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. Biggest BYU football surprise
1. What has surprised you most about the BYU football team now that we are at the halfway point of the 2019 season?
LLOYD: It’s baffling that the Cougars are six games in and have yet to put together anything close to a complete game. The best performance was against USC but there were enough lapses that I wouldn’t even call that a truly high-level showing for BYU. In all of the other five games, the Cougars haven’t even gotten that close. I keep waiting to see things click for BYU on both sides of the ball and I still think it can happen — but I worry that the pressure to attempt to make that happen will have the opposite effect and result in a continuation of the fragile psyche we’ve seen on the field so far. Coaching plays some part in that but a lot of it comes down to the Cougar players and their execution.
DICKSON: The biggest surprise to me this year is how bad the BYU run defense has been. The Cougars have been very good against the run through the first three years under Kalani Sitake. This season, BYU can’t stop anybody who decides to line up and run. The problems are two-fold: The defensive line (other than Khyiris Tonga) has had a hard time holding the line of scrimmage and the young linebacking crew has had issues reading their run keys quickly enough. BYU is giving up about 100 more rushing yards per game this season, which plays into the disparity in time of possession as well and keeps the defense on the field for a long time.
2. Realities facing the Cougar football program
2. The rumblings of discontent are getting louder from the Cougar football fan base. What overlooked fact do you think should BYU supporters take into account with regards to the program?
DICKSON: How about this: Those fans who soldier through the bad times will be rewarded … eventually. College football success is cyclical, so some day the Cougars will be good and the talk of the town and beat Utah and win a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Not good enough? OK, here’s another one: BYU is doing something no other college football program has ever attempted in independence. The unique nature of this endeavor is only matched by its degree of difficulty.
Finally, enjoy the good times. Enjoy the wins over P5 teams. Enjoy the bowl game wins, no matter where they are.
LLOYD: I know fans don’t want to hear this but it’s the reality: There are NO easy answers. Hire a new coaching staff? The program starts over with another extended transition period. Get all the elite-level LDS athletes to come to BYU? Much, much easier said than done. Win the games you should win? There is no such thing — you just either win or lose. Have better playcalling? The only way you know if playcalling is good or not is whether it works. Many of the concepts I hear repeated over and over by frustrated fans sound great on the surface but require a lot more complexity in the actual implementation. I’m not for a moment suggesting that the Cougars don’t evaluate all of these things in depth; I’m just saying I don’t believe there is some sort of quick fix that will change BYU’s fortunes immediately.
3. Weather factor vs. BSU
3. The weather could be a factor in Saturday’s football game against undefeated Boise State. Do you think cold and rainy conditions help or hurt BYU’s chances at upsetting the Broncos?
LLOYD: Both teams have to face the same challenges when the weather deteriorates but I do give a slight edge to the underdog in that situation. Since it can make it more difficult for an offense to move the ball, it can result in closer, lower-scoring games where both teams have a shot. If you are expected to lose like the Cougars are in facing a ranked Boise State team, being there in the final quarter can open the door for making a key play late in the game (like BYU did in wins over Tennessee and USC and like Toledo and USF did when they beat the Cougars).
DICKSON: Boise State is used to bad weather — have you ever been to Boise in November? — but the Broncos also play on turf. The grind of playing on grass in bad weather is a different thing, so I think it will be a little bit of an advantage for BYU in that way. But I also think upsetting the Broncos has much more to do with stopping the run on defense and executing in the blue zone on offense. When that happens, the Cougars can beat just about any team on their schedule no matter what the weather.
4. Favorite former BYU pro to watch
4. Former Cougar gridiron stars are having some great performances in the NFL. Who do you enjoy watching most and why?
DICKSON: I’ve always loved the way that Jamaal Williams runs the ball. The pure joy in his play is just so much fun to watch and is something his teammates feel as well. When Williams was injured or not with the BYU team, the Cougars missed that boost of confidence and effort. Williams recently had his first 100-yard rushing game in the NFL, and that’s great, but I think the Green Bay Packers also love having him on the team because he’s such a well-liked player who’s positive energy rubs off on his teammates.
LLOYD: I want to just say all of them but although that is true, it doesn’t answer the question. Taysom Hill might be getting the most national attention with his Swiss Army Knife skill set and Jamaal Williams is one of the most dynamic personalities I’ve ever been around, but I’m going to go with a defensive guy in linebacker Fred Warner for the San Francisco 49ers. As a third round pick, he may not have gone into the NFL with a lot of fanfare but he has become a huge contributor for the undefeated 49ers. I will add, however, that Warner might have a little bit of an unfair advantage because I grew up watching the Steve Young-led San Francisco teams of the 1990s and so there is some nostalgia in seeing the 49ers doing well again.
5. Impact of BYU volleyball vs. San Diego
5. How much impact do you think Friday night’s game against San Diego will have for the BYU women’s volleyball team moving forward?
LLOYD: As far as the West Coast Conference title and seeding in the NCAA tournament, yeah, that game is huge for both the Cougars and the Toreros. But I don’t think it should be blown out of proportion. To me, the rematch in San Diego on Nov. 15 is of much greater significance because I expect both teams to continue to pile up the wins and that game is closer to the end of the season when both teams want to be peaking. These are the types of matches players love playing in, so I expect both teams to be hungry when that showdown rolls around.
DICKSON: The tough thing for BYU is that no matter how they perform in West Coast Conference play they aren’t likely to raise their RPI by much, even with a win against San Diego. The Cougars are currently No. 9 in the rankings but No. 21 in RPI. San Diego is 40, Pepperdine is 65, Loyola Marymount is 79, Saint Mary’s is 86 and the rest of the league is in the 100’s. Getting a high RPI, as we saw last season in the Smith Fieldhouse, is rewarded with home games in the NCAA Tournament. Beating San Diego helps and its important to the Cougars to win the WCC title. It’s a goal and getting past the Toreros is a big step.