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For undefeated BYU, taking opponents’ best shot comes with the territory

Shifting defensive players, QBs, BYU sets out on road to defend its No. 13 ranking

Brigham Young Cougars fullback Masen Wake (13) tries to hurdle South Florida Bulls defensive back TJ Robinson (2) on a run as BYU and USF play a college football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.
BYU fullback Masen Wake tries to avoid a shot from a pair of South Florida defenders during game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. After 4-0 start, the Cougars know taking shots is just part of the drill.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

This article was first published as the Cougar Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Tuesday night.

BYU’s win over South Florida catapulted the Cougars to a 4-0 record and a No. 13 ranking heading into a short week and Friday game at Utah State in Logan. Pressure is mounting.

Fighting off injuries, shifting around quarterbacks and defenders, head coach Kalani Sitake is handling his team the way it needs to be right now. He’s always talking about

improvements and fixing what needs to be done. He is not satisfied with shortcomings and sells this to the players through coaches. To keep that edge is key in extending this run.

In this piece, I asked former BYU QB Robbie Bosco what it is like to be on a team that is building an undefeated season, what the pressures are like and how it feels to have opponents put a target on your back to knock you off.

The back-to-back 4-0 starts in 2020 and 2021 are a first for the BYU football program. “If you consider all the great things LaVell Edwards accomplished, and I respect what he’s done, he didn’t have teams that started 4-0 in consecutive years,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick. “I’m proud to be a part of this.”

Cougar Insiders’ predictions

The BYU defense that showed up to play against South Florida last Saturday looked nothing like the one that held Arizona, Utah and Arizona State to 17 points or fewer the first three weeks of the season. Which unit will show up Friday in Logan?

Jay Drew: I expect a better all-around effort against the Aggies, although that might not show on the scoreboard. Utah State is more explosive than South Florida. Stopping the Aggies will require a much better performance from the BYU defense.

The good news is that the Cougars should be close to full strength, after playing without defensive linemen Tyler Batty and Atunaisa Mahe and cornerback Isaiah Herron vs. the Bulls. Coaches said Monday that those three should be available at Maverik Stadium.

To be effective Friday, BYU’s defense must stop USU’s QBs from running wild, like USF’s Timmy McClain did against them last week. They need to seal the edges, which should be more doable with Batty back in the lineup. BYU 35, USU 31.

Dick Harmon: I think the experience BYU’s defense had in the South Florida game is exactly what the Cougars needed at this stage of the season. Kalani Sitake rested some players who were banged up so they might be far more effective and less susceptible to further injury. At the same time, some young players got on the field for experience, made mistakes and will learn. That is adding depth. It is a luxury for a team to do that and go on and win a game that was really never in doubt, even at the end. This is how BYU, a team with but one senior, got pretty good last year, by playing young players, taking their lumps in 2019, and growing up.

It also humbled this team, giving coaches plenty of fodder to make improvements. Blowouts often get ugly fast and this is exactly what happened to the Cougars against USF as interest in assignments waned in the third quarter.

I think with the return of Herron, Mahe and Batty, BYU will be back to more fundamentally sound defensive sets and the starters who were on the field against South Florida won’t be trying to cover for less experienced players. It is all about trust. Utah State has outstanding skill players and is explosive. How BYU pressures and contains USU’s QBs while covering in the backend is key to winning in Logan. It will be interesting to see how this team responds without the student section in Edwards Stadium pumping them up. BYU 37, USU 24.

Cougar tales

Baylor Romney stepped in for Jaren Hall (ribs) and threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns against South Florida last Saturday. While that game basically was over in the first half, USF made it interesting in the end by keeping its offense on the field.

Here are some of our game coverage stories and commentary:

From the archives

From the Twitterverse

Extra points

  • BYU prepares to face hostile crowd for first time in 2021 (Deseret News)
  • How the (future) Big 12 did over the weekend (Deseret News)
  • The Jets are failing Zach Wilson (New York Post)
  • Jimmer responds to induction into Hall of Fame (Daily Herald)
  • Reno Mahe family wins $25 million suit in loss of child (KSL.com)

Fanalyst

Comments from Deseret News readers

“The Cougars didn’t play the part of a top 15 team against USF, especially on defense!”

No team in the state of Utah and most all of the teams in America didn’t play the part of a top fifteen team either!

But BYU is good enough to get there and has won fifteen of its last sixteen games!

When all the dust settles! BYU had a win! Go Cougs!! Winning outweighs everything.

— Worf

Yes, the headline is not particularly fair. The offense absolutely DID perform like a top 15 team — they had a single punt and no turnovers in the game, which should tell you everything yeah, they had a blocked FG, which was entirely on the special teams. So, it was really just the defense that was the problem. If the defense had been even marginally decent in the second half, the game ends up being a blowout. It’s not that depth is not holding up — they have depth. But no team except the very elite would have held up, given the number of injuries they saw during the game — not sure I have ever seen a BYU team beat up that much in a single game — FOUR defensive linemen and two cornerbacks left the game. Wow, that is just ridiculous. You can get help during the week once you can get the 3rd string and 4th string guys getting more reps, but during a game, it’s really tough.

— mabramso

Up next

Sept. 28-29 | TBA | Women’s golf | Golfweek Challenge | @Walcott, Colorado.

Sept. 30 | TBA | Women’s soccer | vs. Boise State | @Boise

Sept. 30 | TBA | Women’s volleyball | vs. Santa Clara | @Santa Clara, California

Oct. 1 | TBA | Tennis | Idaho State Invitational | @Pocatello

Oct. 1 | 7 p.m. | Football | vs. Utah State | @Logan

Oct. 2 | TBA | Women’s volleyball | vs. San Francisco | @San Francisco