At 1-2 on the season, the BYU Cougars venture to the eastern seaboard to face West Virginia on Saturday, in a first-ever gridiron meeting between the two schools. The contest at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. marks the Cougars’ second neutral-site game of the 2016 campaign, following the season opener at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
BYU is 4-2 in its last six games played at NFL stadiums, with wins over Oklahoma (AT&T Stadium in 2009), San Diego State (Qualcomm Stadium in 2009, 2012) and Arizona (University of Phoenix Stadium in 2016). Losses came against TCU (AT&T Stadium in 2011) and Missouri (Arrowhead Stadium in 2015). Under head coach Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia is 4-2 in stadiums that also house an NFL franchise.
IT’S NOT HOW YOU START…
For the 12th time in the last 25 seasons, BYU is 1-2 after its first three games of the season. In the preceding 11 instances, the Cougars went on to compile a .500 or better record 10 times, with an average record of 7.0 wins and 2.5 losses after the 1-2 starts. In the ten seasons from 2006 through 2015, BYU opened 1-2 five times:
In 2006, BYU finished 11-2
In 2007, BYU finished 11-2
In 2010, BYU finished 7-6 (after an eventual 1-4 start)
In 2011, BYU finished 10-3
In 2013, BYU finished 8-5
Head coach Kalani Sitake played for two BYU teams which recovered from sluggish starts to finish .500 or better; he says the current crop of Cougars are up to the bounce-back task.
“That’s the character of our guys,” says Sitake, “and that’s the type of people we have on this team. They’re never going to quit, regardless of where we play, and how we’re playing. We just feel like we’re never out of anything. And it’s not just me—it’s what’s been here over decades.
“Our guys are always going to be resilient and bounce back, and I’m looking forward to seeing the success that happens. Our hardship and adversity is that we lost two games by a total of four points, to quality Pac-12 teams; let’s overcome it. It’s going to take everybody working hard and being positive. I anticipate our guys doing much better and achieving their goals this Saturday.”
Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer played on the last BYU team to open a season with an 0-3 rrecord. In 1991, coming off of Detmer’s Heisman Trophy-winning campaign in 1990, the Cougars began the season with consecutive setbacks v. Florida State (44-38 in Anaheim), at UCLA (27-23) and at Penn State (33-7). BYU then recovered to go 8-0-2 in the final 10 games of the season.
“The message is 'go back to work and work harder,'” said Detmer this week. “That’s what we did that year (1991); we just kept plugging away, kept working and eventually some of those young guys got better at what they were asked to do. It’s no different here (in 2016). We’ve got to better at what we’re asking guys to do; we’ve got to coach better and be more detailed in what we’re coaching, as well."
Referencing quarterback Taysom Hill and the struggles of the BYU offense in 2016, Detmer referenced 1991 in pointing out that blame for the sluggish attack can’t be laid solely at the feet of the signal-caller.
“We were 0-3, and I hadn’t changed as a player,” said Detmer, “but you’re sometimes only as good as the guys who are playing around you at times. (Hill) has handled it well; he feels like he is doing his part, but can be sharper, and that’s what you want to hear: ‘I can play better and I’ve got to get the guys around me to play better.’”
FOOTBALL FAMILY TREE
West Virgina head coach Dana Holgorsen was one of the early disciples of the so-called “Air Raid” offensive football philosophy, a passing scheme largely developed and advocated by LaVell Edwards’ early coaching staffs. Holgorsen, Mike Leach and Hal Mumme are among the best-known proponents and teachers of the system.
“We still to this day have some stuff in our playbook that goes back to the BYU days,” Holgorsen noted this week. “A lot of the principles in the passing game are things that BYU was doing back in the day with all those great quarterbacks. We took them and ran with them and maintain a lot of them to this day.”
Since 1972, BYU has an 82.5 percent win rate in games with an even or positive in turnover margin; the rate improves to 86.9 percent when the Cougars win the turnover battle outright. So far this season, the numbers lag relative to the historical stats. Through a small sample size of three games, BYU has been even or positive in the turnover margin all three times, with one win. BYU has won the turnover battle twice, and is 1-1 in those games. Before losing at Utah with plus-three turnover margin, BYU had won five games in a row, and seven of eight, with a positive margin. According to SportSource Analytics, teams with a positive turnover margin are this season winning games at a rate of 67.2 percent, down from 74 percent last season.
MISSED IT BY ‘THAT’ MUCH
BYU’s last four losses have all come by a touchdown or less, and by combined total of 15 points. Eight of the Cougars’ last 10 setbacks have been single-score setbacks.
Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said his goal for rushing yards allowed is 3.3 yards per carry. Through three games, the Cougar defense is allowing 3.27 yards per rush, which ranks 35th nationally. That number would have ranked 8th nationally at the end of last season.
BYU has converted all seven red-zone appearances into points this season; the Cougars are one of 19 FBS teams with a 100 percent red-zone scoring rate on seven or more red-zone drives. Dating back to last season, BYU has scored on 23 consecutive red-zone appearances (17 touchdowns, six field goals), not including a game-ending kneel-down series at Utah State in 2015's regular-season finale.
POWER (5) POINTS
In BYU’s last 10 wins over Power 5 programs, the Cougars have scored 30 points or more nine times. In BYU’s last 10 losses to Power 5 programs, the Cougars have scored fewer than 20 points nine times.
GO EAST, YOUNG MEN
BYU is playing its first game east of the Mississippi River since last season’s journey to Ann Arbor, Michigan to face the Wolverines. In 2014, BYU played two eastern teams, splitting games at Connecticut (win) and Central Florida (loss). All-time, BYU has a 16-21 record in games played east of the Mississippi.
Radio coverage of BYU v. West Virginia starts at 11:30 am MDT on Saturday, with the kick-off set for 1:35 pm. Hear the game on KSL Newsrsadio 102.7 FM/1160 AM, BYU Radio (SiriusXM 143), BYUCougars.com/liveradio, as well as the KSL, BYU Radio, BYU Cougars and TuneIn apps.
Wide receiver Nick Kurtz, on head coach Kalani Sitake:
“He’s the nicest head coach I’ve ever been around, who always wants to take care of us. He’s been there before, and he understands BYU. He understands what it’s like to be a player, and he understands what this program means to everyone who’s a part of it. He knows what it takes to be great.
“He deserves better than a 1-2 record...which I know is going to turn around. He definitely deserves better because he has put all he can into this, and there is going to be a bright future for this program; I know that. There are going to be some big recruits that are going to come through here, and players who tell their honest opinions about BYU and how much they love it, and how much they are taken care of. We could not have found a better coach than Coach Sitake to take over.”