Las Vegas • How bad has BYU’s football team been this season?
The Cougars (2-8) can’t even count on a win against UNLV, a lower-level Mountain West program they have dominated throughout the years. In fact, the Rebels (4-5) are favored by four points in the many sportsbooks around town in Friday’s 8:30 p.m. MST clash and still are eyeing a potential bowl bid, while the Cougars’ postseason hopes already have been dashed.
The Rebels want revenge, too, after having gone 0-8 against BYU in Las Vegas during their dismal football history. BYU has won the last seven games in the series and is 16-3 against the Rebels all-time.
UNLV has won two straight, including a 26-16 win over the same Fresno State team that downed BYU 20-13 last week.
“We would love to keep the momentum and [keep] stacking the wins all the way through the end of the year,” third-year UNLV coach Tony Sanchez told the Las Vegas Review Journal. “But if you try to do it all at once, it becomes a big, heavy weight, so we are just going to carry the weight of BYU this week and worry about the next one when it comes.”
Meanwhile, the Cougars just are playing for pride, and perhaps their roles next year. Coach Kalani Sitake and offensive coordinator Ty Detmer both said earlier in the week that no positions are safe over the final three games as BYU closes out one of the worst seasons in program history against UNLV, UMass and Hawaii.
“No. 1, we gotta win,” Detmer said when asked how the coaches will balance player development and improving their woeful record. “We are going to go play to win. It is not, ‘OK, seniors are done and we are going to go play all the young guys.’ That’s not the way it works here.”
The most intrigue for BYU surrounds the quarterback position. Eight-game starter Tanner Mangum sustained a season-ending Achilles injury last week, and backup Beau Hoge has a variety of ailments that may keep him off the hard Sam Boyd Stadium surface in the late-night encounter.
“If [Hoge] is feeling good enough to go, then he will probably be the guy,” Detmer said.
What if he isn’t?
Will the Cougars turn to Joe Critchlow, who has not impressed in limited mop-up duty this season, or give fellow freshman returned missionary Kody Wilstead a chance? Sitake said Monday that all three QBs will be considered, and Detmer said Tuesday that Wilstead doesn’t want to redshirt if it means he could play.
“All I care about is winning this game,” said Sitake, who is 11-12 as BYU’s coach. “I am not really thinking about anything other than that right now. That’s all we have to focus on is getting our third win.”
Meanwhile, UNLV seemingly has two solid options at quarterback. Senior Johnny Stanton was playing linebacker three weeks ago but started at QB in the wins over Fresno State and Hawaii. Redshirt freshman Armani Rogers is the program’s future, but he suffered a concussion in the loss to Utah State and has not been sharp in his limited opportunities since his return.
“UNLV gave it to Fresno State when we watched them a week ago, and they are on a roll, too,” Sitake said. “They are looking to beat us.”
If they do, it would be the first time since 2004, which is the last time BYU finished a season with a losing record.
BYU AT UNLV
At Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
Kickoff • 8:30 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN2
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 2-8, UNLV 4-5
Series history • BYU leads 16-3
Last meeting • BYU won 42-23 (Nov. 15, 2014)
About the Cougars • They are playing in Las Vegas for the first time since the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl loss to Utah, then-coach Bronco Mendenhall’s last game. … Freshman TE Matt Bushman is No. 3 in the country in receptions for a tight end with 40, but he is questionable with an undisclosed injury. … RB KJ Hall also is questionable. … QB Beau Hoge is expected to start in place of Tanner Mangum, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the 20-13 loss at Fresno State last week.
About the Rebels • They are 0-8 against BYU in football games played in Las Vegas. BYU won 59-21 in 2009 in the last meeting there. … They are 52nd in the country in scoring offense, averaging 30.1 points per game. They are 103rd in scoring defense, allowing 32.4 points per game. … Senior QB Johnny Stanton replaced an ineffective freshman in the lineup and led them to a 31-23 win over Hawaii last week. … Coach Tony Sanchez is 11-22 in his third year.