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Weekly predictions: BYU needs a defense it doesn’t have to beat East Carolina

In three straight losses, BYU’s inability to disrupt offenses has proved costly as fired up East Carolina comes to Provo

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Oregon and BYU fans watch as Cougar players huddle during a timeout of game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.

Oregon and BYU fans watch as BYU players huddled during a timeout of a college football game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. The Cougars fell to the Ducks that day and have dropped their last three games heading into Friday’s contest against East Carolina.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

BYU coach Kalani Sitake has an interesting dilemma Friday night. He’s got a home night game against a team that has to travel two time zones to Provo, a most favorable situation.

The question is, will he field a Cougars team capable of scoring and stopping?

The Cougars defense has slipped to one of the worst in the country, falling to the bottom in almost every category after losses to Arkansas and Liberty, where it allowed 38 straight points and the first punt of the game well into the fourth quarter. The offense followed suit, scoring just 14 points in a dismal effort by offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick’s group.

Receiver and team captain Puka Nacua said both are fixable with two factors: greater energy and more effort.

Roderick broke it down even further, saying his offense needs to concentrate on one play at a time, ensuring that everyone is doing their job and executing on that one play — then go to the next.

He’ll have to do it without one of the top receivers, Kody Epps, and running back Chris Brooks. Both are ruled out of this game due to injuries.

Defensively, the Cougars are a mess. Out of 131 FBS teams, they rank 103rd in total defense; 117th in rush defense; 128th in third-down defense; 127th in first downs allowed; and 124th in tackles for loss per game. In the past three games opponents have had the ball for 111 minutes, while BYU’s offense has possessed the ball for just 68.

With numbers that low, the pressure is on Roderick to get the offense scoring points. But, as he explained to reporters Tuesday, with limited positions, he is unable to run enough run plays to find what works and ride it. By falling behind like at Liberty and with Arkansas and Notre Dame, he’s had to lean on the pass to catch up.

Not to go all Halloween on the Cougars’ hopes, but East Carolina has all the offensive weapons to take advantage of BYU’s struggling defense and simply keep the ball away from Roderick.

ECU averages 309 yards passing and 163 rushing yards per game, while averaging 33 points a game and holding opponents to 23. Quarterback Holton Ahlers is experienced, having amassed 2,435 passing yards and 18 touchdowns. Running back Keaton Mitchell is a speedster who has gained 687 yards with eight TDs and receiver Isaiah Winstead has 808 yards and three TDs.

“We have to get stops,” said Sitake this week. “The problems we’ve had are breakdowns in execution. That falls on the coaches demanding it and getting the right guys to do it. We simplified the scheme a little bit so we could see where we needed to add certain players, but also where we needed to make corrections. 

“We need to get more out of our guys and have the certain standard we want them to deliver on the defensive line, the disruption we need to get upfront, and get to the quarterback in the pass game, and get tackles-for-loss in the run game. That will make it easier for our linebackers and next-level guys to see the same gap the running back sees and fill it.”

It sounds like something you’d need weeks and weeks in August to teach and prepare a team for. This week is short with the Friday game.

Trick or treat for the Cougars?

BYU really needs a bye week to heal or a real pushover game to build some confidence and get some players on target with execution. In East Carolina Friday, they won’t get either.


This week’s predictions

Ohio State 42, Penn State 31

TCU 28, West Virginia 24

Syracuse 31, Notre Dame 24

Oklahoma 37, Iowa State 28

Oklahoma State 21, Kansas State 17

Tennessee 42, Kentucky 31

USC 34, Arizona 21

Texas Tech 31, Baylor 28

UCLA 41, Stanford 21

Utah 31, Washington State 24 (Thursday)

East Carolina 28, BYU 27 (Friday)

Last week 12-4; overall 78-36 (.684).