PROVO — The BYU Cougars went into their Saturday matchup against UTSA ranked 15th in the nation, but they didn’t look like a top 15 team when all was said and done.
The Roadrunners gave the Cougars all they could handle; and in order to seal the game, BYU had to recover an onsides kick with just about a minute left on the clock. In a season with a weak strength of schedule, the Cougars needed to not only run the table, but do so convincingly and that did not happen on Saturday.
Here are three lessons from BYU’s disappointing win against the UTSA Roadrunners.
The O-line is good, but not deep
BYU’s offensive line is one of the best squads on a solid 2020 team. The boys up front have been pushing teams around and opening holes large enough for even me to gain a few yards. The line has been dominating through the first three games, but they struggled against UTSA.
A few things factor in there, like the fact the Roadrunners were prepared and pumped to playing on the national stage. They wanted that win and worked hard for it. The UTSA defense was pressuring Zach Wilson all day and kept getting through what some thought was a near impenetrable line.
If you watched closely, most of that pressure came from the interior line where BYU happens to be missing two of their best players.
Standout Tristan Hoge has been missing from the lineup and it’s caused some problems, but the biggest issue Saturday came from the absence of center James Empey. Back-up center Joe Tukuafu did his best, but the Roadrunners went at him all game, and it kept Wilson from having time to complete balls downfield.
BYU’s starting offensive line is still one of the strongest parts of their 2020 team, but there is a significant drop off from the ones to the twos. Getting Empey and Hoge back will help the Cougars bounce back.
The national hype train is still BYU’s kryptonite
2020 is not the first season BYU has received a lot of national media hype. Sports outlets across the country loved the Cougars in 2001, 2008 and 2009.
In 2001, BYU was the media darling with a new head coach and an undefeated season riding into the last game of the season. The Cougars were ranked No. 9 and handed teams like California and Mississippi State losses on their home turf. Then the Cougars took a trip to Hawaii and lost 72-45 and lost their chance at an undefeated season and a trip to a prestigious bowl.
In 2008, the Cougars started hot and beat Washington in Seattle and crushed UCLA 59-0 in Provo. The Cougars got a lot of air time on ESPN and climbed all the way to No. 8 in the polls. BYU was feeling good heading into their game with TCU, only to fall victim to the hype on the national stage and lost to the Horned Frogs 32-7.
The next year in 2009, BYU started the season by knocking off No. 3 Oklahoma and then destroyed an under-matched Tulane 54-3. BYU was all over Sports Center and national media when they hosted a struggling Florida State home.
The Cougars laid an egg and lost 54-28. BYU bounced back and climbed back up to No. 16 when they hosted TCU and ESPN’s College GameDay. With the eyes of the sports world on them BYU failed to show up once again and lost 38-7.
BYU has a history of coming up short on the expectations of the national media hype. I can’t sit here and say it was because of the complacency and buying into the hype that BYU struggled against a UTSA team they should have handled easily. But I will sit here and say national hype seems to be BYU’s kryptonite. Well, that and Utah.
No, it’s not the hype’s fault, it’s BYU failing to meet expectations and perform, but I feel like BYU fans should be wary whenever ESPN makes sure to focus a lot of attention on the Cougars.
A 27-20 win against UTSA isn’t the end of the world
Saturday was a disappointing day for Cougar fans and likely the team themselves. It’s rough when a win feels like a loss, but I wouldn’t take this as a sign of things to come. BYU has a lot of talent on the field. They have one of the best offensive lines in the country; when they’re healthy, a strong defense; and one of the best quarterback’s in several years. The Cougars were off against the Roadrunners and UTSA was ready to play.
Call it a lack of preparation or focus, but BYU is a stronger team than they showed Saturday. The Roadrunners barely beat Texas Sate in an overtime matchup where they gave up 48 points to the Bobcats. Those are the same Bobcats that lost Saturday 37-17 to Troy. The same Troy that BYU beat 48-7 just two weeks ago.
BYU still has a favorable schedule to win a lot of games, and maybe a poor outing will be just the thing the Cougars need to refocus, stop worrying about rankings and national accolades and get back to playing football.
The 2020 Cougars are a strong and physical football team, but in order to keep winning games they need to be strong mentally, stay focused and finish games. That will likely be their true test the rest of the season.
Next up, BYU will travel to Texas to take on the Houston Cougars on Friday, Oct. 16.