The Cougars have been difficult to predict over the past few weeks. I predicted a BYU victory over Texas at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium but did not see a beat down like that happening. Many were expecting a blowout over Houston and expected the offense to have a field day, and that didn't exactly happen.
A shootout against Virginia was probably the last thing on anyone's mind. Up to that point, the Wahoos were a strong defensive team that was barely winning games behind a sputtering offense. Virginia took the Cougars down to the wire while amassing more than 500 total yards, nearly 200 yards more than the BYU offense accumulated. Not only that, the Cougar offense had the ball for a little more than 19 minutes of the entire game. All things considered, the offense can't really be blamed, the defense just didn't get the necessary stops to get off the field. But in the end all that mattered was getting the W, which Taysom Hill and company did, pushing BYU to 4-0.
Utah State has hardly had much success over BYU, especially recently, only winning one of the past 14 contests. The past two games at Lavell Edwards Stadium have been close, both three-point victories for the Cougars. Last season's contest ended with the Aggies star quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, sitting on the bench with a knee injury.
This season, Keeton will not play at all after injuring the same knee against Wake Forest. What at the beginning of the season looked like a tough matchup is now looking like a comfortable win for BYU -- though the same thing could be said for the past two games for BYU, both of which were eight point wins. All that said, this game doesn't seem like it will follow the pattern from the previous two home games, the two this season and the last two against Utah State.
Here are my bold predictions for the Cougars matchup against the Aggies, although if we've learned anything about trying to predict BYU outcomes is that they're completely unpredictable.
1. BYU will have less than 7 penalties for less than 75 yards
A stat like this should never be a bold prediction. Elite teams typically don't give up the type of penalty yardage the Cougars do. The Cougars clearly aren't elite yet. This is one of the biggest things holding BYU back from being an elite team and solidifying a spot in a New Year's Six Bowl game. In its first 4 games this season, BYU is averaging 11 penalties for 105.5 yards per game. Those numbers aren't going to cut it. These penalties have not proved costly yet, but it's possible they will down the road. 12 penalties for 133 yards allowed Virginia to keep the ball for more than 40 minutes. Costly penalties continued to keep Virginia drives alive and almost did the Cougars in.
Coming off a bye week, the expectation is that the Cougars cleaned up some of the issues that have been plaguing them all season. Late hits and holding calls have been some of the main culprits for BYU so far. Look for this week to be different. Hopefully, Coach Mendenhall has been able to instruct his players on how to be aggressive all the way up to the whistle, not past it. Coach Tujague and Robert Anae have had time to refine some of their young lineman's technique and fix lingering issues on the line. BYU will clean up its issues, but it won't be all at once. Expect to see a couple penalties on Friday leaving you scratching your head or screaming in disbelief.
2. Devon Blackmon will find the end zone
Throughout the season, Devon Blackmon has been slowly finding his way into the game plan. He has been getting more chances to have an impact on the game. He had a touchdown against Houston that was called back because of a correctly-called illegal formation against him. He had a 56-yard reception against Virginia that was a result of what looked to be a busted coverage. It looked like he was going to take it to the house but he was chased down by the defensive back. Thus far he only has three receptions, but the last game gave BYU fans a glimpse of his big play capabilities. The bye week was a good chance for the offensive staff to devise ways to get one of its best offensive weapons the ball in space. Look for Devon to take the ball to the house on Friday.
3. Taysom Hill will throw for 300+ yards, rush for 100+ yards and have 4 total touchdowns
Taysom hasn't come close to these numbers since the first game of the season, a game he threw for 308 yards, ran for 97 yards and had 5 total touchdowns. Running the ball has never been an issue for Hill, nobody will - nor should they - question his running ability. His passing has always been up for debate. He's definitely shown improvements and the bye week should give him an opportunity to continue to develop chemistry with his receivers and attack Utah State through the air.
Up until last game, Taysom's QBR and passer rating had dropped each game - but he finished the last game with a passer rating of 153.5 and an adjusted QBR of 88.8, both very strong numbers. His lack of eye-popping numbers (though 259 yards isn't bad) can't be blamed on him as he only had the ball for 19 minutes of the game. He proved himself against a very strong Virginia defense which boasts a stout front-seven. Utah State is not on the same level defensively as the Wahoos, so don't expect the Aggies to cause fits for BYU's Heisman hopeful. Taysom Hill will further strengthen his Heisman resume on Friday night and cement his place in the college football landscape.
4. The Cougars will force 4 turnovers
Chuckie Keeton is out against BYU, he may not even play the rest of the season. Utah State's offense has been fine, averaging about 370 yards per game but it has been turnover prone. In 4 games, the Aggies have 9 turnovers, in two of those game they had three each. The Cougar defense started the season forcing a lot of turnovers but was blanked by Houston. They rebounded and forced two against Virginia. The Cougars will continue to rebound and force even more turnovers against an Aggie offense that is without its best player. Robertson Daniel has had a penchant for forcing big turnovers and that should continue. The Cougar offense should jump out to a big lead which will leave the Aggies playing catchup all game, leading to possible forced throws or careless ball protection.
Though the past two BYU victories have been far from convincing this is the perfect chance for the Cougars to right the ship and make a statement at home on a nationally televised game on Friday night. BYU won the last two home games by three points each, that's not going to happen this time around. BYU wins 38-13.