PROVO — BYU took their 6-0 record into a late Halloween matchup with the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky. The Cougars were not at their best and had some real stumbles, but they still managed to beat WKU by 31 points.
BYU's biggest test is just a few days away and there are a few things we learned Saturday night; and fittingly for Halloween, some of them were a little scary.
Here are three lessons from BYU's 41-10 win over Western Kentucky:
Receivers not named Milne and Romney need to step it up a notch
Dax Milne and Gunner Romney are having fantastic seasons. Between the two of them they have a combined 68 catches, 1,221 yards and eight touchdowns on the season; that's even with Romney missing a game and the two of them not playing most of the second half in many of their games. The next closest to these two is Neil Pau'u with 21 catches, 248 yards and one touchdown.
If you combine Pau'u's numbers with the rest of the receiving core, sans tight ends, their stats are far behind Romney and Milne. The rest of the crew combines for 35 catches, 416 yards and just two touchdowns.
It's clear and obvious that Milne and Romney are the go-to guys and will have the majority of targets and stats, but other receivers struggled Saturday. Romney was pulled in the second half and Milne didn't play many minutes, and it resulted in a total of 6 points off two field goals in the second half. Pau'u and Keanu Hill both had multiple drops on balls that should have been caught, and that's been happening all season.
If the Cougars want to hand Boise State a loss on the blue turf Friday, other receivers need to get in on the fun and come up with the ball when it's thrown their way.
Kalani's 'nice-guy' approach could cost BYU at the end of the season
Head coach Kalani Sitake is having his best season at BYU. The Cougars are 7-0 for the first time since 2001 and are close to cracking the top 10 in the national rankings. He's built a strong team, become a better coach and he's gained the respect of his team, fans, and the national media; there is some talk Sitake could be named coach of the year if the Cougars keep winning. It also seems clear Sitake is a stand-up guy with a lot of class, which is admirable, but that could cost the Cougars down the line.
BYU's strength of schedule is nothing to boast about and their opponents are a combined 20-27; granted, the Cougars are doing what good teams do against lesser competition and beating them soundly. With the exception of a stumble against UTSA, BYU has had each game firmly locked down by the time the clock started running down in the fourth quarter. They had a scare against Houston, but the Cougars adjusted and beat the other Cougars 43-26. BYU has outscored their opponents this season 311-94, but that number could actually be a lot more lopsided.
BYU could have added points in the Navy, Troy, Louisiana Tech and Texas State games, but took the high road instead. With time on the clock, Sitake opted to run out the clock in the red zone or keep the ball on the ground for small gains with second and third stringers. I personally appreciate the fact that Sitake is a sportsman, but voters won't. It's clear BYU's schedule to this point is less than impressive, but they keep winning and winning well; but the bigger the point margin, the more impressed the voters will be and the more likely BYU is to get an at-large bid to a New Year's Six if they win out.
So, could Sitake's nice-guy approach cost the Cougars in the postseason? Yes, but my personal take is that it's better to be respected for your integrity than get a better bowl bid. Not only that, but BYU has some big tests ahead of them before style points even become an issue.
The play against WKU will not beat Boise State
The biggest game on BYU's calendar is finally here, and it's likely the one that will make or break the Cougars' season. Boise State is always a good team and they know how to win football games, especially in Boise. BYU is 3-7 all-time against the Broncos and have never beaten them two times in a row. Last year, BYU hosted the undefeated and 14th ranked Broncos and beat them with back-up quarterback Baylor Romney. The game went down to the wire and a gutsy fourth down conversion in their own territory sealed the game for BYU.
Boise doesn't lose on the blue turf and they will want revenge from last season. The Broncos are currently 2-0 with wins over Utah State and Air Force, and also ranked in the top 25. Boise would love nothing more to do to the Cougars in Boise what BYU did to them last year in Provo. There is a lot of talk about New Year's Six invites and undefeated seasons for BYU, but national pundits seem to be forgetting about this game in Boise. And if BYU plays like they did against WKU you can say goodbye to those undefeated season hopes.
There is something to be said that Zach Wilson had one of his worst nights of the season and the Cougars played an overall ugly game and still won by 31 points, but the Broncos are no Hilltoppers. Boise has experienced players and a coach who knows how to expose mistakes and make a team pay for it.
In their two games this season, Boise has thrown for 559 yards and six touchdowns, rushed for 350 yards and six touchdowns and scored 91 points. This will be the toughest offense BYU has faced by a long shot. Keeping up with the Boise receivers will be a big challenge for the BYU secondary who has already been exposed by Houston and UTSA.
BYU has a lot to clean up from Saturday night if they hope to have a chance in Boise. It's not that the Cougars aren't capable of a win on the blue turf, but it will be a huge challenge, and they cannot play like they did against the Hilltoppers and expect to remain undefeated.
The Cougars and Broncos will meet under the Friday night lights on Nov. 6 at 7:45 pm MDT in Boise.