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. Worries about Liberty win
1. How worried should BYU football fans be about the close win over Liberty?
LLOYD: I think some Cougar supporters have gotten carried away simply because Liberty isn’t a “big-name” opponent. This was a huge game on multiple levels for the Flames, as you could see in the Liberty promo video and what was said before the contest. I think an opponent — no matter who they are — should get credit for playing well and Liberty played better than I expected. That said, BYU made the same mistakes that cost it dearly earlier in the season: costly turnovers inside the Flame 25-yard line, drive-killing penalties, defensive mistakes and poor decisions. And yet this time the Cougars STILL WON. That is certainly a step forward after the disappointments of Toledo and South Florida. The BYU offense was good enough (31 points) and the Cougar defense was good enough (24 points allowed). Could both be better? Of course. But I think the worrying I’ve seen on social media is a bit blown out of proportion.
DICKSON: Yeah, it was kind of the Super Bowl for Liberty, I get that. But It was disappointing to see that the Cougars couldn’t maintain the level of play they established the two previous weeks against Boise State and Utah State. I can concede that Liberty is probably better than fans thought but BYU should be able to finish with a more convincing victory at home. A couple of critical turnovers hurt, as did some curious play-calling in the fourth quarter. As I wrote in my column on Monday, this is where the Cougar program is right now. Playing with consistency is a good target to aim for when this team looks at ways to improve.
2. Zach Wilson's return
2. If he’s ready, do you think Zach Wilson should start at quarterback against Idaho State on Saturday? Or should the Cougars hold him out until San Diego State on Nov. 30?
DICKSON: I’m no doctor, but if Wilson is healed he should play as soon as possible. I think BYU will probably start Baylor Romney on Saturday and also play Joe Critchlow if it is in control of the game. Wilson needs to get back into rhythm and a few snaps on Saturday would definitely help. As for Jaren Hall, he was on the sideline last week and along with Critchlow signaling in plays. Concussion protocol being what it is, I don’t have any idea if he’s healthy enough to play. But it surely is a good sign that he’s well enough to be involved, right?
LLOYD: Let’s look at a couple of facts: 1. Wilson has already played in five games, so redshirting isn’t an option. 2. Since his injury wasn’t season-ending, taking a medical hardship year isn’t on the table either. With that in mind, if Wilson is close to 100 percent than BYU should definitely have him play this week. He needs those in-game repetitions to get back into a rhythm as the Cougars close out the season. I doubt Jaren Hall is going to get on the field after his latest injury but if the BYU offensive coaches think Baylor Romney is the best player for the job right now, then that is who should be playing quarterback. I don’t think you play around, assuming this will be an easy win and thus you can just be casual. Put the best guy in, build a big lead, then put in the next guy.
3. BYU football's "Most Valuable Senior"
3. Saturday is the last home football game for 19 Cougar seniors. Who do you think has been the “Most Valuable Senior” for BYU?
LLOYD: There are a number of excellent choices for this recognition, guys who have given a lot to the Cougar football program. I’m going to select Dayan Ghanwoloku because of his versatility and growth. This is a guy who epitomizes the BYU philosophy of doing everything he can to help the team win. He’s moved from cornerback to safety and back again on numerous occasions while also being a huge contributor on special teams and coming in at running back in the offensive “scrum” package. Not only that, he has been a big-time leader for the young Cougar defense, one who has stepped up to help the team navigate through some difficult growing pains.
DICKSON: I’m going offense and with wide receiver Micah Simon. His numbers are OK — 32 catches for 418 yards and two touchdowns receiving — but so much of what he does for the team can’t be measured in the boxscore.He recovered from a tough junior year where he had some key drops and is a true team leader this season on a very young offense. He made perhaps the biggest play of the season with his catch late against Tennessee and has also completed a couple of passes this season on trick plays to show off his versatility. He’s played special teams as well and always represents the team with class when he speaks to the media. He’s a success story as a black athlete from Texas at BYU who earned his degree, and that is a positive result for the program.
4. BYU hoops at Houston
4. Does the Cougar men’s basketball team have a shot at beating Houston on Friday on the road?
DICKSON: Houston will be similar to San Diego State — a lot of tall, long athletes and some outstanding outside shooters. The challenge will be on the defensive end and on the boards, just like it was against the Aztecs. Only this time, the blue Cougars are playing the red Cougars at the brand-new Fertitta Center in Houston. If BYU can hold its own on the boards and shoot around 45 percent from the 3-point line, they could be there at the end of the game.
LLOYD: I don’t see it happening because I don’t believe that this BYU squad is to the point it needs to be at to consistently make plays. I saw some encouraging signs against San Diego State in that the BYU players played a scrappy, high-intensity game. But the execution issues at both ends of the floor — particularly down the stretch — certainly have to be vastly better for the Cougars to win a road game like this one against Houston. BYU might not be able to match Houston’s rebounding, so the visitors have to be successful by forcing turnovers and bad shots. I think it’s going to take a few more games for more things to consistently click for BYU hoops.
5. Cougar women's soccer in NCAA tournament
5. The BYU women’s soccer team earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. What is the team’s best attribute heading into what they hope is a long and glorious run?
LLOYD: I really like how confident this Cougar squad is in themselves. BYU is heading into the playoffs without a defeat because it knows it is capable of defeating anyone. It has finishing at the front, creativity in the middle, defending in the back and solid goalkeeping, so that should put this team in the mix in every game. When a squad has that type of belief, it finds ways to make plays that maybe it wouldn’t otherwise make. I think the Cougar mentality is bring on any opponent and we can beat them. I think that will serve BYU well over the next few weeks of tournament action.
DICKSON: This team is loaded with seniors, and that experience is key. Heading into the NCAA Tournament there is so much emotion.You can’t let those feelings take over and the Cougars have a lot of tournament experience on the field. They also have a lot of experience on the sideline: Head coach Jennifer Rockwood is coaching in her 20th NCAA Tournament. Playing at home in front of a full house at South Field? Count me in.