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Why dominating the trenches — on both sides of the ball — will be vital in showdown with Virginia

Former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall returns to BYU with his flame-throwing Cavaliers on a hot streak

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BYU offensive linemen prepare for a play during game against Utah at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. The Cougars host Virginia Saturday night, which brings a four-game winning streak into Provo.

Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

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Bronco Mendenhall, the man who steadied BYU’s football program after three losing seasons, will bring his Virginia Cavaliers to Provo on Saturday for a Halloween Eve showdown. This game will feature two former LaVell Edwards players: Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae and BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and it should prove to be a dramatic affair.

BYU, Virginia TV

Cougars on the air


Virginia (6-2)

at BYU (6-2)

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MDT

At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo

TV: ESPN2

Radio: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM


Anae has one of the nation’s top offenses (ranked No. 5) and the No. 1 passing quarterback, Brennan Armstrong. Sitake, whose roots are as a defensive coordinator at Utah under Kyle Whittingham, is tasked with stopping Anae’s big-time attack.

Here are some of our pregame coverage angles:

  • Mendenhall says BYU remains close to his heart (Jay Drew)
  • How BYU rebounded in prep for Virginia (Jay Drew)

Cougar Insider predictions

Question of the week: With Virginia’s offense so explosive, what must BYU do on both sides of the line to be successful on Saturday?

Jay Drew: I think the key for BYU Saturday night will be to not get into a shootout with Virginia. That’s probably easier said than done. Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall told me Monday that he believes the Cougars are equipped to stay with the Cavaliers offensively, but I don’t know that I agree. BYU will likely be without two of its best offensive players — receiver Gunner Romney and center James Empey. They were hurt against Wazzu, and Kalani Sitake said Saturday they are both doubtful.

The Cougars will need to follow the same plan they used to beat WSU. That is to pound the rock with Tyler Allgeier and keep the game in the 20s. Keep the best QB they will see this year — UVA’s Brennan Armstrong — off the field as much as possible. Virginia’s defense is below average, which sounds strange for a Bronco Mendenhall-coached team. But the Hoos’ offense is fantastic, and quite a bit better than BYU’s offense against similar competition.

I do think getting back to playing at night, under the lights, will help BYU. The Cougars just seem to play better at night, having gone 5-0 in night games before the recent string of day games. But that slight change won’t be nearly enough to slow down Armstrong and company in Bronco’s homecoming.

Prediction: Virginia 38, BYU 21

Dick Harmon: Both BYU and Virginia will move the ball in the game, but the key will be red zone scoring and that’s on the defense. I think Robert Anae is very good at creating execution prowess in the red zone, and his QB Armstrong is scary. There’s nobody better statistically in college football. I think BYU needs to chew up clock with the run and keep him off the field. At the same time, I believe BYU’s pass game will get huge chunks of yardage in this game. 

While BYU will miss center James Empey, I do believe the offense played better when a healthy and not beaten down Conner Pay came in for him in the second half of the Washington State game. Part of that may have been that Empey helped wear down WSU’s defense in the first half. Conversely, I think as good as Romney is, there are adequate replacements in Neil Pau’u, Sampson Nacua, and his brother Puka. I also think some of his reps could be replaced with more targets to tight end Isaac Rex by splitting him wide in a mismatch. Tyler Allgeier will need to have 30 touches in this game and he’d better be up to it.

BYU will need to try to confuse Armstrong by effectively executing its unpopular drop back coverage. I thought Malik Moore did a great job recognizing plays against WSU, recovering quickly and high-pointing passes. He had one pick and should have had two more. Armstrong is going to be tough to stop. If BYU can rush for more than 230 yards, they will win.

Prediction: Virginia 31, BYU 28

Cougar tales

Tyler Allgeier bulldozed his ways to nearly 200 yards rushing to lead BYU past Washington State in the first-ever trip to Pullman. The win ended a two-game losing skid for Sitake and his team, made the Cougars eligible for a bowl game, and set the stage for a huge game against Virginia. Here is our coverage:

  • BYU pounds Wazzu with Allgeier in victory (Dick Harmon)
  • Cougars give Sitake the physicality he wanted (Jay Drew)
  • Key plays, highlights from win over WSU (Brandon Judd)
  • What Allgeier said after record performance (Jay Drew)

Mark Pope opened up fall camp with midnight madness, and here is Jeff Call’s report on the start of this year’s campaign.

In other news, former BYU athletic director and legendary baseball coach Glen Tuckett passed away Tuesday, Oct. 25, following a stroke. Here is a link to his obituary and a tribute video from his 90th birthday celebration.

From the archives

From the Twitterverse

Extra points

  • Big 12 Commish answers questions (DMagazine)
  • BYU prep recruits make an impact in playoffs (ESPN960)

Fanalyst

Comments from Deseret News readers

BYU is the only 4-0 team versus PAC-12 this year. Not even Oregon can claim that!

— SSJarcis

Great win for the Cougs over fourth PAC opponent. Throw out the records against Virginia this week. Bronco and Kalani both have something to prove in this one. Should be a good one.

Ute trolls grasping at irrelevant straws (meaningless comments). Here’s what matters — Cougs move back into the Top 25 and Utes lose another one (just when U thought U had turned it around). Tough year for U. Will U be bowl eligible at EOY?

Cougs’ strength of schedule continues to improve with Utah St success and UTSA moving into Top 25.

— CougFaninTX

Up next

Oct. 28 | 7 p.m. | Women’s Volleyball | vs. San Francisco | @Provo

Oct. 28 | 7 p.m. | Women’s Basketball | Blue vs. White | @Provo

Oct. 29 | TBA | Cross Country | WCC championships | @Concord, California

Oct. 29 | 7 p.m. | Men’s Basketball | Blue vs. White | @Provo

Oct. 30 | TBA | Softball | Rice Invitational | @Houston

Oct. 30 | TBA | Women’s Volleyball | vs. Santa Clara | @Provo

Oct. 30 | 8:15 p.m. | Football | vs. Virginia | @Provo