BYU notebook: Running the numbers on BYU’s running problem, which defense will show up, inury status for Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney

The Cougars’ running backs and offensive linemen share blame for early season struggles.

(Jason Behnken | AP) BYU running back Christopher Brooks (2) during an NCAA college football game against South Florida Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.

Provo • The first order of business for BYU against the Wyoming Cowboys this week will be getting a disappointing running game on track.

Over the last two weeks, the Cougars have averaged just 2.5 yards per carry. If you take out two chunk runs of over 50 yards against South Florida — one of them by wide receiver Puka Nacua — BYU is averaging less than 4 yards per rushing attempt.

That’s nowhere near good enough for the Cougars’ coaches.

And it is tough to say where the blame should go.

The offensive line certainly has some responsibility. When it comes to run blocking, BYU’s offensive line grades out at 65th the country, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s the same offensive line that ranks 2nd in the nation in pass blocking. It’s a big difference.

It isn’t like just one player on the offensive line is bringing the whole run-blocking scheme down either. Against Oregon, no player on the line graded above a 62 in run blocking, per PFF. Every lineman is within the 62-50 range on the grading scale — all below average.

But then again, the running backs haven’t helped themselves either. They are grading about the same on Pro Football Focus. Cal transfer Chris Brooks was a 59.5 and Lopini Katoa was a 57.3 on PFF against Oregon.

To show the discrepancy, last year Tyler Allgeier had multiple games in which he graded 90 or better.

Will something give against Wyoming?

Which defense will we see?

Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki talked about being surprised by Oregon’s running scheme last week.

Against the Ducks, the Cougars’ defense struggled to stop the run when just a week before it had put together one of its best run-stopping performances in years.

So which defense will show up on Saturday?

Here is the good news for BYU. Wyoming is a run-heavy offense — and the Cowboys run a very similar scheme to what Baylor did two weeks ago.

The Cougars handled the Bears well in Provo, allowing just 2.9 yards per carry. It would figure that a similar game plan might work this time through.

Another bit of news that bodes well for this week’s defense is the health status of Tyler Batty and Earl Tuioiti-Mariner. Both have been practicing this week and are expected to play. They were out for Oregon, and the run defense suffered because of it.

Their absence wasn’t the entire reason why BYU wasn’t able to stop the run. However, their addition is a welcome sign for a group reeling.

One more injury note to look for is cornerback Kaleb Hayes. BYU head coach Kalani Sitake didn’t give a firm timeline for his recovery after exiting the game against Oregon. Sitake noted that a younger cornerback might be elevated into a bigger role if it is a long-term injury. Chika Ebunoha and Koynbn Green would be in the mix.

Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney… again

There is a tiring storyline, no doubt. Yet it remains an important one.

The health of BYU’s top two receivers is still in question. Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said both were practicing this week, as they were last week.

“It’s a broken record, we are hopeful,” he told The Tribune.

So it is another week of monitoring this come game time.

Nacua traveled with the team to Oregon. There is a feeling within the program that Nacua is closer than Romney to making his return. He hurt his ankle in the first half of the game against South Florida and has been out ever since.

Romney has not played this season for an undisclosed injury.