Provo • BYU, with an abysmal record, a mediocre defense suddenly susceptible to big plays and a sluggish offense that only recently has been showing signs of life, can’t afford to take any team lightly.

That’s especially true this week when the 3-8 Cougars host UMass, a team they walloped 51-9 last year at LaVell Edwards Stadium by scoring 44 unanswered points after the Minutemen had leads of 6-0 and 9-7 in the first half.

BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said UMass has improved significantly since then, especially on offense. The Minutemen, who have won three of their last four games, are 35th in the country in total offense, averaging 434.7 yards per game.

“It is the most complex scheme that we will see all year,” Tuiaki said. “Just a lot of unbalanced stuff, a lot of different formations, different things that give you problems if you are not sound.”

Tuiaki’s defense is allowing 387.5 yards per game, which ranks 60th in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Cougars gave up “too many” long plays to Tuiaki’s liking in Friday’s 31-21 win over UNLV.

“You see [UMass] getting big plays on people when they are not sound,” Tuiaki said. “We have to make sure we are just sound up front with what everybody is doing and not get confused by all the chaos that is going on with their offense.”

Left-handed quarterback Andrew Ford is back after throwing for 288 yards against the Cougars last year, including a 70-yarder to Bernard Davis.

“They are putting a lot of points on the board,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “They hung in there with Mississippi State until the end of the game. … We know they are going to be ready to come here and play. They are used to Provo now because they were here last year. It will be a nice setting for them. Good competition, good quarterback, good system. It is going to be fun.”

Many good returns for Shelton

Junior defensive back Michael Shelton was given the opportunity to return kicks and punts midway through the season, and he has flourished in that role, special teams coordinator Ed Lamb said Tuesday. Shelton almost broke a few kickoff returns against UNLV and finished with three for 81 yards with a long of 31.

“Throughout the season, Mike has worked hard on the consistency of his catches,” Lamb said. “He was tracking the ball better than he had, really worked hard on it. He came out before every practice, worked hard. Stayed after practice, worked hard. I thought he improved in that area.

“Once he got on the field, he proved he was our best option to return punts. And once I saw his courage on the field, in games, at punt return, we felt like kickoff return would be a good opportunity for him as well.”

Senior Jonah Trinnaman started the season as the primary kickoff returner, and Tanner Jacobson was the punt returner. But Shelton’s hard work has paid off.

“Mike has just proven that he is the guy that belongs in there right now. He’s doing a good job,” Lamb said.

Briefly

Saturday’s game marks a rare clash of college football independents, as UMass has been playing outside a conference since 2016. The Minutemen, formerly of the Mid-American Conference, are 4-16 as an independent. BYU is 55-34 since 2011, its first season going it alone. … BYU is 32-7 and a perfect 18-0 at home in November since 2007. … BYU coach Kalani Sitake’s career record is now 12-12 after Friday’s win at UNLV.

UMASS AT BYU

1 p.m. Saturday

TV • BYUtv