Provo • Once again, No. 11 BYU will enter this week’s game as the heavy favorite — this time against Western Kentucky at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday night. So once again, the Cougars will need to impress as they go about their business.
Even as the Cougars try not to look ahead and only focus on the game at hand, another dominating performance will only help BYU as it continues to push for a New Year’s Six bowl spot, and even stay in the chase for the College Football Playoff.
BYU (6-0) has won five of its six games in impressive fashion and has been averaging 45 points a game, while opponents are just averaging 14 points. Those big wins have helped the Cougars climb national rankings and get into postseason conversation.
BYU coach Kalani Sitake said his team is doing a good job of resisting the temptation to look ahead.
“All we’re worried about is playing Western Kentucky,” Sitake said. “Everybody knows the future and the situation and the games that are on the schedule, but I think it’s worked so far — the formula. These kids, they understand the situation, but they also understand the harm it could do when you’re looking past an opponent and you don’t respect the game.”
And Sitake has plenty of respect for the Hilltoppers.
Last year, during Tyson Helton’s first year as head coach, WKU won nine games. While their level of production has taken a hit this season, Sitake knows the Hilltoppers (2-4) have it in them to be more successful than they are right now.
“I know Tyson Helton is a great coach,” Sitake said. “He’s the son of a coach and a brother of a coach. I know the Helton family, I’ve been around them, and have been really impressed with the way their minds work with the game of football. As a head coach, they’re going to get all my respect.”
Helton’s older brother is USC coach Clay Helton.
As of Monday, when Sitake had just started watching film on WKU, the fifth-year coach saw athletes who can run and that are well coached. They are not having a winning season, but played Louisville early in the season and played a competitive game against Liberty — losing to the Flames by just a single score.
Sitake is confident the Hilltoppers will try to find creative and innovative ways to put points up on the board, while trying to stop BYU from scoring.
“We have to be ready for everything,” Sitake said. “In this last game against Texas State, we weren’t anticipating a high dose of different looks that they gave us early on. … We plan for as much as we possibly can, but I don’t know if you can plan on getting that high dose of plays.”
Although WKU is a brand-new opponent for the Cougars, BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki believes the Hilltoppers provide a similar scheme to other opponents they have already seen. The biggest difference would be that WKU’s quarterback, Tyrrell Pigrome, is more of a running quarterback than others BYU has faced.
Pigrome has 227 rushing yards on 58 carries this season. His longest run is 25 yards.
Defensively, the Cougars' focus will be on putting pressure on Pigrome and not allowing him any open lanes to scramble.
“Their quarterback has a lot of ability,” Tuiaki said. “We pulled up the big-play cut up of them; a lot of the big plays that they end up getting are because the quarterback can take off in the middle of a pass and scramble. So we’ve got to try to find a way to keep him bottled up.”
On the other side of the ball, BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes compares the WKU defensive coverage scheme to the one that he saw at Houston. And WKU has an aggressive team, particularly in the secondary.
Houston also gave BYU’s running game a hard time: The Cougars managed a season-low 78 yards on the ground. Grimes expects the same from WKU and believes it will serve as a good challenge from his offense to try to establish a running game.
But should BYU struggle once more on the run, the Cougars have strong-arm Zach Wilson to air things out, which is what happened at Houston.
“They work really hard to be aggressive in their coverage and force you to make the tough throws,” Grimes said. “Some of those contested catches that we made against Houston — I suspect we’ll be in the position again where we have to make a lot of those tough throws and catches.”
NO. 11 BYU VS. WESTERN KENTUCKY
At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Kickoff » Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MT
TV » ESPN
Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius 143.
Records » BYU 6-0; WKU 2-4
Series » First meeting
About BYU » BYU has played 12 games on Halloween and has a 7-5 record in those contests. … The Cougars have only averaged more than 45.0 points per game twice before — 1983 (48.2) and 2001 (46.5). The 14.0 points per game opponents are averaging this season has been bested only five times since 1972. … Isaiah Kaufusi was named the College Sports Madness Independent Player of the Week on the defensive side of the ball for recording a 32-yard pick-six and five total tackles against Texas State.
About WKU » Second-year coach Tyson Helton is coming in as the 2019 Conference USA Coach of the Year after leading the Hilltoppers to a 9-4 record in 2019. … WKU struggled to get in the end zone a week ago, but was able to score a late touchdown in a comeback 13-10 victory over Chattanooga. … Quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome, a grad transfer, has thrown for 632 yards on 57.5% passing for seven touchdowns.