Game location: LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, UT
Game time/channel: 10:15 PM ET/ESPN (FRIDAY)
Spread: +2 (BYU)
Most Recent Matchup: 2016
BYU and Cincy have met on the gridiron twice and it happened in back-to-back seasons. BYU has won both matchups. In 2016, the game was in Ohio and the Cougars boasted arguably its most talented backfield in program history, with Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams.
Even so, the game was not teeming with offense, with BYU holding a 10-3 lead at the half. Those three points is all the Bearcats would get as BYU’s defense held strong. Hill and Squally Canada scored the lone touchdowns in the 20-3 victory for BYU on the road.
Head coach: Scott Satterfield (1st year)
2023 Season Thus Far
The Bearcats have had a very uneven start to the 2023 season. After coasting to an opening win over FCS Eastern Kentucky, they won a crucial road game against ACC foe Pitt. However, they followed up that valiant effort by laying an egg at home against Miami (Ohio), losing 31-24.
They limped into their marquee Big 12 opener against Oklahoma at home. While the defense played well, the offense was out of sync and the Sooners cruised to a 20-6 win. Cincy now sits at 2-2 and 0-1 in conference play.
When BYU Has the Ball
As mentioned, Cincinnati’s defense held the high-powered Oklahoma Sooners to 20 points (they are averaging 46.8). Dontay Corleone is a stellar defensive lineman, named to the preseason All-Big 12 team. He has 2.0 sacks and four tackles for loss thus far.
BYU’s struggles in the run game are well documented to this point. They are dead last in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game and yards per carry. There are major problems along the offensive line in run blocking. If BYU can’t fix that, teams will figure out how to beat Kedon Slovis and company in the passing game.
Cincinnati is 74th in FBS in passing defense at the moment. There are chances to exploit the Bearcat secondary if the offensive line can give Slovis time. This might be a game where offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick experiments with a more air-raid type attack out of necessity.
When Cincinnati Has the Ball
Cincy’s offense isn’t going to scare anyone. Emory Jones is a former highly touted recruit who has played quarterback for Florida and Arizona State before arriving in Cincinnati. He has thrown five interceptions in four games. BYU’s defense needs to be opportunistic and get a couple takeaways.
Cincy is averaging almost 215 rushing yards per game. They will want to run the football to control the clock and lull BYU’s raucous crowd to sleep. BYU has been respectable against the run. However, the injury and possible absence of linebacker Ben Bywater is a huge question mark the Cougars will need to address.
Hopefully, BYU can make up for his absence and not have the run defense become a liability. The secondary will be tested with a few talented receivers, one of them being Xzavier Henderson, who has had two 140-plus receiving yard games already this season. BYU can’t let him sneak behind the defense for big chunk plays.
How BYU Can Win
It is possible for BYU to win this without an effective run game. However, that means Kedon Slovis will need to be on his A-game and the defense needs to hold strong. These two teams are adjacent at 48th and 49th (BYU, Cincy respectively) in ESPN’s SP+ ranking. They both have allowed exactly 21.3 points per game on defense to this point, with both offenses averaging right around 30 points. These teams appear near dead even.
The tiebreaker then goes to the home team with the pumped up crowd. BYU is hosting their first ever Big 12 Conference game and LaVell Edwards Stadium is sold out. The ROC and company might just be the difference.
Prediction: BYU 27, Cincinnati 24