LANDOVER, Md. – BYU’s home opener was a defensive struggle for the majority of the game which the Cougars lost to UCLA 17-14. Kalani Sitake’s team will now take to the road again as they travel approximately 2,000 miles to face their first non-Pac 12 team of the season – the Big 12’s West Virginia (Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MT, ESPN2).
The Mountaineers will be well rested after having a bye last week. Here are six important numbers for the game at the home of the NFL’s Washington Redskins:
According to BYUCougars.com, BYU football teams have played 28 total games (regular season and bowl) in the Eastern Time zone since 1972. The program has gone 8-20 in those games, being outscored 27.5-19.5 on average. The Cougars have fared better in recent years, with a respectable 3-5 record since going Independent beginning in the 2011 season. Shorter weeks of practice, combined with long travel haven’t been a recipe for success in the past. The Cougars will need to be prepared for those factors as well as have a solid game plan as they take on a fourth straight opponent from a Power 5 conference to open the season.
The Mountaineers have played an SEC school and a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) school in their two games so far this season. In those two games, the Mountaineers have given up 182.5 yards rushing and are currently ranked 95th in rushing defense. BYU has a chance to get back in the win column with a similar game plan that was used in the season opener against Arizona; during that game the Cougar offense accounted for 213 yards rushing on 47 carries. Senior Jamaal Williams led the way with 162 yards. If the offensive line can open up holes, expect a heavy dose of Cougar running backs as Ty Detmer looks to get his offense on track.
Speaking of Williams, the Fontana, California native is 681 yards away from surpassing current Cougar assistant Harvey Unga to become BYU's all-time leading rusher. If he really gets rolling, Williams could also break the record for most 100-yard games (currently 15 held by both Unga and Curtis Brown) in a career with five more such games. Whether through play calling or certain game situations, Williams' rush attempts have decreased from 29 in the season opener against the Wildcats to less than fifteen in both the Utah and UCLA games. BYU should lean heavily on Williams and his powerful running as well as ball security to help move the chains in the upcoming games. The offensive line and other running backs – including to some extent quarterback Taysom Hill – need to get more than the 126 yards per game (3.8 yards per carry) that the offense is averaging so far this season to be successful.
The West Virginia offense that head coach Dana Holgorsen has orchestrated in his six-plus years in Morgantown appears to be as explosive as ever again this season. The Mountaineers have finished ranked in the top 25 in total offense in four of Holgorsen’s first five full seasons. The lone exception was in 2013 when West Virginia finished a disappointing 4-8 and ranked 62nd in this category. Currently ranked seventh in the FBS with 559.0 yards per game, this Mountaineer offense is by far the best (at least statistically speaking) that the Cougars will have faced this season. The defense will have a difficult task keeping points off the board.
37 for No. 38
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Cougar defense has been the best unit on the team so far this season, holding opponents to a manageable 17.67 points per game. One of the most notable members of the defensive core has been Butch Pau’u. The six-foot, 223-pound linebacker – who is originally from Anaheim – is quickly becoming a fan favorite. Pau’u has accounted for 37 total tackles (22 solo, 15 assisted) and is ranked third in NCAA individual tackle statistics. He has also racked up 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 total sacks and forced one fumble. Pau’u was all over the LaVell Edwards Stadium field last Saturday, as he led the team with 19 total tackles. Look for No. 38 to continue to have a major impact on games and improve as the season goes on as one of the key contributors on defense. Plus, be excited Cougar fans, because he could potentially call Provo home for two more seasons as he is only a redshirt sophomore!
Many BYU fans were concerned with the number of incompletions and the lack of passing yards after the UCLA game. As BYU student and fan @okelleykm pointed out on Twitter yesterday afternoon, seven of the 22 total incompletions by the Cougar offense were dropped passes.
22 incompletions— entitled fan (@okelleykm) September 19, 2016
7 drops (more than in other 2 games combined)
3 route mistakes/miscommunication
3 perfect defense
4 bad throws
Those seven drops were more than the first two games of the season combined. In addition, four passes were thrown away and three others were perfectly defended by the Bruins. Based on those stats, the offense may not be as far behind schedule as some would have originally believed three games into the season. There is still plenty of football left this season and the offense has the potential to correct these issues and improve.
Landon Walters studied history and political science at Salt Lake Community College. He is an avid sports fan and loves writing. Email: email@example.com