KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Turnovers just plain kill.
BYU and Utah State found that out last week in losses to Utah and Wake Forest when a combined six turnovers cost the Cougars and Aggies chances at victory.
USU’s sensational QB Jordan Love had three interceptions in an offense that is aggressive and takes a lot of chances for big payoffs.
BYU’s Zach Wilson had a pair of pick-sixes and a fumbled handoff exchange deep in Cougar territory that led directly to 20 points for the visiting Utes.
Conversely, Utah’s new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, smartly using Zack Moss in a conservative game plan, didn’t need to expose Tyler Huntley to risky throws in a “clean” game devoid of giveaways and it was crucial to Utah’s season-opening success.
Turnovers may not play a big part in Utah’s home game with Northern Illinois since the Utes are heavy favorites. Ditto for Utah State in hosting Stony Brook, a team the Aggies should manhandle easily.
But in Knoxville, Tennessee, turnovers will absolutely help determine the outcome of BYU’s game deep in SEC territory. The Volunteers have been loose with the ball in three straight losses dating back to last season and gave the ball up on their second play of the game in a loss to Georgia State. Turnovers led to 17 Georgia State points.
If BYU can force turnovers and convert in Knoxville, it will likely be the deciding factor. Conversely, the Cougars have to stop a trend that began in the opener of turning the ball over.
Wilson has had five interceptions as a college quarterback and three of them came in games against Utah — all of them pick-sixes. That is kind of amazing.
“We had 16 giveaways last year,” said BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. “We’ve had three so far this season.”
BYU has tried to get more chunk plays and the game plan last week against Utah called for a more aggressive attack against Utah’s man coverage and pressure. BYU had four passes of 15 or more yards last week. The Cougars were also six of 12 on third-down conversions and several of those were of the 12- to 21-yard variety.
Love has had a phenomenal career throwing for big plays for USU. He has thrown 700 passes and completed 429 with a career 61.3% accuracy. He has thrown for 43 touchdowns with just 15 interceptions and three of those came last week on the road. Unusual for him.
Meanwhile, Wilson knows he has to improve his decision-making, although his first pick-six last week to Francis Bernard came as he was getting tripped up. If a Ute lineman hadn’t taken away his legs after he committed to throwing, he may have had a big gain to running back Ty’Son Williams.
“I just have to be smarter with the ball in my hands,” Wilson said earlier this week.
USU coach Gary Andersen had plenty of praise for Love despite the turnovers.
”He threw the ball well. No one is going to be harder on himself for those situations and those picks than Jordan will be. That’s not what he wants in any way, shape or form, nor what we all want at the end. We did some tremendous things and made some unbelievable throws.”
Andersen said Love wants to be flawless and will come out against Stony Brook with a chip on his shoulder.
Knowing Wilson, he’ll come out against this SEC foe with the same attitude.
As for Utah’s Huntley, he should have an easy, clean day against Northern Illinois since he likely won’t need to get a full workout with his arm.