TOLEDO, Ohio — Sorting BYU’s 2019 football schedule into thirds, in four-game increments, was a tidy and reasonable way to approach the matter when the season began a month ago.
The first four games were against Power Five opponents — which the Cougars recently completed with a 2-2 record, a noteworthy accomplishment in most circles.
Up next is a six-week stretch, sprinkled amid a pair of October byes, against four teams that don’t get as much national love, but could be considered just as treacherous to BYU’s bowl hopes because three of the four games are on the road, beginning Saturday at the historic Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio.
Limping a bit after falling 45-19 to No. 22 Washington last weekend and losing star running back Ty’Son Williams to a season-ending ACL injury, the Cougars face the Toledo Rockets at 10 a.m. MDT in an intersectional game that will be live-streamed on ESPN Plus.
Cougars coach Kalani Sitake doesn’t want to hear any talk of the scheduling lightening up, particularly when it comes to taking on a 2-1 Toledo team that is picked to win the West Division of the Mid-American Conference. He mildly chastised reporters a couple times Monday when it was suggested the so-called gauntlet of challenging games is over.
“The schedule doesn’t change in my mind,” he said. “That’s you guys. We looked at the entire 2019 schedule, and my concern is to have us at our best regardless of who we are facing, whether it is Timpview High School or the San Francisco 49ers.”
The Rockets looked more like the latter than the former last week, rushing for 436 yards in a 41-35 win over Colorado State, and Sitake still remembers escaping with a 55-53 win over the Rockets in a 2016 shootout in Provo when the Cougars had two all-timers, running back Jamaal Williams and quarterback Taysom Hill.
“Right now, we are trying to create some memories for this weekend and focus on that,” he said. “We are focused on getting better. That’s all that matters.”
The defensive-minded coach can start with getting his team to play better against the run, because the Cougars rank 116th nationally in rushing defense and the Rockets feature a player BYU linebackers coach Ed Lamb said is on his way to the NFL, Bryant Koback. The redshirt sophomore from Holland, Ohio, who transferred from Kentucky, led Toledo with 917 rushing yards last season and had a career-high 228 against the Rams.
“We will work on it, yeah,” Sitake said after Utah (262), Tennessee (242), USC (171) and Washington (187) all had success on the ground against BYU. “We feel like we have a good group of players we can put in position to have success against the run game. That’s something we can improve on. That has to happen this week.”
- Toledo wide receiver Danzel McKinley-Lewis (4) catches a pass during the first half of the NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Lexington, Ky. Bryan Woolston, AP
- Toledo running back Bryant Koback (22) is pursued by Miami defensive lineman Joe Jackson (99) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Toledo, Ohio. Miami defeated Toledo 49-24. Duane Burleson, AP
- Kentucky running back Asim Rose (10) is tacked by several Toledo defenders during the second half of the NCAA college football game, Saturday, August 31, 2019, in Lexington, Ky. Bryan Woolston, AP
- Toledo quarterback Mitchell Guadagni (6) is tackled by Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel (56) during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Lexington, Ky. Bryan Woolston, AP
If it doesn’t, BYU, could be in trouble in the first game all season it is favored to win. The Cougars are 2.5-point favorites.
Toledo, meanwhile, is looking at the game as an opportunity to make a statement against a “name-brand” program that hasn’t played at a MAC stadium in nearly 50 years.
“We need to make this game mean as much to us as the last four,” BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said. “We are failing if we don’t instill that into our players. … You better believe that Toledo is excited about BYU coming to their home. We are going to get their best shot.”
BYU was inconsistent offensively the first third of the season, and turnover-prone in the losses to Utah and Washington, which were by a combined 44 points when the the Cougars committed six turnovers and got just one takeaway, a late fumble recovery vs. the Huskies.
Toledo will likely put up less resistance defensively than any squad the Cougars have faced, having given up 405 passing yards last week to CSU’s backup quarterback and 696 overall.
Emmanuel Esukpa and Lopini Katoa will try to pick up the rushing slack vacated by Williams’ absence, but moving the football consistently and scoring touchdowns in the red zone will primarily fall on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson.
“Their quarterback is a really good player,” said Toledo coach Jason Candle. “Their formula to win games is going to keep them in games all the way to the end and all the way through no matter who they play. So we know we have our work cut out for us for 60 minutes.”
And so does BYU — even if its superior strength of schedule says otherwise.
Cougars on the air
BYU (2-2) at Toledo (2-1)
At the Glass Bowl, Toledo, Ohio
Saturday, 10 a.m. (MDT)
TV: ESPN Plus (subscription)
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM