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 surprise from USU win
1. What did you think was the biggest surprise from BYU football’s big win in Logan over Utah State last Saturday?
LLOYD: It was odd to see a Cougar team with a big lead heading into the fourth quarter and not be challenged down the stretch. So many of BYU’s games have either been losses that got away from the Cougars or barn-burners that come down to the final minutes. In looking at social media and even listening to the chatter in the press box at Maverik Stadium, I thought there was a sense of inevitability about BYU’s advantage shrinking down the stretch. Instead, the Cougars tacked on a sixth touchdown and forced a couple more turnovers to cruise to the win. There will likely be more of those coming up in the next few weeks but I thought going in that this would be another close game.
DICKSON: The biggest surprise to me was that the Cougars put two really good performances back-to-back that resulted in two wins. After an upset of Boise State, it would have been easy for BYU to have a let down against Utah State. Instead, the Cougars came out strong from the start and didn’t even bat an eye when they had to go with a different quarterback in the second half. A good team still has ups and downs but manages to overcome those moments. It was good to see BYU remain strong the entire game.
2. Interpreting the BYU defensive effort
2. The BYU defense stuck to its ‘rush-3’ approach for much of the game and surrendered 521 yards to the Aggies — but only gave up 14 points. What should Cougar fans take away from that performance?
DICKSON: It’s easy for fans to say that the rush 3 approach doesn’t produce much pressure. What I believe is that the coaching staff had to develop its young corners and linebackers to the point where they felt they could send blitzes more often. Remember, Zayne Anderson was the Cougars most experienced linebacker and he played in only four games because of injury. BYU has been without two experienced corners in Troy Warner and Chris Wilcox the entire season. Now that the young corners and linebackers have more experience, the coaches have started to be more aggressive with its defensive play calls and it has paid off.
LLOYD: I’m not sure if I agree with the logic or not but BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki explained Tuesday that the Cougars have been using the drop-8 approach to minimize the chances of getting beat deep while also limiting the damage that can be done with quick throws. That worked against Utah State and USC earlier this year, but at other times it has been exposed by good running backs. BYU has brought four or five guys at times with occasional success but for the most part the approach is that the Cougars are going to make opponents make really good plays. If BYU’s run defense is improving at the rate we saw against Boise State and Utah State, I expect the scheme will continue to be fairly effective.
3. Percent chance of being undefeated in November
3. What percent chance do you give the BYU football team of finishing off the 2019 regular season without another loss?
LLOYD: Since Idaho State and UMass have combined to go 4-14 this fall, I would be comfortable giving the Cougars a 100-percent chance of winning those games — although the players better not get caught napping. That leaves a pair of teams in Liberty and San Diego State that I don’t feel like I have a clear picture of yet, even after all these games. The Flames I think will have a tough time with the travel and the depth of BYU so as long as the Cougars play at a B-level or better, I think BYU wins that one as well. That leaves the game against the Aztecs, who are ranked at No. 24 right now but have had six of their eight games decided by 10 points or fewer. Since that one is in San Diego, I’m going to make that one a toss-up and say BYU has just a 65 percent chance of going unbeaten through the rest of November.
DICKSON: I’m not very good at math, but I would give BYU a 75 percent chance at winning its next four games. Liberty and Idaho State at home are almost certainly victories and UMass on the road should also end up in the Cougars favor. San Diego State has a solid defense but I still feel like BYU going there on a five-game win streak would build enough momentum to win.
4. BYU men's basketball improvement
4. What does the Cougar men’s basketball team have to do better if it is going to beat San Diego State on Saturday?
LLOYD: Nothing from the solid BYU win over Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday alleviated my concerns about whether the Cougars can consistently limit opposing teams to one shot while getting additional shots at the offensive end. The final stats indicated that BYU did outrebound the Titans — but only by a single board (35-34). That means the Cougars will likely have added pressure to shoot a high percentage and while they finished at 49.1 percent in Tuesday’s win, it will be a tougher challenge against the length and athleticism of the Aztecs. BYU needs to really focus on clearing the glass or San Diego State will just keep attacking until it scores.
DICKSON: I agree with Jared that BYU needs to rebound and limit San Diego State to just one shot, but that’s only part of the equation. The Cougars don’t have much of an inside game on the offensive end, so it’s imperative that they shoot the ball well from the outside. Last year, BYU shot just 33 percent from the 3-point line. This year that number has to be closer to 37 or 38 percent, and at home it should be closer to 40-45 percent. If that happens, good things will happen for BYU.
5. Chances of a BYU cross country national championship
5. The BYU men’s and women’s cross country teams swept the WCC Championships last week and are both ranked in the Top 5 nationally. Do you believe the Cougar runners will bring home at least one national championship this year?
LLOYD: One of the things I love and hate about cross country is that championships come down to a single race. There are no excuses, no redos, no hoping someone else will help you out if you stumble. It’s just the runners and the course with everyone giving it their all. Because of that, so much can happen and that makes predictions very difficult. I think the BYU men’s team has the better shot at coming out on top but top-ranked Northern Arizona is also loaded with tremendously talented runners. Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part but I just have a sense that the Cougars are going to come through big-time this year and be crowned champs.
DICKSON: The last time BYU had an individual national champion was 2006 (Jared Rohatinsky). The women’s program has four national titles in the late 1990s. It’s possible for the Cougars to bring home another title on either the men’s or women’s side and both programs have really been building to this moment. Like Jared wrote, it’s all about that one race on that one day. Both sides are primed for their best effort. We’ll see.
Darnell Dickson, who has been covering sports in Utah since 1989 (with a detour to Nebraska for three years somewhere in there), is currently the BYU football columnist and BYU men’s basketball beat writer.
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