BYU 1-on-1: Utah game MVPs and discussing Big 12 impact
The Daily Herald’s BYU sports experts Jared Lloyd and Darnell Dickson weigh in on five of the biggest questions facing the Cougars this week:
1. Who are your BYU offensive and defensive MVPs for the Utah game?
LLOYD: I absolutely have to go with a pair of groups for my MVPs and they are the guys battling in the trenches.
On offense, the Cougar offensive line had a magnificent game. It was able to open up a lot of holes for the running backs and it limited the pressure on quarterback Jaren Hall (no sacks). Yes, there were a few mistakes but the Utes have a number of really good defensive players, particularly linebackers Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell. The BYU O-line was able to keep them in check.
It was a similar story for the Cougar defensive front, which refused to be pushed around by Utah’s offensive line. It did allow a talented running back, Micah Bernard, to make some big plays — but it also clogged the holes on some key plays, particularly on the fourth-and-short deep in BYU territory.
The Cougs simply don’t win that game without the performances at the point of attack on both sides of the ball.
DICKSON: On offense I’m going with running back Tyler Allgeier. He finished with 97 yards on 27 carries, an average of just 3.6 yards per carry. But in the fourth quarter he had 11 carries for 59 yards. There is no way the Cougars come out on top without his tough running late in the game. Over the nine-game losing streak, BYU had a hard time making key plays down the stretch. Allgeier took care of that against the Utes.
On the defensive side I really thought Isaiah Herron was terrific in pass coverage. He had a pair of pass breakups and also recovered a fumble. His play, along with the rest of the cornerbacks, allowed BYU to pressure Utah quarterback Charlie Brewer and hold the Utes to just 147 passing yards.
Jaren Wilkey/BYU BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe talks during a press conference after the Big 12 officially accepted BYU’s application to join the league on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (BYU Photo)
2. How do you think BYU benefits most from joining the Big 12 Conference in 2023-24?
DICKSON: You know how sports writers like to make bold predictions? Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News always likes to poke the bear when it comes to BYU fans and he predicted the Cougars would go 0-5 against the Pac 12 this year. So far, BYU is 2-0 heading into the matchup with Arizona State. So the first thing that comes to mind is more chances to beat Power 5 teams on a weekly basis and change the conversation about the Cougars.
In addition, BYU should make a significant amount of money joining the Big 12. That will lead to better salaries for coaches, a bigger recruiting budget and improvements to venues.
LLOYD: The Cougars get the chance to elevate their profile, a value that is hard to quantify. For decades, BYU has been labeled as a team that is successful because of who it has on its schedule (clear back to the “Bo Diddley Tech” comments in 1984).
That (hopefully!) won’t be the case in a couple of years. While Texas and Oklahoma might be on their way out the door, it appears the Cougars will get a couple of chances to face those legacy programs. Many of the other Big 12 teams have also had their moments in recent years so while they may not be on the level of the Sooners or the Longhorns, they still have some built-in cachet.
If BYU is competitive or has a special year, it will be harder for the college football world to dismiss the Cougar successes.
Brian Winter, Daily Herald file photoKalani Sitake outruns Arizona State’s Stephen Trejo on Sept. 12, 1998, as BYU hosts ASU at Cougar Stadium. For the 1998 season, a dark blue was added as an accent color for the first time.
3. What is the key to winning this week’s BYU football matchup with Arizona State?
LLOYD: A lot of focus will be on what the Cougar defense does to slow the Sun Devil rushing attack, which overwhelmed Southern Utah and UNLV to the tune of 259 yards per game. While that will definitely be important, I think an even bigger key will be if BYU is able to have the edge in field position and time of possession. If the Cougars can control the clock and get more short-field opportunities, I think BYU will give itself an excellent chance to win. That also means that Jaren Hall and Co. has to continue to protect the football and not give ASU momentum by turning it over. I think the Cougar physicality will force the Sun Devils to be at their best, something they haven’t proven they can do yet in 2021.
DICKSON: Each week presents a different challenge for the Cougar defense. Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels is also the team’s leading rusher. From game video, one of the Sun Devils best plays is going five wide and letting Daniels dance his way past the defense. This week, it’s likely BYU will lean more on rush three, drop eight than pressure. The linebackers or nickel backs are going to have to spy on Daniels and try to contain him. I think the Cougars will break the 30-point mark in this game but it will be on the defense to keep Arizona State and its strong collection of athletes from going off offensively.
BYU PhotoBYU head coach Mark Pope talks with his players during the Cougar loss to UCLA in the NCAA tournament in Indianapolis on Saturday, March 20, 2021.
4. How soon will the BYU basketball teams be competitive in the Big 12?
DICKSON: I heard someone describe the Big 12 as a couple of Gonzagas (Kansas and Baylor) and a bunch of Saint Mary’s level teams. That’s as accurate as I can think of when it comes to what many consider the best men’s college basketball conference in the country. The Cougars can compete with the Saint Mary’s teams and once in a while knock off Kansas and Baylor.
As for the women’s team, I think BYU is going to be really, really good over the next two seasons. But the Cougars might have a couple of rough seasons when it joins the Big 12. They plays some really, really good hoops.
LLOYD: I think everyone defines “competitive” slightly differently. I don’t know if I believe BYU men’s and women’s basketball will ever become the big dog in a hoops league as deep and talented as the Big 12, but I think the Cougars in both sports have the capability to regularly be in the top four or five.
The biggest challenge for BYU will be getting used to the rigors of intense competition every time the Cougars step on the floor. Every game will matter and every team will have the talent to knock off BYU if the Cougars don’t bring their A game. Once BYU gets acclimated to that reality in the first year or two, don’t be surprised if the Cougars start to thrive as they are pushed to be great in every game.
BYU_PHOTO BYU coach Heather Olmstead (left) instructs her team during a time out in a women’s college volleyball match against Michigan State in the Smith Fieldhouse on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)
5. BYU and Utah meet in volleyball at the Smith Fieldhouse on Thursday. How will that one go?
LLOYD: I expect another rivalry battle that will be thrilling to watch. This is arguably the biggest showdown between the two universities this year, since both teams are ranked pretty high. When facing a good opponent in volleyball, the key is always three words: execution, execution and execution. Both teams have good serving, passing, setting, attacking and blocking, so it’s going to come down to which squad is able to consistently get the ball where they want it to be. I think this is going to be another five-set battle that will come down to a few key plays. Since the Smith Fieldhouse is going to be rocking, I’m going to give BYU the edge — but by the narrowest of margins.
DICKSON: Should be an outstanding night in the Fieldhouse. BYU’s top hitter is a grad transfer from Utah (Kenzie Koerber) and the Utes second-leading hitter is a former Cougar (Madi Robinson), which should make things interesting. Utah got the best of BYU the last time the two teams played: The 2019 NCAA Tournament, where the Utes shockingly swept the Cougars in the Fieldhouse in the second round. Utah upset No. 3 Nebraska last week, 3-2, in Lincoln but two days later lost at Boise State 3-1. BYU is 8-1 with its only loss at No. 4 Pitt last week. All-American Dani Drews will be a handful for the Cougar defense but I think BYU’s versatility and balanced offense should make the difference.