BYU kicks off its inaugural Big12 game this Saturday vs Kansas and fans justifiably excited about the prospects of playing in not only a bonafide conference game, but a game within a legitimate P-5 conference.
I mean, it’s been a while.
Conference play provides a completely different dynamic to the season that many Cougar fans have likely forgotten about over the program’s 12 years of independence. The competition provides an intriguing narrative that has been completely absent from BYU football for more than a decade and it all begins this Saturday versus a very good Jayhawks team.
Throw in the fact that the Cougars are coming off a 38-31 road win versus Arkansas and it should be easy to like their chances in procuring a win against a good, but not overwhelming opponent.
So why is BYU ten point dogs in this one with the line moving consistently Kansas’ way since it opened at seven points in the Las Vegas Sportsbooks?
I’ll admit to being a bit surprised at the betting line. I personally felt the line would hold steady at seven points after it was revealed on Monday, and perhaps dip to as low as six, but whatever. It serves as a reminder that there’s still a lot that needs to be improved in BYU’s overall play, with the Cougar coaching staff reminding the media of that fact throughout interviews this past week.
So what needs fixing, or at least some fine-tuning, and what should leave fans anxious as they await the game’s kickoff at 1:30 MST this Saturday?
TOO MANY AND TOO FEW YARDS
Arkansas out-gained BYU by 143 yards last week in what has to be the single-most concerning stat as the team prepares to take on Kansas. Of course this differential was made up, in part, but limiting the Razorbacks to just converting two of 13 third down opportunities while winning the turnover battle by a 2-1 margin. Still, BYU converted went just 4-13 in its third down situations in yet another aspect that needs to be improved, but all of it proved enough in securing the seven point win.
But being out-gained by well over 100 yards isn’t likely to fly again come Saturday’s game.
RUNNING THE WRONG WAY
Freshman running back LJ Martin ripped off a thrilling 45-yard touchdown run early in the win over Arkansas that jump-started the team’s overall effort considerably. After that Martin rushed 22 more times for just 32 yards, which is not even close to two yards per carry. Martin’s teammates added just 10 more yards on four carries in what proved another paltry effort in the run game.
Sure, the best part of Arkansas is undoubtedly its defensive front, which worked in stark contrast to a BYU front that is still working toward becoming a cohesive unit, but it’s still a problem that needs a lot of improvement.
Kansas can be had on the ground, however.
In last week’s 31-24 win over Nevada that Jayhawks allowed 150 rushing yards with two of the Wolfpack’s top three rushers averaging just over five yards per carry. Prior to last week’s win was a 34-23 victory over Illinois which saw Kansas yield 139 yards on the ground with the Fighting Illini’s top three backs all averaging just north of five yards per carry.
So Kansas likely won’t prove as formidable in stuffing the run as Arkansas was a week ago. Still, the Cougars didn’t exactly gash either Sam Houston or even Southern Utah in the ground game, leaving a lot of justifiable concern in this area come Saturday’s conference opener.
We love what we’ve seen from BYU’s cornerbacks through three games played this season. Eddie Heckard has proven to be worth every ounce of hype he received after transferring over from Weber State, Jakob Robinson has reminded fans why he may end his BYU football career regarded as one of the best ever to play the position, while Kamden Garrett has met and probably even surpassed most expectations.
Cornerback isn’t a problem and likely won’t be deemed as such during most games this season.
Which leads us to the safety position. The starters on Saturday will be a couple of walkons in the form of sophomores Ethan Slade and Tanner Wall. Both Slade and Wall have vaulted up the depth chart due to both injuries and subpar play from those ahead of them on the depth chart and the good news is both have acquitted themselves well in filling in — particularly Slade.
No team played so far this season will test BYU’s secondary like Kansas will this Saturday, however.
Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels is a superior talent who has completed 75 percent of his passes this season for 575 yards for a 10.3 yards per attempt average. By comparison, BYU’s Kedon Slovis has completed 61 percent of his throws for a 7.3 yards per attempt average.
Yes, KJ Jefferson provided a good test for the Cougar secondary last week, and the Arkansas signal-caller still managed 247 yards on 24-35 passing. Daniels will pose a stiffer test and whether BYU’s secondary, and in particularly its sophomore safeties, can effectively work well against what Kansas presents in the throw game is certainly a concern.
PREDICTION: Kansas 34 BYU 28