Can No. 19 Cougars get their running game going against always-stout Wyoming?
BYU averaged just 2.5 yards per carry in games against Baylor and Oregon the past two weeks and will look to get its rushing attack established Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium
What is wrong with the BYU rushing attack?
You know, the one that looked unstoppable at times last season with future NFL running back Tyler Allgeier powering past opponents, with occasional help from scatback Lopini Katoa?
And what’s going on with the Cougars’ much-hyped offensive line, the one that was supposed to be the best in the Kalani Sitake era, and one of the best all-time?
Three weeks through No. 19 BYU’s season, those questions are popping up right and left as the 2-1 Cougars prepare to face 3-1 Wyoming on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Kickoff is at 8:15 p.m. MDT; ESPN2 will have the broadcast.
“We pride ourselves at running the ball at BYU. We want to get better. We want to improve on that. We will get better this week at the run game. ... Our O line is tough. They are great. They are experienced. We will get this thing back on track.” — BYU tight end Isaac Rex
With Cal transfer Chris Brooks having replaced current Atlanta Falcon Allgeier as RB1 and Katoa back for a sixth season, BYU rushed for 314 yards in the 50-21 blowout of South Florida. Puka Nacua’s game-opening 75-yard touchdown run off a fly sweep contributed to that total.
“We are only three games in, and it is just a weird sample size, because the first game we could do anything we wanted, and we rushed for 300 yards and we didn’t have to play everybody in a normal rotation like we had planned,” offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said.
However, in Week 2 against Baylor the Cougars put up just 83 rushing yards, on 33 attempts, for a meager 2.5 yards per carry. It got worse in Week 3, as they fell behind Oregon early, had to throw the ball more in a game of catchup, and finished with just 61 rushing yards on 24 carries.
Brooks went from 135 yards against USF to 31 against Baylor and 28 against Oregon.
“Baylor was very good (against the run), and then in the third game, it was a passing game. We had to throw it,” Roderick said. “So I don’t think there is enough of a sample size yet to say we know exactly what our running back rotation is or anything like that.”
Obviously, the degree of difficulty increased in each game, and the Cougars didn’t abandon the run until the second half against the Ducks. They tried running plays on second-and-15 and third-and-10 on their first series at Autzen.
“We could have spent the whole day trying to figure out how to run the ball, if you don’t care about winning. If you want to win, you gotta throw it, try and catch up,” Roderick said. “We didn’t have enough possessions left to spend the whole day experimenting with which run plays we like best. We had to throw.”
As a result, the Cougars are now No. 86 in the country in rushing yards per game (152.0) and No. 56 in total offense (435.0). It isn’t what was expected out of Roderick’s offense in 2022, obviously.
Roderick isn’t panicking.
“We are just going to run our offense,” he said. “I mean, we have been able to run the ball really well for years, and we will be able to (do it again).”
Brooks hasn’t been made available to the media since early in preseason training camp; Katoa talked to reporters Wednesday and said they are “working hard on it, for sure,” and eager to get it going.
Roderick and Katoa both said Wyoming has a stout run defense, so it won’t be easy. The Cowboys held Air Force to 171 rushing yards in a 17-14 upset win last week in Laramie. The Falcons were averaging 508.5 yards a game on the ground, tops in the nation.
“We kinda just basically need to get our mojo back, get some good yards on the ground this week,” Katoa said.
Not having the services of their best two receivers — Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney — has also hampered the offense, and allowed defenses to stack the box and focus on taking away the run. Roderick said he is “hopeful” that the stars can play Saturday, but acknowledged that refrain is “the same old broken record.”
Tight end Isaac Rex said the running game isn’t just the responsibility of the running backs and offensive line. Tight ends and receivers have to help, too, he said.
“We pride ourselves at running the ball at BYU,” Rex said. “We want to get better. We want to improve on that. We will get better this week at the run game. ... Our O line is tough. They are great. They are experienced. We will get this thing back on track.”
Wyoming is 59th in the country against the run, giving up 126.2 yards on the ground per game. That’s better than it appears, considering Illinois put up 260 in the opener and AFA’s prowess in the run game.
“We know it is going to be a hard, physical game, and the run game is going to be essential to keep the ball in our hands and keep their offense off the field,” Katoa said.
Cougars on the air
Wyoming (3-1) at No. 19 BYU (2-1)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MDT
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM