Will showdown with Wyoming on Saturday night reveal the 2022 Cougars’ true identity?
No. 19 BYU hosts streaking Wyoming at LaVell Edwards Stadium with a lot to prove after getting rolled by Oregon last weekend
Will the real 2022 BYU football team please stand up?
Those words probably won’t be uttered at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday night (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) when the No. 19 Cougars host upset-minded Wyoming (3-1), but perhaps they should.
Who are these guys? More importantly, which version will show up in Week 4 — the one that blasted South Florida with a Hollywood-style array of big plays, then turned around and grounded out a tough, gritty win over defending Big 12 champion Baylor?
“I feel like we are at the point now, going through some adversity, where we can really, really make some changes, really make some improvement. I am excited about it.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake
Or the iteration that looked punchless and, more shockingly, defenseless in that 41-20 loss at Oregon last week?
Coach Kalani Sitake’s seventh team needs an identity. Wyoming already has one. The Cowboys, who have won three straight games and are coming off a program-building 17-14 upset of Air Force, are suddenly a threat to make some noise in the Mountain West this season, despite having had to rebuild their roster due to a plethora of transfer portal losses in the offseason.
“It is a great opportunity for us,” said Wyoming coach Craig Bohl.
“They are such a tough team to beat,” BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb said. “They really have an identity and most likely will stick to that as they have for years now.”
What does it mean for BYU?
It is a chance to rebound, recover, reestablish itself and start building again toward that heavily anticipated Oct. 8 clash in Las Vegas with Notre Dame. But the Cougars (2-1) can’t afford to look past the Pokes, or even Utah State next Thursday.
They haven’t shown they are talented enough to do that yet, especially being in the shorthanded state they are in, particularly on offense. Memories of 2019 still linger. That’s the year the Cougars knocked off Tennessee in Knoxville and No. 24 USC in Provo, only to fall flat against No. 21 Washington 45-19 at LaVell Edwards Stadium and lose 28-21 at Toledo and 27-23 at South Florida.
Wyoming might not be 2019 Washington, but the 2022 Cowboys, picked to finished fifth in the six-team Mountain Division of the MW, are certainly better than Toledo or USF. And the Cowboys won’t lack for motivation, as anyone who has followed this onetime rivalry knows.
“I know this,” Bohl said Monday. “We are going to be jacked up, ready to play.”
That’s part of Wyoming’s DNA. Sure, BYU owns an eight-game winning streak over the Pokes, and has won 11 of the last 12 meetings since 2000. But the last two could have gone either way — the 25-20 win in 2010 in the final game as conference foes, or the 24-21 win in the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl.
“Tough opponent,” said BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. “I think it is going to be a well-coached team hungry to come in here and play us. … I am glad we are not playing there.”
BYU is scheduled to return the game on Sept. 14, 2024 in Laramie, but the status of that game is a bit up in the air, from BYU’s perspective, because the Cougars are still awaiting their Big 12 schedule.
Wyoming AD Tom Burman told the Casper Star-Tribune this week that he expects the game to be played.
“They will be in the Big 12 in ’24 and they will return to Laramie,” Burman said. “That’s the expectation.”
Back to the here and now, Sitake said the Cougars are looking at Saturday’s contest as a way to “get things back on track.”
Things ran off the rails a bit at Oregon, as the Cougars sputtered on offense, misfired on special teams and could not slow UO’s rushing attack — which, on paper, doesn’t appear to be that much better than Wyoming’s.
Offensively, can BYU get going, after back-to-back games of scoring just 20 points in regulation?
Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick, rocked by the news Tuesday that backup tight end Dallin Holker has left the program, said it can.
“Their defense is good. But I just have confidence in our offense just because we have been good for a long time,” Roderick said. “And it is mostly all the same players that have been starting now for the last couple of years. So, that’s why I have a lot of confidence. We lost one game. That’s life. … There is a lot of football left. We got to win this week. That’s football. Just win this week and then worry about the next. You can’t be worrying about something in the past.”
Sitake said he would like his team’s identity to be “humble and hungry” this week on the heels of last week’s confidence-sapping loss on the road.
“I feel like we are at the point now, going through some adversity, where we can really, really make some changes, really make some improvement. I am excited about it,” he said Monday. “Whenever you are being questioned a little bit as a team, as a program, you have one choice, to (respond). … I wish the game was tomorrow. We are expecting a great shot from Wyoming. Their coaching staff is too good not to have them ready.”
Health-wise, the Cougars should be in better shape than they were last week. Defensive linemen Tyler Batty and Earl Tuioti-Mariner practiced all week and should play.
Receivers Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney also practiced, but that’s been the case the last couple of weeks and they haven’t played. Roderick said Wednesday he is “hopeful” they can play.
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