The buzz surrounding BYU’s season has quieted significantly the past two weeks, with the Cougars dropping back-to-back games to Power Five opponents.
The latest — a 52-35 loss to Arkansas — taught us some things about 4-3 BYU and what could be in store for the Cougars in the future.
This season has been a reality check for what awaits in a Power Five conference
Next year, BYU will put its independence days behind it when the school joins the Big 12 Conference.
Unfortunately, the Cougars’ 5-0 mark last year against the Pac-12 — and 6-1 against Power Five competition — is a distant memory.
BYU is 1-3 against Power Five competition this season — the one win came in overtime against Baylor, while both Oregon and Arkansas blew out the Cougars.
Notre Dame edged BYU 28-20 last week, though the Fighting Irish led by as many as 19 before the Cougars rallied to make it a one-score game.
There’s one more Power Five opponent this season in the season finale at Stanford.
What we’ve seen so far, though, is that BYU is ill-prepared for the week-in, week-out grind of Power Five play.
BYU’s depth has been tested, and outside of wide receiver, it’s easy to argue that it’s failing — particularly on the defensive line.
If the Cougars can’t create pressure in Big 12 games — they never sacked KJ Jefferson in the loss to Arkansas — there are going to be a lot of long Saturdays in the future.
The same issues continued to creep up for BYU.
There were defensive woes — the Cougars gave up scores on eight straight possessions, including seven touchdowns, and allowed Arkansas 644 total yards.
BYU’s kicking situation still has issues — the Cougars had another missed extra point — and it’s clear those problems impact the decision-making in other parts of the game.
And, as Kalani Sitake emphasized in his postgame press conference, BYU’s inability to get third-down stops is perhaps the biggest issue right now.
Arkansas converted 12 of 15 third-down attempts on Saturday, one week after Notre Dame converted 11 of 16.
Jefferson completed 10 of 12 passes on third-down plays for 153 yards. Three of his five touchdown passes came on third down.
Two of his longest completions of the day — 36 and 30 yards — came on third-down conversions, as well as four others that covered 13, 18, 15 and 14 yards.
Those are scary numbers not only for future Big 12 games, but for the remainder of this season.
Where can BYU get wins the rest of the way?
Last week’s loss to Notre Dame extinguished any hopes of a New Year’s Six bowl.
This loss means that for BYU to have any chance to win 10 or more games for a third straight season, the Cougars must win out, including the postseason.
With five regular-season games remaining, a 4-3 record and how BYU has looked the past month, it’s becoming clearer that the Cougars’ path to bowl eligibility is going to be a grind.
There are games where BYU will be the clear favorite — at home against 4-3 East Carolina and FCS foe Utah Tech — and as long as the Cougars hold serve there, they’ll be bowl eligible.
The other three games, though, could be toss-ups.
Up next is Liberty, which comes into their matchup on the East Coast with a 6-1 record and carries momentum with a four-game win streak.
In early November, BYU heads on the road to face Boise State in the final game for the foreseeable future in what’s become a good rivalry.
The Broncos have turned things around and are 4-2 after a slow start, while that will be BYU’s 10th straight game without a break before it takes a bye the next week.
BYU’s regular-season finale now looks even tougher after Saturday, when Stanford beat Notre Dame. The Cougars have never beaten Stanford, and the Cardinal stymied a Fighting Irish offense that had success against BYU just one week earlier.
While there was buzz and excitement surrounding the Cougars earlier this season, there’s just feelings of disappointment now.
How BYU responds over the next five weeks will determine if the program can build some momentum before joining the Big 12 next year.
Kody Epps is a super star in the making
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Kody Epps has seized the opportunities afforded him this season, and that continued Saturday against Arkansas.
Epps caught a team-high nine passes for 125 yards and one touchdown, a 21-yarder at the end of the first quarter that gave BYU a 13-7 lead.
He’s become a consistent target for Jaren Hall and has taken advantage of his chances to step up with the Cougars dealing with so many injuries at receiver.
Epps now has 34 receptions for 423 yards and six touchdowns this season, all team highs, and this comes after he had four receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame.
While there have been plenty of issues plaguing this team over the past month-plus, Epps has truly been one of the brighter spots for a beleaguered team.