PROVO — After a much-needed bye week surely focused on getting backup quarterback Jaren Hall ready to make his first start after Zach Wilson sustained a fracture on his throwing hand in the 28-21 loss at Toledo, BYU coaches were reminded Saturday about another pressing matter that led to consecutive setbacks at the end of September.
That would be the inability to stop the run.
This Saturday’s opponent, South Florida, rushed for 313 yards in a convincing 48-22 win at woeful Connecticut to snap its nine-game losing streak to Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) foes and displayed the capability to explode against a defense such as BYU’s that ranks among the worst in the country in almost every statistical category on that side of the ball.
“I keep saying it — we have a good football team. It is all about them just playing with confidence, coming together and believing in themselves,” said USF coach Charlie Strong after the Bulls (2-3) posted a season-high 503 total yards. “What we wanted to do is establish the run and we were able to go run the football today. … Teams that win and teams that are successful, you’ve gotta get a running game going.”
Kickoff at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is at 1:30 p.m. MDT and USF’s homecoming game will be televised by the CBS Sports Network. BYU (2-3) has never played USF before, and also has never won a football game in the state of Florida, where it is 0-7.
Of greater concern to coach Kalani Sitake is a porous defense not living up to its preseason hype and playing without senior safety Zayne Anderson, who confirmed on social media over the weekend that he underwent shoulder surgery and won’t play again this season. A couple other projected starters in 2019 — defensive backs Troy Warner and Chris Wilcox — haven’t played yet and will most likely redshirt.
It is a BYU defense without many playmakers outside of cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku and linebacker Chaz Ah You.
“Chaz played a good game (against Toledo),” Ghanwoloku said. “Playmakers make plays. He’s a playmaker. We gotta have a lot more of them for all four quarters. We just have to do a better job, that’s all it is. We just gotta tackle better, finish plays.”
The Cougars rank 118th in the country in rushing defense, allowing 220.8 yards per game. They are 100th in total defense, allowing 432.6 yards per game. They are tied for 102nd (among 130 teams) in scoring defense, giving up 31.2 points per game.
“Teams think they are going to win, so we have to go out there and be ready. Every game is going to be a dogfight. We just have to fight harder.” — BYU cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku
“You can throw for as many yards as you would like, but if you can’t run the football and you can’t score and be physical at the point of attack, you are not going to win,” Strong said after USF running back Jordan Cronkrite ran for 148 yards against a UConn team that suffered its 20th straight loss against an FBS-level opponent. Trevon Sands added 64 yards and a touchdown on seven carries and backup quarterback Jordan McCloud ran for 62 yards and a score and threw for 157 yards and three TDs.
McCloud, a redshirt freshman, filled in for Blake Barnett (out with a high ankle sprain) and showed the same type of escapability and scrambling ability that Toledo QB Mitch Guadagni used to hurt the Cougars on Sept. 28.
BYU’s defense has had trouble getting off the field — the Cougars are 128th in the country in time of possession — which doesn’t bode well against a USF offense that strung together drives of 88, 85, 80 and 89 yards against the Huskies.
Meanwhile, USF’s defense came up with five sacks and 10 tackles for loss and held UConn to 293 yards. The Bulls’ confidence was sagging after they lost 49-0 to Wisconsin in their opener in front of 46,704 in Tampa and 48-21 to also-ranked SMU in front of just 28,850 a month later, but the trip North might have sparked a resurgence. USF also lost 14-10 at Georgia Tech and defeated South Carolina State of the FCS 55-16 at home.
“Teams think they are going to win, so we have to go out there and be ready,” Ghanwoloku said. “Every game is going to be a dogfight. We just have to fight harder.”
Fellow senior Micah Simon, a receiver, said the offensive players have a lot of confidence in Hall, a redshirt freshman who performed well in the spring scrimmage when Wilson was out due to offseason shoulder surgery.
“We just have to stay on the field and sustain drives, score touchdowns and give our defense a longer time to rest,” Simon said.
Better starts are also needed. Toledo didn’t score on its opening possession as Utah, Tennessee, USC and Washington all did against the Cougars, but did score first and got its crowd at the Glass Bowl into the game early. It was the 29th time in Sitake’s 44 games that BYU’s opponent scored first.
“We gotta make sure we play more consistently in all three phases of the game,” Sitake said. “That’s my job. I gotta get that done.”
Or BYU’s flops in Florida will continue.
Cougars on the air
BYU (2-3) at South Florida (2-3)
At Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. (MDT)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM