Pick Six Preview: Wyoming's run game to test BYU, but Cougars with advantage



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

PROVO β€” Fresh off of an emotional, field-storming, double overtime win, BYU was grounded by West Coast powerhouse Oregon. The Ducks jumped out to a 38-7 lead before a 41-20 final to snap BYU's five-game win streak against the Pac-12.

Stacking the Baylor and Oregon games in back-to-back weeks is tough, because the former was so physical and high-energy that it is possible the team came in a bit rusty and worn down for the latter.

The defining story here was in the trenches. Oregon rushed for 212 yards (4.8 per carry) and held BYU to just 61 yards (2.5 per carry). A minus-150 rush yardage differential is a recipe for disaster, especially when one of BYU's best strengths is the offensive line.

Defensively, the line did not hold their ground as well as they did against Baylor; in fact, this one was reminiscent of last year's Baylor game where the Bears established the run game on BYU's front.

The positive spin here is that even the most optimistic BYU fans would have gladly taken a 2-1 start to the season given these two preseason Top 15 opponents. Did Oregon have the edge athletically? Yes, but no one else on BYU's schedule β€” except maybe Arkansas β€” will match Oregon's top-end, blue-chip talent.

Arkansas is currently dead last in America in defending the pass (352 yards/game), which plays into BYU's clear offensive strength so far. And their other preseason ranked opponent, Notre Dame, is reeling with a 1-2 record and lost their quarterback and top two receivers to injury.

There are plenty of winnable games still remaining for BYU. Before they return to the Power Five spotlight, they must take care of two Mountain West opponents, Wyoming and Utah State.

Game Grader

(Opponent-adjusted statistical dominance via Pick Six Previews)

3-Year Average 2019-21: BYU 61.0 (16th of 66 Power 5) | Wyoming 36.1 (Power 5 equivalent: 54th)
2021 Season: BYU 58.1 (24th) | Wyoming 38.0 (Power Five equivalent: 50th)
2022 Season: BYU 60.7 (32nd) | Wyoming 33.2 (Power Five equivalent: 58th)

The three-touchdown loss dropped BYU to No. 32 in 2022 Game Grader. It is worth noting that this early in the season, the pack of above-average teams is so tight that No. 12 and No. 32 are all within a touchdown in Game Grader. Look for BYU to quickly rise back up if they can stack a pair of wins to close out September.

Wyoming is a non-AQ team, but their current rating of 33.2 would place 58th of the 66 Power Five teams in 2022 Game Grader. After a blowout loss to Illinois in Week 0, the Cowboys have stacked three consecutive wins, headlined by last Friday night's 17-14 upset win over undefeated Air Force.

Wyoming with the ball

Head coach Craig Bohl had great success at the FCS level, leading North Dakota State to multiple national championships, and did so behind a dominant run game. That is still his offensive philosophy here at Wyoming, as their play-calling skews heavily to the run.

Last season, Wyoming ran the ball on 65% of offensive snaps, which may not sound like a lot, but it was actually the 10th most run-heavy play-calling in the nation. Through four games this season, they are at 60% run, so BYU's front will be tested again on the ground.

They do not have the offensive line and skill talent to match Oregon. Star running back Xazavian Valladay from 2021 is now the starter at Arizona State, while the offensive line had to be rebuilt in the offseason.

Transfer portal losses impacted the roster on both sides of the ball with receiver Isaiah Neyor heading to Texas and both of their starting cornerbacks moving up to the Power Five level. In total, this offense averages just 24 points per game (100th nationally); this is a clear advantage for BYU's defense.

Look for the BYU defensive line to perform better against Wyoming and allow the linebackers β€” the clear strength of the defense β€” to keep flowing to the ball.

BYU with the ball

While the run game never got going, there was still a clear bright spot for the offense: quarterback Jaren Hall. After falling behind in the first half, BYU shifted more toward the pass game, and Hall went 29-of-41 (71%) for 305 yards and two touchdowns. Chase Roberts was the lead receiver again with 60 yards, and nine Cougars caught passes.

Hall will have more success in the air on Saturday, but for the offense as a whole, the top priority needs to be fixing the rushing attack. Baylor and Oregon combined to hold BYU to a 2.5 yards/carry average, and even the opening win over USF was inflated by a 75-yard end-around touchdown by receiver Puka Nacua.

Wyoming is currently middle-of-the-pack defensively in the Mountain West, which provides a great opportunity for BYU to light up the scoreboard and get the run game back to where it needs to be.

Game prediction

BYU was a Mountain West Conference member for 12 years (1999-2010) and owned the all-time series against Wyoming by an 11-2 mark. While Wyoming's win over Air Force is intriguing, there is a clear pattern of teams struggling after playing the Armed Forces and their relentless triple option (cut blocking) offenses. Look for BYU to bounce back with a win and move the series to 12-2 all-time.

No. 19 BYU 37 | Wyoming 20

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Brett Ciancia is the owner of Pick Six Previews, a college football preview magazine graded as the "Most Accurate Season Preview" since 2012 (via Stassen). Ciancia was named a Heisman Trophy voter in 2019 and was invited to the FWAA's All-America Team selection committee in 2020.

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