We have made it one third through the season and the most difficult stretch for the BYU Football team is over, so what is next?
Since last season ended for BYU Football all of the talk has been about the first four games, Utah, Tennessee, USC and Washington. That was all fans talked about. It wasn't what BYU's final record be, it was what will their record be after four games.
Those games are over. And there are still eight games left this season.
The Cougars exceeded expectations and put themselves in a position to have a pretty special season that could realistically see them winning ten games after a bowl game. Although fans wish they could have the Utah game back, the reality is, every single game up this point the Cougars were supposed to lose. Although I believe most experts would believe BYU would be able to pull off an upset somewhere, nobody outside of BYU fans would have been shocked to see the Cougars start 0-4.
While there is still a lot of play for this season, most of it may be around building the program and less about trying to get wins. Wait what? Yes, while getting wins will still be a huge priority, from here on out, there may be bigger concerns around the team.
1. BYU Needs to get Younger Players in the Game
While this doesn't mean bench the seniors or players that may leave early, the Cougars could benefit quite a bit by giving young players more reps since they will be the starters next year. While Zach Wilson and the most of the offensive line will be back next season, here is a list of the players who will graduate or likely leave in order of impact lost.
Khyiris Tonga (Nose Tackle)
Dayan Ghanwoloku (Safety)
Micah Simon (Receiver)
Aleva Hifo (Receiver)
Trajan Pili (Linebacker)
Emmanuel Esukpa (Running Back)
Moroni Laulu-Pututau (Tight End)
Austin Lee (Safety/Corner)
Talon Shumway (Receiver)
Isaiah Herron (Corner)
If you can't tell, that is quite a bit of talent. Getting reps to Lopini Katoa and more passes out to players like Gunner Romney and Keanu Hill could pay huge dividends next season. Similar to this season, the Cougars will be opening up with a tough schedule with zero tune up games in their first six games.
2. BYU Needs to Win the Rivalry Games to get Cougar Nation Involved
How many times in the last ten years has the fanbase been average at best? Losing bad games, struggling at home and being put in bowl games that the Cougars are predetermined to be in are all factors that hurt the following. While there is nothing the Cougars can do about the last one, the Cougars need to make sure they continue to win at home and not lose bad games. While it may not be fair to assume that the Cougars need to win against both Boise State and Utah State, that is what it will require to keep the energy and juice around the team that they have had the last few weeks. Especially because of how weak their November schedule is going to be.
3. Cougars Can't Let the Hawaii Bowl Get Them Down
Is it likely that the Cougars will finish with at least eight wins? At this point I would say it is more likely than not that they reach that goal. Will they almost certainly be playing in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve against a 6-6 AAC/MWC team? Yes. Will this excite the team? Probably not. But that is the reality of being an Independent team.
Sometimes that Cougars will be put in a bowl game they probably are not good enough to realistically be in and other years, like this year, they will play a team they will be favored by 20 points in. Instead of focusing on that though, the team needs to just take games one at a time and not worry about their postseason.
Who knows, maybe if they do well enough another bowl game will make a trade with the Hawaii Bowl to have the Cougars, similar to what the Frisco Bowl (Sorry Boise State) did last year that sent BYU to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
4. The Defense Needs a Makeover
I'm not calling for Ilaisia Tuiaki to be replaced, but the defense needs some serious help in their scheme. There have been too many quarterbacks that have had career games again BYU including Wisconsin, Utah, Washington (twice), and Utah State. While the game plan does work sometimes like against USC, giving up 85% pass completion on a somewhat regular basis is embarrassing.
There is a fine line between getting pressure and dropping guys back. If either of those are done too much it makes it ineffective. In Washington's case, yes Eason had to wait for guys to get open since there were eight BYU defenders in coverage, but because of the lack of pass rush, he had all day and eventually found someone.
Overall this season, the Cougars have done pretty good inside their own 35 yard line, but before that point, no team has struggled at all to move the ball past the 50 yard line.