On second thought, go ahead and panic.
The Cougars face Baylor and Virginia in the next three weeks — both games pitting them against their former coaches — sandwiched around a road trip to Washington State, a team that doesn’t scare anyone, but neither did Boise State. The trip to Baylor looked like a trap even before the loss to Boise State.
Suddenly, a season that began so perfectly — five wins in five games, a No. 10 national ranking — has a real chance of turning, well, mundane. The Cougs could wind up in one of those bowl games named after mortgage companies or potatoes. They fell nine spots in the polls after last week’s loss. Another loss and … they’re out of there.
This is a turning point in the season.
Let’s be honest. The Cougars won their first five games, and yet something seemed a little off. The Boise State game showed how thin the margin is.
The Cougars have been scrappy and resourceful, finding ways to win, until they didn’t. But they couldn’t put away Arizona handily, a team that is winless in five games, including a matchup against FCS Northern Arizona. The 24-16 loss to BYU is the team’s closest in four games against FBS schools. The game against Utah turned on a fourth-down play. The win over Arizona State turned on a single defensive play. The game against South Florida — a team with one win this year — was decided by a mere eight points.
Living on the edge finally caught up with the Cougars in the loss to Boise State, which entered the game 2-3 and had lost to Nevada a week earlier by 10 points.
Everyone is pointing to the four turnovers in that game — three fumbles and an interception — but equally distressing was the 140 yards rushing they surrendered to BSU. The Broncos averaged only 3.1 yards per attempt but they were able to get first downs and control the ball, winning the possession battle by more than seven minutes. Boise State ranks last in the Mountain West Conference in rushing even after the BYU performance. BYU had been strong in the trenches this season until that night.
Now BYU faces a Baylor team that is 5-1, having beaten Kansas State 45-7, Iowa State 31-29 and West Virginia 45-20. The lone loss was a 24-14 decision at 12th-ranked Oklahoma State. The Baylor offense is overseen by new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, who held the same position at BYU the last three seasons. One of his assistants is Eric Mateos, who coached the offensive line at BYU the last two seasons.
Think those guys have a little inside information about BYU?
“They know our personnel and our scheme, but that’s college football,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake this week. “That happens.”
Following a 2-7 season in 2020, one in which the Bears struggled to score, head coach Dave Aranda hired Grimes and Mateos, who have overseen a resurgence in offense. The Bears average 38.3 points per game. John Werner of the Waco Tribune reported this week that Aranda is doing exactly what you thought he’d do. He wrote a story headlined, “Aranda relying on former BYU assistants for Baylor scouting report.”
With everything else that’s riding on this game, the showdown of once-beatens also will mark the first time the Cougars have met a Big 12 team since being invited to join the league a few weeks ago. It will be an opportunity to see how they measure up against one of the better programs in that league after beating up on teams from the Pac-12’s South Division this season.
The Cougars hope they can move on from last week at this crucial point in the season. “Last week was disappointing, but we’ll learn from it,” said Sitake.