Mountain West Football: First Look At The BYU Cougars
An old rival will face off with a trio of Mountain West teams in non-conference play this season.
Always an anticipated clash.
Boise State Football: First Look at 2022 Non-conference Opponents
Utah State Football: First Look at 2022 Non-conference Opponents
Wyoming Football: First Look at 2022 Non-conference Opponents
There are few games anywhere on the schedule that come with as much anticipation as when Mountain West teams clash with the BYU Cougars, which will happen three times throughout the 2022 season.
BYU split a pair of games against the conference last fall, defeating Utah State on the road while falling to Boise State at home, but they figure to remain as potent as ever as they set the stage for their entrance to the Power 5 next year. Will any among the Broncos, Aggies, and Wyoming Cowboys be able to spoil the ascension this fall?
Location: Provo, Utah
Series History: BYU leads the all-time series against Wyoming, 45-30-3, and against Utah State, 50-37-3, but Boise State leads its all-time series versus the Cougars by a 8-4 margin.
2021 Record: 10-3
Head Coach: Kalani Sitake (seventh year, 48-29 overall). If you’re a Cougars fan, the temptation to thumb your nose at the Mountain West and say “hey, look at us now” is understandable. After all, BYU has found another level over the past two seasons, compiling double-digit wins in back-to-back campaigns for the first time since 2006-09, and gained entry into the Big 12 Conference as a result.
Within last year’s successes, however, is the reality that BYU was also 4-1 in games decided by eight or fewer points, including close wins against the likes of Arizona and South Florida. That’s the kind of good fortune that could slip away quickly, but the Cougars figure on paper to be a tough out from week to week, regardless.
Jaren Hall, QB
After Zach Wilson made the jump to the NFL, Hall stepped in and helped the Cougars offense look just as proficient as it had before. Though he missed a handful of games with injury last season, Hall finished 2021 with a 63.9% completion rate, 8.7 yards per attempt (tied for 18th among FBS quarterbacks), and 20 touchdowns against an interception rate of 1.7%.
At his best and healthiest, he also made an impact as a runner, too, rushing for 307 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. If they can keep him on his feet, Hall has the potential to be one of the best in the country this season.
— Dana Greene (@dana_greene) August 8, 2022
Ben Bywater, LB
The Cougars always seem to have a knack for developing quality linebackers and Bywater looks like the next in line on that front. The Salt Lake City native started all 13 games as a freshman last year and led the defense with 102 total tackles while pitching in with 8.5 tackles for loss and a sack. When BYU needs someone to clean up a mess in the second level, odds are he’ll be the one to do it.
BYU LB Ben Bywater with a massive stop on 4th and 1! Backside OT just missed the scoop!!!! Huge stop! pic.twitter.com/EZgcU5Yfm8
— Hans Olsen (@975Hans) October 2, 2021
Puka Nacua, WR
When BYU needed an explosive play down the field, Nacua usually delivered in 2021. He led the Cougars with 803 yards and tied for the team lead with six touchdowns on 43 receptions, and it’s worth noting that, dating back to 2010, only Dax Milne and Cody Hoffman pulled in more receptions of 20 or more yards within a single season.
Tyler Batty, DE
Though injuries limited Batty to just four games in 2020, that he managed four sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in that small sample should have suggested big things were in play upon his return to health. Sure enough, in 12 games and seven starts, Batty led the Cougars defense with 3.5 sacks last year and accounted for 43 total tackles and seven tackles for loss altogether.
Blake Freeland, OT
The Cougars have had just one offensive tackle selected in the NFL Draft going back to 2004, but Freeland could make it two in three years with another strong season like the one he posted in 2021. He was one of just three BYU players on offense to start every game last year and, according to Pro Football Focus, has allowed just one sack in the past two years.
Despite some hiccups along the way, there isn’t much to suggest that offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick’s attack wasn’t one of the best in the country last year. They averaged 6.76 yards per play, the eighth-best figure in the country, and also finished tenth in points per drive and fifth by available yards percentage earned. Oh, and they project to have eight starters back on this side of the ball, as well.
Keeping Hall intact will be paramount, though the depth chart behind him has been restocked in case of emergency with Jacob Conover and Boise State transfer Cade Fennegan. Replacing running back Tyler Allegier may also be tricky, but the program brought in Cal transfer Christopher Brooks, who had 738 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns a year ago, and also returns senior Lopini Katoa for some established depth.
If that wasn’t enough, the Cougars could also boast a very dangerous downfield passing game if defenses aren’t prepared. Nacua, Keanu Hill, and Gunner Romney all averaged at least 17 yards per reception and will be complemented handily by 6-foot-6 sophomore tight end Isaac Rex, who had three touchdowns on just 18 catches a year ago.
The offensive line also returns mostly intact, as well, with Freeland and guard Clark Barrington leading the charge and other key transfers like Kingston Suamataia (Oregon) joining the group. It was a unit that finished no worse than 31st in terms of line yards per carry, opportunity rate, power success rate, stuff rate allowed, or sack rate allowed, meaning that it could be one of the best in the country with such a degree of continuity heading into this fall.
While the offense often fired on all cylinders last season, the defense tended to bend a little more often than is probably comfortable. The Cougars finished 80th overall in allowing 5.75 yards per play, and they also finished 94th nationally by points per drive allowed, 101st in available yards percentage allowed, 107th in team sack rate, and 109th in stuff rate. Needless to say, there’s work to be done here.
Luckily, all eleven starters are back for 2022. Batty, Pepe Tanuvasa (42 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks), and Payton Wilgar (57 tackles, seven TFLs, 1.5 sacks) figure to be key as the Cougars look to boost their pass rush up front while Bywater and Keenan Pili, who missed all of 2021 with injury, will anchor the middle of the defense.
In the secondary, the Cougars also bring back three defensive backs — Kaleb Hayes, DeAngelo Mandell, and Jakob Robinson — who had at least four passes defended and as seasoned a safety tandem in Chaz Ah You and Malik Moore as you’ll find anywhere in college football. Some positive regression to the mean, then, is likely, but the team’s ceiling may be determined by how much they surpass that on this side of the ball.
BYU will be a very difficult foe to topple for all three of the Mountain West teams on their docket. Utah State looks like it might have the offense on paper to match the Cougars in a shootout, while Boise State and Wyoming could cause headaches with their defenses, but it’s likely that no team is going to escape with an overly convincing win no matter what the outcome.
BYU 31, Wyoming 16
Utah State 33, BYU 30
Boise State 24, BYU 19