PROVO — If BYU’s receivers don’t create more separation than shown against Portland State, it will be a very tough September.
Unfortunately, on Saturday against LSU, the Cougar pass catchers will face SEC corners who eat receivers for snacks.
On Monday, I asked Kalani Sitake about this challenge in light of last Saturday when plenty of armchair quarterbacks and former players, including alum and ESPN analyst Trevor Matich, expressed concern over the lack of space BYU receivers created on Saturday.
• How much credit should be given to Portland State, whose defense featured big, fast, long corners like former Oregon star Chris Seisay as well as Ryan Wood?
• How much of last Saturday's underachievement is on BYU’s receiving corps?
• Did BYU’s offense limit some formations and routes so as to keep them off film for the LSU game this week?
The answer probably lies a little in all three but Sitake quickly went to the “A card,” crediting the Vikings' players.
Of course, that’s the classy thing to do — for all parties.
“Portland State is really good and their corners are very strong,” said Sitake.
“They had guys who’d played on a Division I level. They are big and long. It’s easier to cover when it's third and long. When the defense knows you are going into a passing situation then it's really not the fault of the receivers when you are in long-distance situations.
“We have to keep it to situations where we can keep people on their heels, where they don’t know if it is a run or a pass and that makes it easier. If they know it’s a pass, it’s easier to cover receivers.”
Sitake said BYU’s receivers are facing good corners every day in practice and he’s seen how they’ve established separation in fall camp every day. “So, I’m not worried about the receivers getting separation.”
That’s reassuring heading into the LSU game because the Tigers regularly feature NFL-bound corners who are fast, strong, have great size and love to mess with pretty-boy receivers.
No doubt that was something Sitake liked his corners to do against BYU when he coached defense at Utah. And his teams did it well.
Receivers create separation when their offense can send backs, receivers and tight ends in motion, where they use crossing routes, and when they are creative. All of those techniques are answers to man press coverage by defenses.
If corners can take out receivers, it allows a defense to bring in safety help inside the box to squash the run game. It isn't rocket science to say what that does to an ability to blitz and dictate to an offense.
You may remember at Michigan two years ago when the Wolverines simply locked up Cougar receivers and Tanner Mangum didn’t have anybody to throw to. It was as if they’d been gobbled up by the turn in the Big House and disappeared off terra firma.
LSU corners include a scary guy with a Roman numeral by his name, Kevin Toliver II. He hails from Jacksonville, Florida, a state that breeds cornerbacks like alligators; it’s a cottage industry.
On the other side is Donte Jackson, who is even faster than big Kevin, and has been known to sneeze at receivers and knock them down. LSU claims Jackson is the fastest college football player in America. He and Big Kevin watched film of the BYU game against Portland State and quickly got back to playing Xbox, laughing like they’d just seen "America’s Funniest Videos."
Their backups left the room long before that.
BYU receivers are going to have to earn respect this September. It won’t be easy. Portland State was supposed to be its simple tune-up, whereas the next three weeks are potential Waterloos.
“I’m not concerned with separation levels,” said Sitake, firmly defending Ben Cahoon’s troops. “(Our) average third down was third and nine. The chance is it’s going to be a pass and it doesn't take a brilliant defensive back to figure out he has to cover a pass play."
I'm more concerned with having long-down and distance situations. I just mentioned how Sitake believes BYU's answer to attacking defenses this month, and all season, is when there are third downs, to have it third and three or third and seven. That, he says, makes play calling and execution a lot easier.
Makes some sense.
It was a good answer by the second-year coach.
Receiver Talon Shumway elaborated.
“There were good things we came away with and things we need to work on,” Shumway said. “My takeaway is we are going to be more consistent in making big plays and plays that count.”
Make more big plays against LSU and it will take BYU fans back to the night the Cougars upset Miami.
First, see if BYU's third-down plays are short stuff.