Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: Tanner Mangum has played a lot of football at BYU. Rate his play overall. How about his pass protection?
Mary Blanchard: Contrary to widespread belief, Tanner Mangum has played a pretty normal amount of football -- since 2015, just like Browning -- Mangum just happens to be a couple of years older. Mangum’s play overall has been… Well, it’s kind of hard to say since so much of his career has been kind of tied to Taysom Hill, but I would say Mangum has been steady and reliable for the most part, especially this year, but never really flashy. Our offense isn’t putting up huge yards, but we’re winning some big games and protecting the ball, and I think we have Mangum’s level head and experience to thank for that, at least partially. As for pass protection it’s been hit and miss (the miss being the Cal game). Mangum’s usually got some time to figure it out, but we just really haven’t been passing deep very much.
UWDP: Dylan Collie reeled in 56 receptions last season for Hawaii, but only has six catches so far this year with BYU. How has the transfer senior fit in? Who are some of Mangum’s other top receivers?
Mary: Collie did a lot of great things for the ‘Bows, and he is definitely an asset. Even though we’ve only had him for a few games, his few catches have been pretty impressive, and I think fans know that they can count on him to go after balls, giving it 110%. Our offensive scheme just doesn’t involve too much deep passing (which will hopefully work out to our advantage against the Dawgs).
Some of the other top receiving names to look out for are Gunner Romney and Talon Shumway -- they’re becoming favorite targets. Then you’ve got Aleva Hifo at slot who’s been one of our best overall players. Listen for the names Moroni Laulu-Pututau and Dallin Holker at TE, a position we throw to a lot.
UWDP: Squally Canada is averaging over 5 yards per carry, and Lopini Katoa is gaining over 5.5. Describe their running styles. How has the offensive line performed in the running game?
Mary: Squally and Lopini have been great for us! Squally has definitely been the go-to guy. I would describe his style as more of a bruiser, or power back. He’s the stronger of the two and isn’t afraid to run into guys or run guys down and fight for those yards, and if he’s able to get into space, he is very dangerous. Lopini is new to our team as a freshman, but his talent has been immediately clear. He is super fast and I would describe him as more shifty and a speed-type back. With the exception of the Cal game, the offensive line has been performing really well. Our offensive linemen have taken to our fly sweep-heavy scheme very well and are adept at helping us spread the field. They’ve definitely opened up some huge gaps for Canada and Katoa as well, so, I’d give them like a B grade overall.
UWDP: BYU ranks in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense. How has the unit performed as a whole? Has there been a lot of blitzing? Tell us about some of the top players on that side of the ball for the Cougars.
Mary: Defense has been great! We have so many playmakers, so even with a few injuries, we’ve been able to make it work. Look out for DL Corbin Kaufuisi. I imagine lots of QBs have nightmares about him. LB Sione Takitaki has also been amazing for us. He’s just everywhere, flying around the field and making every tackle. LB
did not play against McNeese State but he’s been great for us. He’s led the team in tackles in a game or two and his speed just kills. Our secondary has a little bit of work to do but our line and backers are great. As for blitzing, we ask a lot of our defensive linemen, to not only put pressure on the QB, but to also keep him in the pocket. This allows our linebackers to drop into coverage more frequently and blitz occasionally.
UWDP: How are you feeling about head coach Kalani Sitake now in year three? Must be a popular guy having played at BYU for a long time.
Mary: I love Coach Sitake as a person! I really think he’s a player’s coach and that his guys would run through a brick wall for him. Obviously, there were some problems last year, but I think that had a lot more to do with how the staff was working as an entire unit than it did with Coach Sitake himself. I personally think the team lacked a little in discipline and drive last year, but that seems to have taken care of itself this year and I partially attribute that to the new members of our coaching staff, and I partially attribute it to winning. Funny how that can turn things around. But Coach Sitake is the nicest guy. It’s fun to have a coach who is a true fan of the program, and I think he will be around for awhile.
UWDP: What is your prediction for this game?
Mary: I think this may be a pretty low-scoring affair. I think Washington’s defense will be the best we’ve faced, so I’m a little worried that it may look more like the Cal game than the Wisconsin game for us. Also, every time I’ve picked against BYU, we’ve won. So let’s say 14-10, Washington.
Thanks Mary. For more on BYU, be sure to check out Vanquish the Foe.