The BYU Cougars and Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders will meet for the first time on Friday. The two teams did face one common opponent in 2012 as they both traveled to Georgia Tech. MTSU came out with a 49-28 win while the Cougars left with a 41-17 victory. With no games to breakdown, we will look at how the two teams played in their visits to Atlanta.
Atlanta, GA 2012 MTSU vs. GaTech
The Blue Raiders paid the Yellow Jackets a visit early in the year and ended up putting on an offensive show. With a total of 510 yards, 264 rushing and 246 passing, the Raiders put up 49 points. Contributing to the scoring was senior running back Benny Cunningham, who accounted for five touchdowns. The two teams went into the half tied at 21 but the Raiders defense only allowed one touchdown in the second half. In all, the Yellow Jackets could only muster 238 yards rushing and 425 total offensive yards. The Raiders defense also boasted four sacks and four turnovers.
Atlanta, GA 2012 BYU vs. GaTech
The Cougars took their visit to Atlanta almost a month after MTSU and came out with an even more impressive result. The Cougar offense was led by Jamaal Williams as he rushed for 107 yard and three touchdowns. He also had three receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown. The teams were tied 7-7 after one but after scoring to open the second quarter, the Cougars ran away with the game. The defense stifled the Yellow Jackets offense as they kept them to season lows in total yards with 157, rushing yards with 117, passing yards with 40, and points with 17. The BYU defense did not allow a touchdown. One of the touchdowns scored by Georgia Tech was on a 97-yard kick return and the other was on a pick-six by the defense. With the stellar defensive play, the Yellow Jackets were really never in the game.
After another heartbreaking loss, this time to rival Utah, the Cougars are looking to find answers to their struggles on offense. With a few tweaks to the schemes and execution, the results could be much different. Coming of the loss, the Cougars are able to build on some positive results while needing to work on some of the negatives. As they head into the game against MTSU the reaction to both of the units will be telling.
Even though BYU could only scrape up 13 points, they were able to move the ball. Taysom Hill may not have connected on as many passes as needed, but he did roll up more yards than in any other game of his career with 260 yards.
The Defense continued to impress as they were able to hold Utah to only 20 points. Tyler Beck stepped up as the replacement for Spencer Hadley and he ended with ten tackles, four of them solo and two of them for loss. After three games the Cougars defense is only allowing 357 yards per game, with only 123 of that being on the ground.
Even with Hill throwing for his career best in yards, he still only completed 18 of 48 passes leaving him well under 50% completion again. Unless he begins to improve in this area, the Cougars will become even more one dimensional and the tougher games on the schedule will be impossible to win. Jamaal Williams left the game after a collision up the middle that left him with a concussion and a severe stinger. He is listed as day-to-day but could be out between four days and two weeks.
With all the good that came from the defense, they still gave up a few plays that need to be addressed. A 65 yard rush and missed tackles on a pass will haunt them as they lea to 10 points for the Utes. The Cougars again did not cause any turnovers even though they had their chances. A couple of dropped interceptions could have provided the offense a little more breathing room and a few more chances to score. In order to beat some of the teams on the schedule, these play need to be made.
BYU Front Seven vs. MTSU offensive line:
One of the most interesting match-ups in this game will be the Cougars defensive line and linebackers against a stout Blue Raiders offensive line. The offensive line has had success in opening up holes for their running backs as they are averaging 196 yards per game. With the strength of the Cougars defense being their run stopping ability, it will be interesting to see how many holes are opened for the runners. The Cougars front seven have recorded five sacks for 33 yards in three games while MTSU has given up nine sacks for 52 yards in four games. It will be fun to see how long it takes for the defense to make camp in the backfield if MTSU is made into a one dimensional team. Overall this should be the best defense that MTSU will face on the year.
Quarterbacks vs. Secondaries:
Logan Kilgore is the senior leader for the Blue Raiders and has completed 60% of his passes on the year. He is averaging 205 yards per game that is supplemented with a balanced run game. As the rush should be neutralized by the Cougar defense, this will require Kilgore to rely on the passing game and test the secondary. So far, with exception of a few plays, the Cougars secondary has been up to the challenge. If they can take the top two receivers out of the mix, it could be a very long day for the Blue Raiders offense.
Taysom Hill is still struggling to complete more than 35% of his passes and so he will need to utilize a weaker defense to gain confidence and work on his accuracy. The secondary doesn't have anyone that can shut down Cody Hoffman or the tight ends and so there will be opportunities for Hill to deliver the ball. If he can complete the passes, and the receivers can hang on to the ball, Hill might be able to hand over the ball to Ammon Olsen for a quarter.
Special teams will play a major role in field position for the game. BYU is averaging 23.9 yards per kickoff return and 11.6 yards per punt return, but have had a number of long returns called back due to penalties. If the returns can be cleaned up, don't be surprised to see a kickoff or punt taken back for a touchdown.
MTSU is averaging 28 yards per kickoff return ad 6.7 yards per punt return. The Blue Raiders have the 16th ranked kick returner in the country in Reggie Whatley who is averaging 30.4 yards per return. The Cougars will need to stay in position or kick it away from Whatley in order to minimize the damage he can cause.
With the struggles the Cougars offense is having the the blue-zone, the leg of Justin Sorensen may be needed. He missed his first field goal last week but has been solid so far this year.
The Keys to Watch
When the Cougars are on defense, watch for the Cougars to utilize their physicality and take a few more chances then we have seen so far. The play of the secondary has instilled a confidence in the front seven that will allow them to scheme and confuse the offense to the point that they will put pressure on the quarterback. This will prevent him from taking many shots down field, or utilizing the receivers as much as he would like. The linebackers will have the chance to be in the backfield and should cause some concerns for the lineman as they will have their hands full trying to block Bronson Kaufusi and company.
When the Cougars have the ball, watch for the running game to be established before the passing game is worked in. Even if Williams can't play, the current core of runners with Michael Alisa and Paul Lasike should not have a problem racking up the yards. With the passing game needing to be improved, watch for simple throws that can create confidence in Hill before they try anything downfield. The receivers have taken a beating this week for the dropped passes in the Utah game so look for them to step up and hold on to the ball.
One last thing to keep an eye on is Cody Hoffman. If he can corral 9 catches in the game, he will break the all-time reception record for an individual. Right now this record is held by Dennis Pitta with 221. If he can manage three touchdown catches he will also become the all-time record holder for touchdown receptions.
Steven Rhodes, a freshman defensive end for MTSU, found out firsthand how powerful social media can be. The former Marine Sergeant, and current walk-on, was initially ruled ineligible to play college ball due to playing in 12 "intermural" games on the Marine base last year. When MTSU appealed the decision, the NCAA granted a partial win to the school by allowing him to retain two years of eligibility but requiring him to red-shirt in 2013. After the story was picked up by The Daily News Journal, and plastered across the nation, an appeals process that was expected to take weeks ended up taking 24 hours. With support on twitter from veterans and congressmen, the NCAA granted Rhodes immediate eligibility as well as all four years. Rhodes has played in two games this year while recording four tackles and an assisted sack. For the full story, click here.
BYU is scheduled to travel to Murfreesboro, TN on Nov. 1st, 2014 for the return meeting.
The Broadcasting Details
Time: 7:00 pm MDT
Where: Lavell Edwards Stadium-Provo, Utah
Radio (BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143
Listen Live via Internet (KSL): Click Here
Radio/Internet Links (MTSU): Click Here