BYU and SMU kick off the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday at 5:30pm MST. It will mark the final game of the independence era for BYU. The Cougars seek to finish the season on a four-game winning streak and end 8-5.
SMU is seeking their first bowl win since 2012.
Both teams are without some key players. Neither team plays defense particularly well. Things could get weird.
Let’s attempt at a gameplan for BYU coming out of this bowl game with a victory.
250+ rushing yards
BYU is 2-0 this season when rushing for at least 250 yards and 3-1 when exceeding 200 yards. They opened the season rushing for 312 yards against USF, on their way to a 50-21 win. They ended the regular season with 358 rushing yards against Stanford.
With Jaren Hall out, BYU needs to do everything in their power to dominate in the run game. The offensive line needs to be on their A-game. It will be a matter of desire and discipline for the line to dominate the trenches and pave holes for the running backs.
Christopher Brooks, Hinckley Ropati, and Miles Davis need to pick up the slack with Lopini Katoa being out. They will be the main features of this offensive gameplan.
That rushing total is a lofty goal. The Cougars have only reached that total twice in 12 games. That is a testament to how out-matched the Cougars are in the matchup at quarterback. They need to dominate with their rushing attack to make up the difference.
SMU’s run defense has been generous, allowing over 203 rushing yards per game, which ranks 121st in the FBS. The opportunity is there to dictate the game plan on the ground.
With a humming rushing attack, BYU can control the clock and keep Tanner Mordecai and SMU’s seventh-ranked passing attack on the sidelines.
Be +2 in the turnover margin
With how dominant SMU is on offense, BYU cannot afford to gift the Mustangs extra possessions by turning the ball over. The Cougars have been solid in avoiding critical turnovers on offense, with nine total giveaways all season.
SMU ranks 82nd in giveaways. They have thrown 10 interceptions as a team and lost nine fumbles. Their offense is explosive, but can also be generous in turning it over.
There is an opportunity for BYU to be on the right side of the turnover battle. With the disadvantages BYU is at at quarterback and on defense, they need all the help they can get. They not only need to win the turnover battle, they need to win it by at least two.
Over 50 Percent on 3rd Downs
As mentioned, BYU cannot afford to gift SMU extra possessions. Yes, that means turnovers but also in avoiding quick three-and-outs. BYU cannot afford to fall behind and fail to keep pace on offense. They must sustain drives, which involves converting key third downs.
BYU’s 44.8 percent third down conversion rate against FBS teams ranks 27th in the country. If BYU can be even better than that on Saturday, they will be able to keep pace with SMU.
With the Cougars rolling with one or multiple of Cade Fennegan, Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters, and Nick Billoups at quarterback, they cannot afford to be in third-and-long situations. Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick needs to avoid pinning the fate of the game on one of their arms at all costs. That can happen if they have a strong running game and keep third downs manageable.