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What can we expect when BYU’s struggling offense faces Big 12’s toughest D?

QB Jake Retzlaff likely to get his second career start this week. Should he be the man under center for the rest of the season?

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Cincinnati running back Myles Montgomery is tackled by Iowa State’s Malik Verdon Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati running back Myles Montgomery gets corralled by Iowa State defenders Oct. 14, 2023, in Cincinnati. The Cyclones and BYU Cougars meet Saturday in Provo with both teams hoping to become bowl eligible.

Jeff Dean, Associated Press

Iowa State will bring the Big 12’s best defense into LaVell Edwards Stadium to face the league’s worst offense in the Cougars on Saturday. While Iowa State’s offense also struggles, it will take a herculean effort by BYU, who will likely get Jake Retzlaff his second career start, to win this game.

BYU Iowa State TV

Cougars on the air

Iowa State (4-2, 5-4)
at BYU (2-4, 5-4)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MST
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

BYU finds a lot of energy at home with night games and head coach Kalani Sitake will need all of it to elevate his team’s play on the field. Look for a shake-up of the offensive line and a call sheet by Aaron Roderick to take advantage of Retzlaff’s mobility and the possible return of LJ Martin to the backfield. 

Right now, BYU’s offense continues to struggle running the ball and converting third downs. Through nine games, the Cougars have yet to have a rusher go for more than 100 yards and that hasn’t happened since 2011. The lack of a run game has put pressure on every other aspect of the offense, from play action, short yardage situations and the red zone efficiency.

If BYU doesn’t rush for 1,000 yards, with games against Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State left, it will be the first time that’s happened since 1946. Right now, BYU has rushed for 717 yards this season.

Here is our coverage of the loss at West Virginia:

  • BYU gets taken to the woodshed (Jay Drew)
  • Cougars slapped around by WV execution, purpose (Dick Harmon)

Cougar Insider predictions

Question: Should BYU just go with Jake Retzlaff for the rest of the season regardless of how Kedon Slovis heals in weeks to come? Why? Predict the score of Iowa State at BYU.

Jay Drew: Put me in the camp of people who believe that Jake Retzlaff should be the man at BYU for the final three games, regardless of whether Kedon Slovis is cleared to play in the month of November. Retzlaff showed he’s up to the task with his performance at West Virginia last weekend, even if the Cougars lost 37-7 and didn’t score until less than seven minutes remained in the game.

BYU’s offensive line has gotten so bad that it needs a more mobile quarterback. Simple as that. And Retzlaff is more mobile, has that escapability aspect to his game that Slovis doesn’t.

Sure, BYU needs one more win to get bowl eligible. Starting Retzlaff if Slovis is healthy could be seen as throwing in the towel on the 2023 campaign. But I’m not convinced that a healthy Slovis gives them a better chance at getting that win than Retzlaff does. So why not start getting prepared for next year, when Slovis will be trying to latch on to an NFL team as a probable undrafted free agent? Retzlaff is the future. And BYU’s future should start Saturday against the Cyclones.

Prediction: Iowa State 28, BYU 24.

Dick Harmon: Here’s my bottom line: What does Kedon Slovis do that Jake Retzlaff can’t do? Except experience, nothing really. On the other hand, what can Retzlaff do that Slovis can’t do? The answer to that is multiple things: run a proper RPO, extend plays with his mobility and escapability, run a QB sneak designed play, gain yards on a broken play, complete passes when there is chaos, and release the ball quicker when receivers are fighting to get open in tight windows.

I like Slovis, his personality, leadership, experience and his arm. But when his arm has not been 100%, one of his greatest traits has been essentially neutralized. Retzlaff will gain valuable experience for BYU’s future offense, help the Cougars staff recruit to that offense, and he simply gives the worst offense in years a better chance to win against Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

Not all of BYU’s woes have been on Slovis. In fact, most of it I put on the offensive line, but it is a challenge that is linked to all 11 players doing their job, on time, in sync. Starting over with Retzlaff set that back a little, but not much. It’s time to develop for the future and Retzlaff is that guy. The pecking order behind him should prepare accordingly. 

Prediction: Iowa State 28, BYU 27.

Cougar tales

BYU women earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship and will host Utah State Friday at South Field in Provo. The Cougars were given that seed primarily as the nation’s No. 1 offensive team, averaging three goals per game this past season.

In men’s basketball, the Cougars opened the season setting a school record with 43 attempted 3-point plays in a blowout win over Houston Christian in the Marriott Center. The Cougars host San Diego State on Friday.

From the archives

From the X-verse

Extra points

  • BYU gets coveted combo guard Bahr (KSL.com)
  • Retzlaff should be moved to No. 1 for good (Deseret News)
  • Texas ends BYU Big 12 soccer run (KSL.com)


Comments from Deseret News readers:

Best-case scenario is 6-6, with a bowl invite. More likely scenario is 5-7 and home for the holidays. Retzlaff is our best chance of beating Iowa State, and our chance to build for a better 2024.

How do we beat Texas Tech so soundly and lose to TCU and WVU so badly? Not sure if it’s coaching, players or depth, but something needs to change.


This is the downside for grad transfers with no eligibility remaining. Once you get to this point in the season and you are in 12th place in the conference why not go to QB2?

I have the same feeling for Notre Dame. They need to start Steve Angeli the rest of the year. No more possibility for the CFP or an NY6. You are bowl eligible, but it will be a lower tier bowl game. So, what do you have to lose?

You would think BYU would start the QB that gives them the best chance to win. For most of the season that was Slovis according to the staff. But BYU doesn’t need to worry about bowl eligibility as much. They are in a conference and will get a bowl game welfare check from the Big 12 regardless of whether or not they earn a spot in a bowl game.


Up next

  • Nov. 9-12 | All day | Women’s tennis | Big 12 Fall Championship | @ Waco, Texas
  • Nov. 9 | 5 p.m. | Women’s volleyball | UCF | @ Orlando, Florida
  • Nov. 10 | 9 a.m. | Cross-country | NCAA Mountain Regional | @ Lubbock, Texas
  • Nov. 10 | 11 a.m. | Women’s basketball | Weber State | @ Provo
  • Nov. 10 | 6 p.m. | Women’s soccer | NCAA Championship first round | Utah State | @ Provo
  • Nov. 10 | 7 p.m. | Men’s basketball | SDSU | @ Provo
  • Nov. 11 | 8:15 p.m. | Football | Iowa State | @ Provo
    (Times MST)

BYU quarterback Jake Retzlaff looks to pass against West Virginia on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Morgantown, W.Va. The juco transfer QB could get his second career start Saturday night against Iowa State.

Chris Jackson, Associated Press