The BYU football team hopes to maintain its level of defensive performance while making several strides on the offensive end when taking on Southern Utah this Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Last week’s 14-0 win over Sam Houston State left Cougar fans very unsettled, with many drawing comparisons to 2017’s lackluster 20-6 opening week win over Portland State. While we don’t agree with the comparison, for several reasons, we certainly agree that many strides need to be shown on the offensive end, and generally believe those improvements will be made.
But it won’t be easy.
The Thunderbirds proved to be a tough out last week in their 24-21 loss to Arizona State. Throw in the fact that SUU is intimately knowledgeable of BYU’s offensive system and it dampens any positive prognostication of Cougar offensive success considerably. As has been widely reported, former SUU Offensive Coordinator Blair Peterson ran BYU’s exact offensive system in Cedar City throughout last season.
So what can fans expect and what needs to happen in order to bury the Portland State comparisons?
Senior Kedon Slovis underwhelmed considerably last week, throwing for a paltry 145 yards on 20-33 passing. The Pittsburgh transfer didn’t appear on the same page with his brand new receiving corps too much of the time while missing the target on several attempts. Slovis’s performance worked in stark contrast to what he’s shown throughout fall camp, where the offense had a clear advantage over BYU’s secondary during most live reps and scrimmage situations.
For that reason alone, we expect several strides to be made by Slovis during in the second week of play.
Too simple? Maybe, but we’ll rely on the 6-foot-3, 215 pound senior quarterback’s experience coupled with typical week one-to-week two improvements that come with most football team.
Prediction: Look for Slovis to throw for well over 200 yards, but probably just short of 300. As mentioned, SUU presents problems defensively if only by knowing BYU’s offensive system and calls fairly intimately.
BYU’s running game was anemic through the first three quarters of last week’s win before freshman LJ Martin took the lead and gave the offense a very necessary lift en route to his 91 yards on just 16 carries. His performance excited Cougar fans, and they should be excited by the play of what looks to be one of most talented true freshmen the program has employed in recent memory. More than several fans are all but ready to hand starting running back duties to the 6-foot-2, 205 El Paso native, and we certainly believe he could handle the RB1 role and even thrive with it.
But what about Aidan Robbins?
Robbins earned himself RB1 status early on in fall camp and solidified his spot as such throughout the practice session. Robbins simply didn’t have the running lanes afforded Martin throughout the first half of last week’s game and we believe he could have put up similar results to Martin had the roles been flipped.
And then there’s Deion Smith. The Colorado transfer saw just three carries for a negative two yards lost in his limited action, and we certainly expect improvements on his end.
Prediction: Look for Robbins to receive most of the reps and to run for over 100 yards and average more than five yards per carry. We believe in Robbins’ talent while believing the 6-foot-2, 240 pound bruiser formed a big chip on his shoulder throughout last week’s practice sessions. He’ll be motivated and should see much-improved blocking upfront, affording him the opportunity to reestablish his RB1 status.
BYU had to make do without both Kody Epps and Keanu Hill last week due to both being held out due to injury. It’s unclear whether either player will be available this week, and if not, BYU’s new slate of wideouts will certainly need to show strides this week if the Cougar offense hopes to prove effective. Last week saw little separation made by the Cougar wideouts, in general, wrong routes being run and otherwise ineffective play throughout.
Prediction: Chase Roberts led the team in receptions, with five grabs for 42 yards, and for good reason, considering his year played within the system coupled with an intriguing skill set. While we believe new wideouts, particularly UCONN transfer Keelan Marion, will make good strides and show more effective, look for Roberts gain take the lead and to approach 100 yards receiving Saturday versus Southern Utah.
One of the more shocking stats of last week’s game was Isaac Rex hauling in just two receptions for 15 yards on seven targets. Meanwhile, Mata’ava Ta’ase was beset by the unimaginable grief of his father having passed away just hours before the game kicked off last week, making the fact that he even took the field remarkable. The biggest surprise came from Mason Fakahua, who caught four passes for 27 yards.
Prediction: Isaac Rex will catch a touchdown pass.
Perhaps the most disappointing performance by any position group was issued by the much-hyped BYU offensive line. Most shocking of all were stalwart veterans Kingsley Saumataia and Connor Pay receiving low grades while playing different positions than they did a year ago. Meanwhile the highest-graded offensive lineman was Weylin Lapuaho, who saw his first start for the Cougars from his left guard position.
Did we not factor in four of BYU’s five starting offensive linemen playing new positions and the difficulties involved enough prior to taking on Sam Houston? Almost assuredly, as both Pay and Suamataia have both proven themselves as top blockers within BYU’s wide-zone offensive system.
Prediction: This one’s easy, as BYU is too talented upfront not to make big strides this week versus SUU, and particularly in the run game. Look for improved grades across the board, but particularly from both Pay and Suamataia from their respective right guard and left tackle positions.
Yes, we’re going to nitpick BYU’s otherwise dominating defensive performance versus Sam Houston last week. The rush defense was stellar, as well as the team tackling and the pass defense, but recording just one sack given the opponent played coupled with the hype of a more aggressive defensive system was a tad disappointing.
That’s not to say BYU’s pass rush didn’t prove effective, however. Time and again the pass rush forced errant throws from Sam Houston and even turnovers, but the lack of truly getting home in the form of a sack recorded is something Defensive Coordinator Jay Hill is on record as being disappointed with and we have to believe it’s going to improve come Saturday’s game versus SUU.
Prediction: BYU will record at least four sacks versus the Thunderbirds led by defensive end Tyler Batty, who provided the most effective pass rush against the Bearkats last week.
Score Prediction: BYU 31 SUU 10