Saturday afternoon marks the first time the BYU Cougars and Southern Utah University Thunderbirds will meet on the football field. Although the teams haven’t played each other, there is history between the schools as some of the best Thunderbird quarterbacks started their careers at BYU. For McCoy Hill it will be a homecoming as just last year he was a backup quarterback at BYU. Much of the coaching staff also has ties to both schools in one form or another. Ed Lamb highlights this group as he was the head coach for the Thunderbirds for eight years before coming to BYU.
Last week the Cougars traveled to play their first game in the state of Ohio and came out with a win. The 20-3 win was less fulfilling than expected, but it helped get the team closer to bowl eligibility. With a win on Saturday the Cougars will wrap up a spot in a bowl game for the 12th year in a row, not an easy feat to accomplish. The Cougars shouldn’t have any trouble with the Thunderbirds and should have a chance to play younger guys that could use the game experience.
The defense played well on the road as they held the Bearcats to three points and less than 300 total yards. Cincinnati didn’t do themselves any favors, however the Cougars defense did everything they needed to do. With less than 100 yards of rushing, the Bearcats only averaged 3.8 yards per rush and ended up going 4-13 on third downs.
Once again the offense struggled most of the game. They ended up with two touchdowns and two field goals, but ended up with only 337 total yards. In the fourth quarter the Cougars offense had a drive of almost 10 minutes, spanning 16 plays, and found themselves on the 1 yard line. After a loss on second down and then no gain on third, the Cougars had to settle for a field goal. In the next few games this won’t hurt the Cougars, but if they do this in a bowl game it could mean disaster.
The key match-up in this game could be the Cougars running backs against the Thunderbirds rush defense. If the Cougars can take advantage of a less than terrifying rush defense, the offense could avoid throwing more than a handful of passes. This will not only give the Cougars a chance to run clock throughout the game, but it will give them the best chance to put points on the board. The game won’t be won or lost by Taysom Hill and his arm, but keeping the ball in the hands of Jamaal Williams and Squally Canada could determine the margin of victory.
The Keys to Watch
When the Thunderbirds have the ball:
Watch for running back Malik Brown to make a difference early as the Thunderbirds try to keep the Cougars offense off the field. Brown takes the majority of the carries and averages almost six yards per carry. The Thunderbirds are close to 50-50 in their run vs pass with a slight edge going to the run game. Quarterback Patrick Tyler averages only a yard a rush but has thrown for 1,874 yards with 17 touchdowns to only five interceptions. Watch for him to find his go to target in Mike Sharp, who has nine of the touchdowns and over 700 receiving yards.
Watch for the Cougars to take out the Thunderbirds rushing game early and force the Tyler to pass into the ball hawking secondary. The Cougars are confident their secondary can cause havoc with any passing game the Thunderbirds put on the field, and won’t hesitate to throw an extra man or two into stopping the run.
When the Cougars have the ball:
Watch for the Cougars to start with the run, and throw in the occasional pass to keep the defense honest. The Cougars would like to get a big enough lead that the backups can enter early, and if Williams and company are on point the game could get ugly early. Watch for the Cougars to continue to throw the tight end into the mix when they do pass the ball, adding an extra dimension into a struggling offense.
Watch for the Thunderbirds to do everything they can to stop the run and make Taysom Hill pass to a slew of receivers that have let the drops stack up. Although the passing game can beat the Thunderbirds, the odds are that the passing game will do less damage than the running game. Forcing the ball into the air should be enough to make the game closer, but that is a task that might be impossible for this Thunderbirds team.
There is no future meeting scheduled at this time.
The Broadcasting Details
Time: 1:00 pm MT
Where: Lavell Edwards Stadium-Provo, UT
Radio(BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143
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