PROVO — Cincinnati will be in town this weekend for the first ever meeting between the Bearcats and Cougars. BYU will look to extend its current winning streak to three games, while Cincinnati will be looking for back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
The Bearcat offense is averaging 39.0 points per game so far this season, so this game could be similar to games that were played in the old WAC days — an offensive shootout. Even though football is often called “the ultimate team game,” there are some individual players that will have a definite effect on the outcome.
Here is a look at a couple of the players for each team that could potentially be a major factor in the final outcome.
1. Tanner Mangum: This one is probably pretty obvious for fans of both teams. The freshman quarterback has completed 62.5 percent of his passes this season for 1,416 total yards and nine touchdowns. After leaving the Cougars' last game against East Carolina in the third quarter with a hamstring injury, Mangum was listed as probable earlier this week to the relief of BYU fans everywhere.
Over the last two games, the Idaho product has averaging 348.5 yards passing and 2.5 touchdowns to only one interception. For the Cougars to stay with the high-powered Bearcat offense, Mangum will need to throw the ball effectively and protect the team from turnovers.
2. Cincinnati secondary: In high scoring games, the defenses often need to come up with one or two crucial stops. This will be no different for the Bearcat defense this week. While the overall defensive stats show the Cincinnati defense is pretty good, a more in-depth look explains how important this matchup will be.
Led by senior cornerback Leviticus Payne (16 total tackles, one pass breakup), the Cincinnati defense is giving up an average of 307 passing yards per game over the last three games. It has also allowed six total touchdowns and only one interception (two total interceptions for the season) during that same three-game stretch. The Memphis offense passed for more than 412 yards against this defensive backfield two weeks ago, so Mangum may have a big week if the Cougar offensive line can give him the time to pass the football.
3. Gunner Kiel/Hayden Moore: They are obvious inclusions on this list leading up to the game, with a little bit of the unknown as well. Junior quarterback Kiel is returning from injury, and reports from Cincinnati indicate that both he and the freshman Moore are competing for the starting spot on Friday. The two quarterbacks have both played in four games, and their statistics are very similar.
Combined, the two quarterbacks are averaging 227 yards per game and more than two touchdowns passing per game. Both have thrown five total interceptions (a 2.0 per game average) so far this season. Cincinnati’s coaching staff will have a capable replacement if the starter is ineffective or rattled by the BYU defense.
4. Travis Tuiloma: Tuiloma was injured during the Nebraska game back in September and hasn’t been available since that game. He played a limited number of snaps last week against East Carolina and is expected to be on the field even more this weekend.
The defensive lineman hasn’t registered many statistics so far this season (one tackle and one quarterback hurry, according to BYU’s stats), but even if he isn’t getting tackles, he is an important part of the Cougar defense. He will be instrumental in helping with run defense and getting pressure on the quarterbacks and disrupting the Bearcat offense on Friday night.
5. Shaq Washington: The senior receiver doesn’t have amazing stats so far this season, but he is the leading Bearcat receiver, with 34 receptions, 392 yards and two touchdowns (11.5 yards/catch average). He had a huge game two weeks ago against Memphis (nine receptions, 120 yards, one touchdown) and could pose problems for the BYU defense.
In addition, Washington makes an impact on special teams as a punt returner. Last week against Miami, he registered a long return of 69 yards.
6. Devon Blackmon: Blackmon has had a breakout senior year so far after a junior year where he was probably frustrated with his role in the offense. Through six games this season, he has nearly tripled his entire production from last season — 27 receptions for 342 yards compared to only 10 for 130 total yards in 2014. Averaging more than 12 yards per catch this year, he has a long reception of 70 yards.
Last week was Blackmon’s best game since arriving in Provo with nine catches for 142 yards. The only thing missing from his resume is a touchdown, and that should happen soon based on his season so far and the chemistry that he has with Mangum.
7. Sione Takitaki/Fred Warner: These two might be the most athletic linebackers on the BYU roster. During fall camp, head coach Bronco Mendenhall called Takitaki one of the best pass rushers on the defense (including a quarterback hurry last week against ECU where he was untouched off the edge).
These two linebackers have combined for almost 40 total tackles, including more than six tackles for loss and three sacks. They have also accounted for four turnovers (three fumble recoveries and one interception). If Mendenhall dials up pressure, expect one or both of these players to have a big game this weekend.
8. Bonus – Trevor Samson and Andrew Gantz: Most football fans probably wouldn’t consider the kickers an “impact player,” but if this game is close, these two players could be the difference between a win and a loss. Both kickers are making more than 80 percent of their field goal attempts this season (Samson is 9/11 with a long of 45 while Gantz is 12/14 with a long of 51 yards). Both kickers have had one field goal blocked this season, so this game could come down to special teams play.
Landon Walters studied history and political science at Salt Lake Community College. He is an avid sports fan and loves writing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org