The last time BYU’s offense looked this bad, Bronco Mendenhall fired his defensive coordinator.
BYU’s 2010 offensive struggles, with four straight games of fewer than 20 points, included a 31-16 loss at Utah State on a Friday night. The current Cougars have failed to top 20 points in any of their four games this season, leading into Friday’s game in Logan.
Fewer than 10 years after I suggested that USU should no longer embarrass itself by scheduling BYU or Utah, my outlook has changed. Friday’s matchup might be the most fascinating of the season in this state, just because there’s so much mystery about each team – and because each program really needs a breakthrough.
I’ll always laugh about how the creative minds behind the Super Bowl came up with only “Who wants it more?” as a theme for the Pittsburgh-Seattle game in Detroit in 2006. As for Friday’s game, the question is who needs it more?
BYU is the logical answer, after three discouraging games in a row. Then again, Kalani Sitake is not the coach who’s fighting for his job at this stage. USU’s Matt Wells needs another signature win, three years after his Aggies beat the Cougars in Provo for the first time in 36 years. Since a 2015 rout of Boise State, Wells’ record is 7-15.
The issue for BYU, having totaled 19 points against LSU, Utah and Wisconsin, is how much it will help the offense to face a Group of Five defense, after those futile performances against Power Five opponents. It’s also true that BYU posted only 20 points against FCS opponent Portland State. And the Aggies didn’t provide any cure to freshman quarterback Jake Heaps and the BYU offense in 2010, as the Cougars needed a late touchdown just to reach 16 points.
BYU’s defense also struggled that night, which is why Mendenhall fired defensive coordinator Jaime Hall and injected himself into that position, eventually helping to salvage the season (7-6) after a 1-4 start.
The related question is whether BYU is more like Wisconsin or Wake Forest than Idaho State or San Jose State. USU’s results are based on the level of competition this season. The Aggies have averaged 592 total yards and allowed 233 yards vs. ISU/SJSU, while posting 280 yards and giving up 533 yards to Wisconsin/Wake Forest.
I’ve got BYU topping 20 points Friday. That’s reasonable, considering the Cougars scored 13 points against Utah, with a short touchdown pass nullified by a penalty (followed by a missed field goal). Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer should have some success with Ula Tolutau running the ball and quarterback Beau Hoge mixing in QB runs and short passes.
So the Aggie offense will have to score at least in the low 20s, and that won’t be easy, even after a 61-10 win over San Jose State. Wisconsin and Wake Forest each held USU to 10 points.
Wisconsin bullied the Cougars up front and quarterback Alex Hornibrook was stunningly efficient against a BYU defense that had to be preoccupied with stopping the run. USU’s Kent Myers will complete a high percentage of his passes, the way David Yost’s scheme is designed, but he shouldn’t have as much downfield success as Hornibrook did.
One more history lesson: In 1970, BYU had failed to score 20 points in any of its first six games, going 1-5. In the snow in Provo, quarterback Brian Gunderson made his first start and, with Pete Van Valkenburg running for 178 yards, the Cougars took a 27-20 win over star quarterback Tony Adams and the Aggies.
The Cougars were not quite cured; they finished the season 3-8. The current team also has a lot of work ahead to make this a decent season. But if the Cougars score 27 points Friday, they’ll keep the Old Wagon Wheel.