(Featured photo credited to SI.com)
By: Daniel Olsen
One year ago BYU lost games to cellar dwellers in East Carolina and UMass. They had lost their identity. They were 0-2 against in-state teams for the first time since 2010. Bowl eligibility seemed like their ceiling.
Three games into the season the Cougars are looking very promising. They went into Camp Randall Stadium where the Wisconsin Badgers hadn’t lost a non conference home game in…..41 tries! The last time the Cougars beat a top 10 team was in 2009 when they beat third ranked Oklahoma 14-13 (stats are according to a New York Times article found here).
Just how did the Cougars pull it off a week after losing to Cal at home? After three games vs Power 5 opponents (probably one of the biggest gauntlets to start the season of anyone in the nation) the Cougs are 2-1 and have the majority of the toughest games behind them.
Here are a few keys to the Cougars playing so well:
1. Tanner looks competent: This may sound disrespectful to the QB who was an Elite 11 co-MVP with Jameis Winston in high school. Last year under Ty Detmer he was incompetent. That was an anemic offense. By giving Tanner some healthy competition in fall camp with rising freshman Zach Wilson, Tanner worked to get here and has been efficient with the football. Through three games he has thrown just two interceptions. He has completed 57.1 percent of his passes which so far is the lowest of any year he’s played. Keep in mind that this is against elite competition. Tanner deserves some of the credit for being a good game manager but he doesn’t deserve all of the credit.
2. The coaching is better: The Cougs could NOT move the ball last year. The defense tried to hold their own but the offense was one of the worst in the FBS which unfortunately led to Ty Detmer’s firing last year. That didn’t take away anything from what the former Cougar Heisman accomplished in his career. It’s just a hard jump to go from high school coach to college even as an offensive coordinator. Scoring points, believe it or not, is a requirement to win games.
Kalani Sitake showed some MOXY in this game. Usually it takes trash talking players to get in the opposing teams head but Sitake used his brains at the end of the Wisconsin game by calling not one but two timeouts and tricking the Wisconsin kicker into calling a third. The Badger butchered the kick wide left and the rest is history.
3. The running game exists: The Cougars still FAR from a great rushing team, but they have definitely improved. As this tweet says, Squally Canada has evolved from Jamal’s backup to a stud. The Cougars have rushed for 465 yards in the first three games which, for the math wizards out there, is 155 yards per game. They also have 5 rushing touchdowns to their name. (Stats credited to ESPN.com)
This doesn’t mean the Cougs are the best rushing team in the nation. On the contrary they are ranked 83rd in the nation in total rushing yards. That’s in the bottom half. However, they are moving the ball forward more than last year when they might have set a record from east to west yardage but ranked as one of the worst offense in the nation. When teams can spice up the run game it opens up the forward pass game in #Throwvo isn’t that right Boney Fuller?
The Cougs have a while to prove that they are worthy of the Top 25 ranking they were handed by the AP Poll today. Aside from being the best in the nation, the Cougars have yet to prove they aren’t the worst team in the state. They haven’t beaten an in-state opponent since they defeated the Utah State Aggies on Thanksgiving weekend in 2016.
These keys have been pivotal to BYU’s success but to keep it going they can’t let it get to their heads. In sports, in theology, in life, pride cometh before the fall.
You can’t beat Wisconsin and then get so high and mighty that you lose to McNeese State. No, that is not Cougar football. Enjoy the win and celebrate this Sunday. But be ready tomorrow to watch film and get better. In the words of Kendrick Lamar, sit down Cougs, BE HUMBLE!