BYU football: Can the Cougars sustain their abnormal success versus TCU this Saturday?

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PROVO — BYU football comes off its bye week to face TCU (3-3) this Saturday with a relatively gleaming 4-1 overall record, exceeding a lot of preseason prognostications in so doing.

The Cougars have achieved their 4-1 stature by proving opportunistic during key situations — taking advantage of certain deficiencies issued by opponents — most notably both Arkansas and Cincinnati while minimizing their own. Despite being out-gained significantly in total yardage by both the Razorbacks and the Bearcats, a degree of team culture and proclivity to step up big and maximize windows of opportunity have sufficed in placing the Cougars on the brink of bowl eligibility just five games into their 12 game regular season.

But none of the success is sustainable, however.

At least not according to the numbers recently published by the Cougarstats twitter account. Cougarstats has become one of the best providers of critical data involving BYU Sports programs for a while, and recently provided a sobering stat regarding the prospect of BYU football continuing down its current path.

As BYU prepares to take on TCU this Saturday, the stats swing strongly in the Horned Frogs direction in almost every category, justifying their 6-point favorite status despite a 3-3 record and two straight losses to Iowa State and West Virginia.

TCU has averaged 472.5 yards per game this season to BYU’s 318.6 while yielding 367.7 yards to BYU’s 360.8. They’ve done as much despite playing a tougher schedule than BYU according to Power Rankings Guru, which has TCU currently at No. 39 in strength of schedule to BYU’s No. 66. Remarkably TCU’s average score this season is 31.3-22.0, which is very similar to the Cougar’s 31.0-22.4.

But again, winning the way BYU managed versus both Arkansas and Cincinnati isn’t a realistic prospect.

An All-too Familiar Foe

BYU’s rivalry with TCU started out well before taking short of a nosedive during the latter years of both teams battling in Mountain West Conference play. From 2008 to 2010 the Horned Frogs outscored the Cougars by a combined 101-17 margin before ousting the Cougars again in 2011 38-28.

Of course much has changed for both teams since that brutal 4-year stretch, although TCU has largely maintained a high level of play while developing top talent within its program. Meanwhile BYU has largely maintained its winning ways through its years without conference affiliation although failing to reach the heights of TCU, generally, which included the Horned Frogs reaching the National College Football Championship game just last season.

So what’s ailed TCU in being dealt three losses already this season despite its high marks in total offense, among other stats?

Well, turnovers, for one.

During last week’s 27-14 loss to Iowa State the Horned Frogs turned it over four times while the Cyclones put up a goose egg in the same category. TCU committed no turnovers in its 24-21 loss to West Virginia, however, but was held scoreless throughout the second half after garnering 21-14 lead at the break. The Horned Frogs also out-gained the Mountaineers by 90 yards in the game, but were beset by more penalties committed, a bad third-down conversion rate and a deficit incurred in overall special teams play.

What we’re leading up to is that this game feels a bit like the 2008 game between BYU and TCU where the Cougars were dealt a somewhat stunning 32-7 lashing in Fort Worth. The Cougars were 6-0 leading into up to the game, but were showing quite a few cracks in the machinery, which included somewhat uninspired wins versus bad Utah State and New Mexico teams the two weeks prior.

TCU proved a dominant team during the 2008 team which narrowly missed out on a BCS Bowl berth due to a heartbreaking 13-10 loss to Utah late in the season and finished

Is this year’s version of the Horned Frogs as good as the 2008 version? Probably not, although the same caliber of athletes still reside within the program which could spell a tough climb for the Cougars come Saturday, all factors considered.

Final thoughts

—The bye week should have treated BYU well and came at a good time. The Cougars were able to get healthier, and although linebacker Ben Bywater is doubtful for the game, they look to return the services of offensive guard Weylin Lapuaho along with receivers Kody Epps and Parker Kingston, which should boost offensive production. Returning Lapuaho could be key in helping jump-start a rushing attack that has averaged just 62.8 yards per game.

—The bye week also allows for further self-scouting a correction opportunities which should aide Offensive Coordinator Aaron Roderick in figuring out how to best avoid the slow start incurred versus Cincinnati along with providing even a semblance of a capable rushing attack.

—TCU is down a quarterback. Chandler Morris won’t play this weekend after going down with injury during last week’s loss to Iowa State. Replacing him will be redshirt freshman Josh Hoover, who went 11-19 for 119 yards while throwing one touchdown against one interception last week. Perhaps most notably, Hoover rushed for no yards while being sacked twice, indicating he’s not the type of dual-threat quarterback that gave the Cougars fits in their loss to Kansas and last week’s win versus Cincinnati.

—All factors considered, things could absolutely come to roost for a Cougar team coming off a bye week with pronounced deficiencies in key areas — most notably  the run game. And while it’s prudent to expect some improvements, it’s somewhat doubtful it will prove enough versus a team as talented as TCU who could prove extra motivated to turn things around after incurring two tough back-to-back losses.

—Also, TCU has proven very good a rushing the football, averaging 192.2 yards per game. While BYU has proven much better in defending the run this season as opposed to last, the Horned Frogs look to pose the toughest test to date and the likely absence of Bywater isn’t helping on that front.

Final score: TCU 31 BYU 21



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