Lawrence, Kan. • Kalani Sitake dubbed it BYU’s “opening moment” of a new era.
When the Cougars take the field against Kansas, it will be the program’s first conference game in the Big 12. In fact, it will be BYU’s first conference of any kind since 2010 (when the program was still in the Mountain West Conference).
For that reason, Sitake believes there will be no hangover from a 38-31 win in Arkansas last week. Normally, there might be a letdown playing back-to-back on the road. Now?
“We are never going to have this opportunity back again,” Sitake said. “... This is our opening game in the Big 12 conference. We need our guys to understand the seriousness of the situation. There is a huge sense of urgency.”
How to watch
Kickoff time: 2:30 p.m. CT / 1:30 p.m. MT
Radio: BYU radio SiriusXM 143/ BYURadio.org / BYU Radio App/ KSL 1160 AM,102.7 FM
Weather: 85 degrees with thunderstorms
Keys to the game
1. The two-headed monster
The headliner this week is Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels, and rightfully so.
He might be the Big 12′s most explosive playmaker, both with his arm and his legs. He accounted for 18 passing touchdowns and seven rushing scores a year ago — and that’s with an injury midway through the year.
But the challenge for BYU extends beyond Daniels. Running back Devin Neal is also going to be an issue. He is averaging over 100 yards per game.
The combination of Daniels and Neal in the RPO game makes the Jayhawks more difficult to contain. Defensive coordinator Jay Hill knows it.
“He does a great job getting the ball out of his hands in the [run-pass option] game,” Hill said. “He doesn’t hold on to it very often but when he does, you have to catch him when he is scrambling. He brings a lot of problems to the field.”
More so, nobody has truly seen Daniels completely let loose this season. The Jayhawks have held him back to start the year as he comes back from an injury. This might be the day Daniels gets the green light.
BYU will give up some big plays to Daniels and Neal. Every team does. But it might be similar to last week: Can the defense hold up and make adjustments long enough to give the offense a chance?
2. More production on first and second down
Yes, the offense scored 38 points last week. But much of the scoring was done on chunk plays and quick drives.
For BYU’s offense to be more sustainable, it needs to show it can produce eight-, 10-, 12-play drives. That likely begins with being more productive on first and second down.
Last week, the offense’s average third-down distance was 9.7 yards. It faced seven third-and-longs, compared to just one third-and-short.
Even with Sitake willing to go for it on fourth down — making third-down success slightly less meaningful — that is not going to cut it.
3. Separation from receivers
Kedon Slovis has received some criticism at times this season. His completion percentage is still in the 60s and the offense hasn’t always looked fluid.
Well, a lot of it hasn’t been all his fault.
He was hit a number of times and hurried more at Arkansas. Plus, it‘s been hit or miss whether receivers get open.
Arkansas was long and physical at corner — as to be expected for an SEC team — but the core of Chase Roberts, Keanu Hill and Darius Lassiter struggled to get separation. Without anybody to throw to, Slovis had to hang in the pocket and either find Isaac Rex (a 6-6 target) or just not turn it over
Kansas is going to be similar in terms of its length this week. While the Jayhawks likely will go with a different scheme than the Razorbacks — possibly playing more man — this will still be a test to see if the receivers can give Slovis some options.
• Is BYU running back Aidan Robbins hurt or benched? A source close to the situation said Robbins has been dealing with a back injury for the last few weeks.
“First ever Big 12 game in the history of BYU and it will only ever be the first. So how are you going to make your mark? I think there is an added level of energy and anticipation and excitement around guys.” — Wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake