Two national talking points involving the BYU Cougars were both put to bed last week when the Cougars chance at an undefeated season, and Taysom Hill's Heisman hopes ended at the hands of the Utah State Aggies in a 35-20 loss at Lavell Edwards Stadium.
For much of this season the offense, led by Taysom Hill, has been the story. Every week fans across the nation tuned in the see if the Cougars could continue to accumulate victories, and if Taysom Hill could continue to put up gaudy stats and make highlight reel plays. The Cougars were a constant talking point on national networks, particularly ESPN. It seemed like this was the year. A favorable schedule and a strong offense led by Heisman candidate Taysom Hill seemed like a recipe for a special season. It's time to forget about all of that. All predictions, bold or not, can be thrown out in light of Hill's injury and with the loss to the Aggies.
All that said, it's a quick turnaround for the Cougars as they take on the University of Central Florida. The UCF Knights are not even close to the same team they were last year when now NFL starting quarterback Blake Bortles was running the show. This team isn't going to win 12 games again. Last season, UCF's only loss was against SEC-power South Carolina. The Knights had over 5500 yards of total offense last season. Again, not happening this year. Starting quarterback Justin Holman has only 79 passing attempts this season for 659 yards. UCF gains just barely more than 100 yards rushing per game this season too. Not exactly a vaunted offense of yesteryear. The Cougars shouldn't have a problem with an offense that doesn't even eclipse 300 yards per game, right? Well, the same could have been said for the games against Utah State and Virginia. We saw how those games went. The Aggies went on to beat the Cougars at home and the Wahoos put up 33 points at Lavell Edwards stadium dominating possession by more than 20 minutes. At first glance it appears the Cougars should be able to slow down UCF and pull out a victory. The defense should be able to make the necessary adjustments but that remains to be seen. They had a bye week to make adjustments prior to Utah State and that did not go over well.
But not all hope is lost. As others have already stated, Christian Stewart is a capable backup. He is no Taysom Hill but no one really is. He's still good enough to lead the Cougars to a good season and I think a Miami Beach Bowl victory, though that's not what any of us wanted.
Without further adieu, here are the bold predictions for Thursday nights game against UCF.
1. Mitch Mathews and Jordan Leslie will combine for 225 yards and three touchdowns
Possibly my most bold prediction for the game. In the second half against Utah State, Stewart showed a gunslinger mentality. He seemed to lock on two receivers, Mitch Mathews and Jordan Leslie. Mathews in particular showed an affinity for getting past his man but Stewart missed him on a few of the deep throws. With that, he continued to throw deep passes, giving his receivers a chance to make plays. Leslie was another receiver getting opportunities to make plays. Though he did have a few key drops, I expect him to bounce back this week and have some big catches. Stewart should continue to take chances downfield, even if we should see more of a reliance on the running backs. A lot of Stewart's deep balls will hit their targets and a fair amount will probably miss, but don't be surprised if he connects on a few deep throws to Mathews or Leslie.
2. Jamaal Williams will have more than 125 yards and one touchdown
Not exactly bold. But given that "J Swagg Daddy" is averaging a little less than 100 yards per game this season, and the UCF defense is likely to key in on him, it could be tough to reach even these numbers. Then again, Jamaal is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. If he gets between 20-25 carries this game he should be able to hit those numbers. He had 28 carries against Houston with 139 yards for two touchdowns. Those are encouraging numbers and demonstrate just how critical it will be to get the ball into Jamaal Williams' hands if the Cougars have any chance of beating the Knights.
The BYU offense isn't expected to change, meaning expect to still see the zone-read. It isn't likely to be used as much and I'm sure when it is used Stewart will be handing it off significantly more than he will be taking it himself. Though the offense won't necessarily change it will probably lean on the running backs a little more than in the first five games. With Taysom out, the quarterback won't be expected to carry the load for the entire offense. This will provide Williams chances to do some damage and get some big gains.
3. BYU will record two sacks and one interception
Coming off a game in which the front seven got little to no pressure, two sacks may seem a tad high. But for a BYU defense, two sacks should be looked at as a given. With the way the defense has played, and not been getting pressure, it is not exactly a given. I think - and hope -the BYU defense will be aggressive and consistently pressure the quarterback. Howell has shown he's not afraid to blitz a corner or a safety. That could lead to at least a couple of sacks.
That could also lead to some poorly thrown balls on the quarterbacks part. Holman has not shown the ability to ignite the offense so far. He has only thrown two picks on the season so he's not exactly just throwing it up for grabs. But with how poorly the secondary has been playing I wouldn't be surprised to see UCF take a few chances. The BYU secondary was once nicknamed the "No-Fly Zone." Let's see if they can live up to that billing against the Knights and snag a few errant passes.
The outlook of the offense is hard to predict with its best weapon, and leader, sidelined for the season but I don't expect it to fall flat on its face. It will definitely have a changed look and run differently, regardless of what Robert Anae says. Christian Stewart will make some really nice throws and probably make some very poor ones. I think his completion percentage is going to be around 55% but he'll probably have close to 300 yards. Throw in the deep ball and an interception or two and we have a good offense, albeit inconsistent.
The defense is a hard one to figure out as well. It has talent and playmakers at every position. The only problem is that the playmakers aren't making plays. The front seven isn't getting pressure, the corners are getting beat deep, and the safeties are not providing necessary help. On top of that, tackling has been less than fundamental. The defense could come out with a chip on its shoulder, but that was supposed to be the case the past two games and wasn't. That will be something to watch.
With a bevy of unknowns on both sides of the ball, this game could go either way. I think it will go down to the wire. BYU keeps it close for most of the game but I think UCF edges them out in the end. UCF wins 30-27.