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BYU 1-on-1: Preparing for big games in Cougar football and volleyball

Preparing for big games in Cougar football and volleyball

By Darnell Dickson and Jared Lloyd - | Oct 20, 2021
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BYU head coach Kalani Sitake (left) watches his team compete during the 26-17 Cougar loss to Boise State at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (Courtesy BYU Photo)
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BYU linebacker Max Tooley makes a tackle during the 26-17 Cougar loss to Boise State at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)
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BYU players attempt to make a tackle during the 38-24 Cougar loss to Baylor in Waco, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)
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BYU sophomore running back Tyler Allgeier scores a touchdown during the 38-24 Cougar loss to Baylor in Waco, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)
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The BYU volleyball team celebrates a point during a match against Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

BYU sports experts Jared Lloyd and Darnell Dickson tackle five of the big questions facing the Cougars this week:

1. Washington State lost its head coach and four assistants this week because they failed to follow the state’s mandate to be vaccinated for COVID-19 before the deadline. What kind of effect will this have on the game with BYU?

DICKSON: The same coaches who have been calling the plays on offense and defense remain, so that should be exactly the same for the players. Where Washington State might run into problems is in game prep, where grad assistants will be stepping in and coaches from other position groups will be helping out. The red Cougars have been on a roll lately (three straight wins) and will take some of that momentum into Saturday’s game. There is the likelihood that this incident will help the players bond together even more, so if I’m BYU I don’t count on any advantages.

LLOYD: I don’t see any way that Washington State can avoid having this be a distraction. I know the players knew it was coming but now former head coach Nick Rolovich is suing the school and it is likely to just get more mired in controversy. I know the athletes are there to play football but I don’t think they are oblivious to what is happening. Yes, this is a team that won three straight against mediocre competition (Cal has been pretty bad, Stanford and Oregon State have been inconsistent) but it still has a lot of question marks. I can’t imagine the coaching situation will be a rallying cry and Washington State will be stronger. I expect some lapses by the home team, but that means BYU will have to take advantage of them.

2. The BYU run defense has been a huge problem in losses to Boise State and Baylor. What has to happen for the blue Cougars to turn things around?

LLOYD: If you listen to a lot of disappointed BYU fans, all the team needs to do is change the coaching staff and miraculously everything will be fixed. I think everyone knows it isn’t really that simple but there is no doubt that adjustments have to be made. BYU is simply allowing teams to be too comfortable in the run game. I saw the defense on its heels against Baylor, allowing the Bears to set up wherever they wanted to and provide seams for the running backs to run through. BYU has to stay aggressive and get in those gaps. The reality is that WSU isn’t equipped to do the same thing. While I do expect Washington State to attempt to get a run game going, I don’t see it having the same level of success but it just isn’t who they are.

DICKSON: There are a number of factors that have contributed to the falloff in run defense, including injuries. You can also add that Baylor has one of the best offensive lines in the country and that led to the domination last Saturday. Kalani Sitake said he wanted the blue Cougars to get back to basics on defense, things like shedding blocks, pad level and sure tackling. The problem with fixing the concerns from the Baylor game is that BYU isn’t playing Baylor again. Washington State offense (the run-and-shoot) presents a litany of other problems with four wide outs on virtually every play and smaller, quicker running backs.

3. What about Washington State concerns you most?

DICKSON: The run-and-shoot consists of short, quick throws and spreading the field. The BYU defense has had a big problem getting off the field this year and the Washington State attack is designed to sustain long drives. The blue Cougars are going to need some turnovers and stops or Saturday could be a long afternoon on the Palouse.

LLOYD: I think WSU has some momentum on its side and quarterback Jayden de Laura is a good field general who generally makes good decisions. I think BYU will do OK against the Washington State offense initially but the BYU defenders tend to get caught dropping too deep. That will open up short passes where WSU could make some crucial plays. The biggest worry is that the home team will put BYU in a hole and the resulting spiral will have things get out of control for the visitors. If BYU has another subpar performance with a lot of mistakes, Washington State has the talent to capitalize and send the visitors back to Provo with another loss.

4. Can BYU figure out a way to get Tyler Allgeier on track after a couple of below-par performances?

LLOYD: Teams are expecting BYU to go to Allgeier, which is tough on the run game but opens up other possibilities. Jaren Hall’s choice to keep the ball on the fourth-down-and-short against Baylor turned into a 56-yard TD because virtually the entire Bear defense was focused on Allgeier. I think Aaron Roderick should turn the tables, maybe take a page from Baylor’s playbook. Last week the Bears started out by throwing the ball before settling into their run-heavy offense. For years BYU set up the run by passing and I think there are reasons to believe that could force defenses to loosen up, particularly if Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua are regularly making big plays downfield. The final thing BYU needs to do that will benefit Allgeier is to get the lead. Then BYU can turn to the run game and focus on getting the tough yards.

DICKSON: Getting back a couple of linemen from injury (Joe Tukuafu and Harris LaChance) would help. I think Aaron Roderick needs to change up some of the running plays to help Allgeier get loose. The slow-developing off-tackle plays that worked earlier this season are being shut down. There are seven games of video for opponents to watch and they’ve got that play figured out. I’d like to see some quick hitters for Allgeier so he can use his power and speed to get going. I also wouldn’t be opposed to seeing HInckley Ropati or Jackson McChesney get a few carries just to mix things up a bit.

5. On Friday, the No. 8 BYU women’s volleyball team hosts No. 21 San Diego with first place in the West Coast Conference standings at stake. What will be the key factor in how the Cougars do?

DICKSON: If I say serve and receive, several sports reporters I know would roll their eyes at me. But hey, I get that quote from volleyball coaches all the time. It’s where everything starts. If you don’t serve tough, your opponent is in system and will score consistently. If you struggle with serve receive your offense is out of sync. The Cougars are No. 1 in the West Coast Conference in service aces (1.98 per set) and bringing in defensive specialists Aria McComber and Gretchen Reinert through the transfer portal has solidified the passing game. When BYU is serving and receiving well, it is very hard to beat.

LLOYD: Yes, Darnell, you do deserve the eye-roll. While serve-receive definitely makes a huge difference, it’s kind of the equivalent of saying one team needs to score more points to win. While true, I don’t know if it delves deep enough. To me, volleyball is a game about momentum and consistency, particularly when it is played between really good teams. One thing BYU has done really well this season is to make those big runs by consistently making plays in all facets of the game. This is particularly important when you are at home, like the Cougars will be, because the crowd gets going with each point. The flipside is that you have to limit the consecutive points by the other team and keep it from seizing control. I think BYU will be prepared and play at a high level for the entire match, forcing San Diego to match that to have any shot at the upset.

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