he is not turning a zone read into a 57-yard house call.
4. BYU's offensive line “issues” were due to youth, not talent
BYU's offensive line continues to be elite, especially on passing downs. According to Pro Football Focus, BYU has the best pass blocking offensive line in the country by a wide margin and 14th best in run blocking. James Empey, Blake Freeland, and Connor Pay have posted the best pass blocking grades in the country at their respective positions. The question marks with BYU's offensive line were never talent based. It was always about depth. The next men up are plenty talented, they are just young.
Campbell Barrington, who filled in for injured Harris LeChance, struggled as a true freshman against Baylor’s quickness. He gave up 2 of the 3 sacks allowed and posted a 50.3 PFF grade against the run, but that shouldn’t be so surprising. Barrington is plenty talented and has graded out exceptionally well in prior weeks, but his youth showed on Saturday. The good news is that will not always be so. Barrington is a star in the making, and his struggles against Baylor will only speed up that process.
5. BYU will not play another offensive line like Baylor’s
BYU's front seven got steamrolled. There's no sugarcoating that. Yes, Tuiaki did in fact make adjustments, mix up fronts, and stack the box. "Blitz more!" cries the armchair coordinator from the comfort of his/her living room. Tuiaki sent 19 of them against Baylor, more than any other game this season. And yet the result was the same. Why? Because Baylor has the best offensive line in college football. That should be expected from a team coached by Jeff Grimes. Giving up 302 yards rushing is unacceptable, but that is a massive outlier when measured against BYU’s performance so far this season. Coming into the game, BYU was ranked 32nd nationally, giving up just 3.5 yards per carry (22 spots ahead of Utah for reference). What was the difference? Baylor’s offensive line. At a certain point, game must recognize game, and Baylor has 1,600lb of fully-loaded, Texas-sized, corn-fed game. Luckily BYU won’t face another offensive line like that the rest of the season.
6. Malik Moore continues to impress
Go back and watch his pick against Utah State and tell me that Malik isn't an athletic freak. Since Keenan Pili’s season-ending knee injury, no one has stepped up more than Moore. He saved a touchdown with pass breakup on a drive that held Baylor to a field goal, and he was second on the team with five solo tackles.
7. BYU is still better than most of us expected
The reality is that BYU overachieved through the first five games and has given way to the law of averages. Still, if this is the new average, BYU is looking just fine. BYU is 5-2 overall, 3-0 against the PAC-12, 2-0 against the state of Utah, and four spots outside the top 25. I'm going to be honest, I would take that every single year, and so, I assume, would you. The toughest part of the schedule is behind BYU now. Every game from here on out should favor BYU. BYU will likely still drop one or two games along the way, but that is expected from a team that was replacing 92% of it’s production from a year ago.
8. The future is absurdly bright
This BYU team has three seniors. Three. 31 of the 54 players on the initial two-deep are sophomores or younger. Worried about BYU's defense? BYU has committed four four-star recruits the last two years, including three along the defensive line. During the first season of the Big 12 era, the defensive line could consist of John Henry Daley, Logan Fano, Aisea Moa, and Tyler Batty. Blake Freeland is a sophomore and is currently putting up higher pass-blocking grades than Brady Christensen. Besides Samson Nacua, BYU could return its entire receiving corps, while adding highly-touted Chase Roberts to the fold. This season was always about building for the future. If this is a “rebuilding season”, then we're going to need some bigger blue goggles.