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SALT LAKE CITY — Remember your days as a kid in school when it was report card time? Think about the anticipation, excitement or — in my case — dread you felt. Maybe some of you made sure your folks didn’t see your grades. Others of you were perhaps able to figure out how to change a grade or two. Whatever the case, it wasn’t always a pleasant experience.
Well now due to the power of my keyboard, I can flip sides and dish out the grades as I now look back at the football regular season that was for BYU, Utah and Utah State. For me, it is a heck of a better experience being the grader. For some of the teams on the receiving end of my grades — eh, maybe not so much.
BYU Cougars (7-5)
OFFENSE: As I have written already on KSL.com, the decision to go with Riley Nelson as the starting quarterback resulted in an offense that was inconsistent and turnover prone. After the way James Lark performed in the season finale one has to wonder how much more productive this unit could have been. Despite the quarterback issue, wide receiver Cody Hoffman still had a great season with 90 receptions, 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Cougars also found a running back in Jamaal Williams, who rushed for 744 yards and 11 touchdowns as a true freshman. That was impressive considering the injury issues along the offensive line. GRADE: C
DEFENSE: This unit was perhaps one of the best defenses in BYU history finishing the regular season ranked third in the nation. Defensive lineman Ziggy Ansah emerged as a legitimate NFL prospect while linebacker Kyle Van Noy showed why he will be playing on Sundays as well. Outside of the Oregon State game in which it had breakdowns defending the deep ball, the defense kept BYU in every game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: JD Falslev was solid in the return game and punter Riley Stephenson was second in net punting, but ... the kicking game was absolutely awful. GRADE: C
COACHING: Bronco Mendenhall deserves credit for his defense’s outstanding season. Unfortunately for him the title “head coach” means he is also responsible for the performance of the offense. His insistence to stay with Nelson at quarterback, even when the senior had a broken back, cost his team wins. Brandon Doman’s inconsistent playcalling along with the mistake he made with quarterback Taysom Hill that resulted in a season-ending knee injury are things that cannot be fathomed.
OVERALL: A 7-5 year means the team was average — although for many BYU fans it means it’s a failure of a season.
Utah Utes (5-7)
OFFENSE: A poor grade comes when you go through three quarterbacks before finally settling on a true freshman, change your philosophy during the season, have line issues, have receivers who regularly drop passes, and have an offense that finishes the regular season ranked 105th in the country. It didn’t help that John White IV was hurt early in the year, but in the end he turned out to be the only real positive — becoming the first Ute to rush for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
DEFENSE: It was an up-and-down season for this unit. Without defensive tackle Star Lotulelei it could have been disastrous. Outside of the sure first-round NFL pick, the defensive line didn’t dominate games as expected. Due to a lack of production, which included tackling issues, the Utes seemed to play every linebacker on the roster. Ryan Lacy was solid at corner but the safeties struggled with Eric Rowe dealing with injuries and Brian Blechen never fully returning to form after being suspended for the first three games. GRADE: C
SPECIAL TEAMS: If it wasn’t for an inconsistent kicking game and various mistakes throughout the year in the punt coverage/return units the grade would have been an A+. That’s only because Reggie Dunn was so dynamic returning an NCAA-record four 100-yard kickoffs for touchdowns.
COACHING: For the first time in Kyle Whittingham’s career his team finished with a losing record. His 25-year-old, first-year offensive coordinator Brian Johnson struggled. Most of the issues that began at the start of the year, such as tackling, penalties and undisciplined play, continued until the very end. The struggles will definitely make for a very interesting offseason. GRADE: D
OVERALL: A 5-7 record and a 3-6 mark in the Pac-12 with their only wins coming against the three worst teams in the conference makes for a year Ute fans would soon like to forget.
Utah State Aggies (10-2)
OFFENSE: While BYU and Utah had quarterback issues, that was far from the case for the Aggies as Chuckie Keeton clearly showed he was the best in the state. His overall decision-making and ability to beat teams with his arm and legs made him virtually unstoppable in most games. Meanwhile, running back Kerwynn Williams emerged as a dynamic playmaker rushing for 1,277 yards and 12 touchdowns and was also the team’s leading receiver with 663 yards and five scores. GRADE: A
DEFENSE: There is no other grade you can give to a unit that finished eighth in the country in scoring defense and 16th overall. It was a defense with plenty of playmakers that harassed offenses throughout the season finishing eighth in the country in sacks. Upperclassmen dominated like junior linebackers Zach Vigil and Jake Doughty. Senior corner Willie Davis also dominated and so did with freshman linebacker Kyler Fackrell, who emerged as a difference maker.
SPECIAL TEAMS: If the Aggie kickers would have converted field goals against Wisconsin and BYU, USU would be looking at the possibility of being a BCS-busting team. GRADE: C
COACHING: The plan Gary Andersen envisioned four years ago when he took the job finally came to fruition. Credit also goes to his staff for implementing his vision, particularly first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and offensive coordinator Matt Wells.
OVERALL: Their first WAC championship, a Top-20 ranking, BCS-rated and a bowl bid — it was definitely a season to remember for Aggie fans.