5 min read

I'm stepping out from the comfort of pessimism this week. I'm feeling good about BYU at Arkansas.

I'm stepping out from the comfort of pessimism this week. I'm feeling good about BYU at Arkansas.

Deer are constantly being hunted. Whether it's by humans wearing blaze orange vests, mountain lions sneaking through the weeds, or packs of wolves looking for a nice snack, deer are always under attack. From the second they are born, they are being hunted - even the fawns are hunted by foxes and bobcats.

Deer live every day watching out for threats. Every branch that breaks represents a red flag that could lead to their demise.

Humans aren't that different. Go back to the days of the caveman and every night when they went to bed represented a victory for the caveman - they survived another day. When they woke up the next morning, a new survival contest commenced.

We constantly look for threats in our lives, just like deer and cavemen. It's a protection measure. When we are constantly aware of the things that are potentially threatening to us, we protect ourselves from danger. It's how we survive. It's that cautiousness that has allowed humanity to thrive.

Constantly evaluating potential threats in the name of protecting ourselves is a practice we still perform today. But the number of us who are actually confronting mountain lions or worried about a bobcat stealing our youths is effectively zero. We are still on the lookout, though. It's our human nature to be cautious.

Instead of watching out for wolves, we are watching out for things that impact our well-being and jeopardize our happiness. We're still cautious. We're still on guard.

That kind of caution isn't inherently bad - it's literally what enables things to survive. The walk from 'cautious' to 'pessimistic' isn't a very long walk, though.

Pessimism is inside of us. It's genetic. It's human nature. It's a cousin of caution and protection. It's easy to look at a situation and identify the bad - the things that could go wrong. It's difficult to look at a situation and try to predict the things that will go well. It requires a little courage and a little vulnerability to look at a situation and say, 'okay, we're set.'

This is why negative first impressions are so hard to overcome - we're going to remember the negative for a lot longer than we would remember a positive interaction. This is why employee evaluations are so weird sometimes. An employee was 90% good but has 10% to work on is going to focus more on the 10% than the 90% by the end of the review.

This is how we football fan, too.

When BYU fans think of the 2010 recruiting class, they think of the flop that Jake Heaps was. We rarely talk about Bronson Kaufusi getting to the NFL from that class. We talk about Ross Apo not living up to expectations, but rarely talk about Alani Fua exceeding the expectations placed on him. We all remember Zac Stout because of Beto's. We don't generally remember that he was second on the team in total tackles and tackles for loss after battling his way back onto the roster in 2014.

We remember every detail about the things that BYU did wrong when recruiting Spencer Fano, but the things BYU did right when recruiting Ethan Thomason are often filed away in a filing cabinet that rarely gets opened.

This isn't a bad thing - it's human nature. It's who we are! And that's perfectly great.

It is important to remember these things, though. Because BYU has given us some pretty dismal first impressions this year. Those first impressions are going to be factors in how we evaluate this team going forward and if we're not careful, they could prevent us from seeing some very good things from this team. (The negative callouses could also protect us - in a weird way - from more pain if things aren't getting better in the future.)

Caleb Etienne has been terrible for two games this year. He's absolutely unplayable for BYU. In the run game, he has provided next to nothing for the Cougars. In pass protection, he's allowed seven pressures in two games. He's been terrible, there is no sugar-coating it.

Etienne's performance against Southern Utah was so bad that it reinforced the negative first impression that BYU's offensive line is terrible. BYU's offensive line hasn't been good, but there were improvements in Week 2 that weren't there in Week 1.

In Week 1, BYU was flagged for four penalties on the offensive line. In Week 2, they were flagged for just one (and it was on Etienne). It's subtle, but that's a big improvement from where BYU was a week ago.

Week 2 also brought the emergence of Brayden Keim to the table. He provided a boost when spelling the banged up Kingsley Suamataia. He provided some reasonable belief that he could replace Etienne and give BYU a boost. Those are the kinds of things that you hope to find against a team like SUU. It's the very reason that you want warm up games. So that's good!

The offensive line was still very bad and still has to get better. The wide receivers made huge strides in Week 2 and, while not perfect, looked like a unit that can be a weapon for BYU this year. That's good news.

Isaac Rex was the lowest graded player on offense in Week 1. In Week 2, he had a touchdown and went for more than 100 yards. He was a dynamic weapon who showed a ton of chemistry with Kedon Slovis.

That's a win.

Speaking of Slovis, my goodness was he spectacular against Southern Utah. Yes, it was just Southern Utah, but it was just Sam Houston and Slovis looked out of sync and slow.

That's a win.

The defense stacked one strong performance on top of another strong performance. When you consider where BYU's defense was just a year ago, the turn around under Jay Hill has been impressive. Are we ready to annoint them as one of the best units in the country? Of course not. This is a huge test against Arkansas this week. But the strides are signficant. The progress has been a win. It feels borderline unsafe to want to trust the defense, but the defense looks trustworthy this year.

That's a win!

There were a lot of wins from BYU in Week 2. The Cougars made a significant jump from the opener to today. They have more jumps to make, but they've made significant strides.

The offensive line is still a problem. The rushing game is still abysmal. The team hasn't been tested on the road and hasn't been tested by a Power 5 school yet. There is no reason to start a parade yet.

I'm ready to believe though. I'm ready to get out of the comfort of protecting myself from a disappointing performance and ready to open myself up to the public scrutiny of being wrong. There have been enough positive developments from this team and enough week-to-week improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, that I'm willing to believe in Week 3.

Who knows, maybe I'll be wrong. Sometimes deer get shot. But I think BYU surprises people in Fayetteville this weekend.

I'm feeling optimistic, friends.