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Eye on the Y: The last test run before the Big 12, level of concern with the defense, and finding a new kicker

With Notre Dame and Arkansas the next two weeks, BYU has a chance to show growth

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Alden Tofa (51) defends as Utah State Aggies quarterback Cooper Legas (5) throws the ball, in Football action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Utah State Aggies, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022.

How often do you get a redo, a chance at redeeming your biggest failure within a college football season?

It certainly isn’t common.

But over the next two weeks, that is exactly what sits in front of BYU as it heads to Las Vegas to play Notre Dame and then plays Arkansas at home.

The last time the Cougars played in back-to-back high-profile games, it hit a high and then fell flat. Special teams coordinator Ed Lamb said the moment was “too big” for the program when BYU climbed inside the top 15 after beating Baylor, then was blown out by Oregon one week later.

Lamb said BYU needs experience in those situations — of consistently playing high-quality teams — to improve. Well, now with the first run-through completed, let’s see if there is an improvement this time around.

Theoretically, it would be concerning if there wasn’t some development this time. And it is not only because BYU says it is healthier now than it was in the second and third weeks of the year (Gunner Romney is back and it is a long week for BYU).

But this is also the program’s last major test run before moving to a Big 12 schedule next year. After Arkansas, BYU has a schedule of Boise State, Stanford and Liberty. None is an easy challenge, but these teams don’t measure up to the week-in and week-out difficulty of the Big 12.

Notre Dame and Arkansas are Power Five level programs, with high major depth and proven track records of winning.

BYU knows the biggest jump next year will be handling the attrition and challenge of playing nine conference games against top-ranked opponents.

Here is its last chance to get a taste of that, and prove that it will be able to handle it.

Sound the alarm on the defense?

Last week, we wrote that maybe we just needed to give the defense another week before passing judgment. Against Wyoming, it gave up too many yards rushing in the first half but made enough adjustments after the intermission to win the game.

Now, the problem is that BYU’s defense essentially did the same thing against Utah State. It gave up 97 yards rushing in the first quarter and looked wholly unprepared for the scheme the Aggies presented. A couple of forced turnovers helped to ease the effort, but it never looked like BYU completely figured out how to stop the rushing attack from Utah State. Still, enough adjustments were made for the Cougars to finish the game.

So, two weeks later, we essentially sit in the same place. Certainly cause for concern, but is it time to sound the alarm?

Really, after thinking about it this weekend, it’s too early to fully sound the alarm. Because, to be honest, we will get our answer very quickly next week if the defense is in a full-blown crisis mode if it can’t get off the field against Notre Dame. Then the alarms can be blaring.

For as bad as the defense has been, it does deserve some credit for the adjustments it has made in the last two weeks. And listen, BYU is 4-1 right now. If the last week of college football taught us anything, it is that it is tough to win games, even if you are the better team. Look at how Georgia struggled and many ranked teams went down.

Will this defensive effort cut it against Notre Dame? Surely it won’t. But the defense has been so up and down that we really don’t know which version of it will show up.

We will definitely find out this week.

Who will kick field goals this weekend

BYU’s kicking situation has reached an untenable point. Jake Oldroyd has missed five of his last six field goals. All of his misses have been within 40 yards.

The last three weeks, we have heard the same thing from the coaching staff. They say the misses are uncharacteristic of the former Lou Garza finalist, and his decline from going 13-13 in 2020 to 5-10 this year is perplexing.

But here is another thing that is also a consistent truth: they know Oldroyd might not give BYU the best chance to win right now.

Sitake said after the game that Justen Smith and Cash Peterman will be in an open competition for the job. He also noted that he still has confidence in Oldroyd.

And that last caveat should perk your ears. It’s possible the reason he says he still believes in Oldroyd is beyond just sticking by his player; he might know BYU doesn’t have a ton of options behind Oldroyd or else we would have seen them by now.

Lamb says Oldroyd has the best leg of all the kickers and the best operation time. Smith made a field goal this year — a 25-yard attempt — but has only kicked four field goals in his career. Peterman hasn’t kicked once.

But regardless of experience, it feels like BYU at least needs to try something else at this point. Two more misses against Utah State, both of which could have iced the game, require a new look. If somebody else misses, at least they tried.

Basketball is back

The men’s and women’s basketball teams started fall practices in their ramp-ups to the 2022-23 season. And this week, players and coaches from both programs will attend West Coast Conference Media Day, their last before entering the Big 12.

“They are an incredible willing group,” coach Mark Pope said after a practice last week. “We are trying to find a way to play with some real pace. We are trying to turn into a much more disruptive team.”

The change in identity revolves around BYU having more length and, at least on paper, more shooting.

On defense, Pope feels like BYU can start pressuring beyond the three-point line, something that did not happen often last season. Leaning on the new length and speed in the backcourt — with transfers Rudi Williams and Jaxson Robinson — BYU wants to gamble and get out in transition. Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas were not able to do this last year. The new transfers may be a net positive on the defensive side.

Plus, with legitimate size in the front court with Atiki Ally Atiki, Noah Waterman and Fousseyni Traore, Pope feels like this team has the rim protection if Williams and Robinson get beat. However, something to monitor, is that BYU is still relatively thin on front line depth.

With a more high-pressure defense, BYU wants to turn that into easier shots in transition for an improved shooting team. Spencer Johnson and Gideon George return from last year as the marksmen in this group. Waterman, Williams and Robinson are also threats. Last year, Pope believed BYU was a stand in space team when it came to offense. This season he wants to be less reliant on half court, grind it out, offense.

One important note to come out of practice was Trevin Knell had shoulder surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff and will be out several months. Pope said he is hopeful Knell will return, but it may not happen. Knell was an important piece to last year’s team, and his injury means younger guys like Dallin Hall or Richie Saunders may be called upon to contribute as freshmen.

— The Tribune’s Alex Vejar contributed to this report.