The BYU Cougars survived a furious rally by the East Carolina Pirates to improve to 4-2 on the season, and they are about to hit their stride with a very winnable stretch of home and away games against some very feeble competition before facing their last two decent tests of the year. The last two tests include a trip to SEC country to face the Missouri Tigers, and a journey to the Cache Valley to face off against Utah State, a rivalry game where anything could happen.
However, before BYU can let their guard down against the likes of Wagner and San Jose State, they first have to get past the Cincinnati Bearcats. Cincinnati comes to Provo in the first ever meeting of the two schools. Cincinnati poses a bit of an enigma to the Cougars coming in. Like BYU, they have an injury to their starting quarterback, but while Tanner Mangum is listed as probable, and is clearly the more favorable option over Beau Hodge, small sample size notwithstanding, Cincinnati has no idea which quarterback they are going to start. Junior Gunner Kiel, the starter at the beginning of the season, has been battling a neck injury, while his replacement, freshman Hayden Moore, has performed admirably in his absence. Both quarterbacks have thrown for over 800 yards and five touchdowns, so no matter who BYU faces in this match-up, it should provide a challenge for the injury plagued BYU secondary.
In the East Carolina game, BYU had to play Kai Nacua at cornerback due to injuries to Michael Shelton and Micah Hannemann, and their safety play notably suffered. East Carolina tight end Bryce Williams had his way with the BYU secondary late in the game, notching five receptions for 87 yards and providing ECU with key first downs that helped spark their rally.
While Cincinnati doesn't have a monster tight end, they do have some large wide receivers that are very effective down the seams, and BYU's safeties will need to step up. Junior Chris Badger and sophomore Matt Hadley both played safety for the Cougars when Nacua moved to cornerback. Badger picked up three assists, and Hadley notched seven total tackles. Both players will need to study the film and be ready to help Michael Wadsworth in deep and intermediate coverage in the middle of the field for BYU to get as many stops as they need for a win. Badger and Hadley are both decent sized at six and 195 pounds each. They will need to step up against Cincinnati wide receivers with more length, speed and jumping ability than they have. This is a difficult task, but by no means is it beyond their capabilities.
BYU's coaching staff should have the players in the film room for a considerable amount of time, and the backup safeties should be ready to step up if they are needed. I expect the backup safeties to perform very well in relief, while they will have a bit of a rough time with the Bearcats' receivers, they should be able to do just enough to keep the game close enough for more Mangum Magic.