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Weekly predictions: BYU pulling out all the stops heading into Liberty game

In an effort to end a two-game losing streak, BYU reevaluating roles, personnel before game against the Flames

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The BYU Cougars storm the field before a game against Arkansas in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022.

The BYU Cougars storm the field before a game against Arkansas in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. Saturday afternoon in Lynchburg, Virginia, BYU players will charge onto Williams Stadium to face a pesky Liberty team.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Can BYU turn a two-game losing streak into a victory against 6-1 Liberty on the Flames’ home field? Can Utah State continue to win despite quarterback injuries with a game in Laramie?

Those are the questions.

The 4-3 Cougars spent the week doing some soul-searching about roles, schemes and culture and evaluating personal accountability after losing to Arkansas in Provo last Saturday.

BYU’s defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki spoke of changes made this week in preparation for the road game. He did not elaborate, but a scenario spoken about earlier in the week is that head coach Kalani Sitake would be more involved in the defense and work with linebackers coach Kevin Clune. Tuiaki would then focus on the defensive line, assistant head coach Ed Lamb would focus on special teams, and defensive ends/hybrids coach Preston Hadley would coach safeties.

Sitake coached linebackers at Utah for nine years, in addition to a stint as defensive coordinator.

While BYU’s offensive players walked off the field in the loss to Arkansas believing they were consistently moving the ball on an Arkansas’ SEC defense with two 75-yard scoring drives in the third quarter, the inability of the Cougars defense to stop teams on third downs remains a challenge to be resolved.

Meanwhile, the Aggies will start freshman Bishop Davenport for the first time in his career if Cooper Legas (concussion) or Levi Williams (ankle) cannot play in Wyoming. This brings up an interesting quandary for coach Blake Anderson, who knows Laramie is not a friendly place to figure things out.

BYU at Liberty

While Hugh Freeze is telling everyone who will listen that the BYU game is the biggest football event in school history this Saturday, BYU coaches are preaching to their players that despite losing to Notre Dame and Arkansas, there is still much to play for and prove.

Freeze has done an outstanding job at Liberty, making the Flame a scary opponent. Liberty leads the nation in takeaways and while QB issues have cropped up with Charlie Brewer’s status questionable, one thing is certain — Freeze can coach.

Conversely, Sitake’s defensive staff has come under scrutiny for miscues, misalignment and failures in fundamentals like tackling and gap control. If coaches cannot fix these issues, the Cougars could lose to any team on its schedule, except struggling Utah Tech.

In a nutshell, BYU’s defense has to be productive in getting off the field and offensive coordinator Aaron Rodrick must manufacture a lot of points as insurance for the Cougars to win.

In talking to Roderick and Tuiaki this week, both put a positive spin on preparations this week. Both were being clearly positive, trying to build up confidence in players before meeting Liberty.

You can see Roderick’s pathway. He has playmaker Puka Nacua back and will have running back Lopini Katoa back to complement with Chris Brooks in the backfield. He has an elite pass-blocking team that denied Arkansas’ top sack artist Drew Sanders, a transfer from Alabama, from getting a hand on QB Jaren Hall. His offense scored 35 on Arkansas and should have had two more TDs.

“No. 42 was third in the nation in sacks going into that game and he didn’t get anywhere near Jaren,” said Roderick.

“At this point, this is like a character gut check to find out what we are all about,” he said.  “I sort of relish this opportunity, this adversity. I’m going to embrace this opportunity and go out and get it and that is the mentality we have this week with our offense.”

Tuiaki said he will look for better execution out of BYU’s defense. 

“You always look at the plan but can always change some things around,” he said. “We are reevaluating everything right now.”

Liberty coach Freeze on BYU: “This is big-boy football for sure. We’ll be really undersized in a lot of matchups and it’s going to take enormous straining on every play for us to win this in the fourth quarter.”

Utah State vs. Wyoming

The most interesting thing about Utah State is that after losing to Weber State in Maverick Stadium, Anderson has been able to find a lot of fight in his squad — proved in the wins over Air Force and Colorado State despite mounting injuries.

Wyoming presents a lot of problems for USU with size and athleticism and the home field is tough to overcome with both altitude and weather; it could snow.

Of the Aggies under Anderson comes this interesting note: Utah State has won each of its last five Mountain West road games and has won six straight road games against MW opponents. Its last MW road loss was at Nevada on Nov. 5, 2020. USU is 8-2 in road games under Anderson and 18-10 (.643) in its last 28 road games overall. Under Anderson, USU is 9-2 in games away from home with both of those losses coming this season against top-20 opponents.

This week’s picks

Oregon 34, UCLA 31

Oklahoma State 28, Texas 24

Ohio State 37, Minnesota 24

TCU 27, Kansas State 24

Alabama 44, Mississippi State 38

Mississippi 31, LSU 21

Ohio State 42, Iowa 28

Stanford 28, Arizona 24

Oregon State 31, Colorado 24

Washington 24, California 17

Wyoming 24, Utah State 21

Boise State 34, Air Force 21

San Diego State 27, Nevada 21

Kansas 24, Baylor 21

West Virginia 27, Texas Tech 24

BYU 31, Liberty 24

Last week: 5-8; 66-32 overall (.673)