COMMENTARY — Now that BYU has had a long rest and is off its second bye week of this season, one would hope that they are recharged with a rejuvenation to finish this season strong.
A couple weeks back I talked about change and that from the top to the bottom of the program, we needed to see change. It did not mean erase everything and start over, but start making changes. No matter how small the win over Middle Tennessee was, it was still change from four consecutive losses. It was also nice to hear that this last bye was about BYU having a fun. If there’s only one bye week a year, you may need extra work in preparation for the remaining schedule. But with two bye weeks, you do not need to over-work players. This was another show of change in the right direction.
As a former football player, I know that a week of rest, down time and fun is probably part of what this team needed. Remember, at the last bye week, BYU was 4-0 and after the bye week, the Cougars worked themselves into a 4-4 record. Sometimes hard work can be too much. I know Bronco Mendehall and his great drive, with a go fast, go hard mentality, so this could be a start for some good changes for the team. Hopefully it pays off.
With an inaugural Miami Beach Bowl game berth only being one win away for BYU, the Cougars should be more than prepared to win this game on Saturday. A win will let them reach that goal of playing in a 10th consecutive bowl game. Then they can focus on winning the last two games of the regular season.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Beating UNLV in Provo this Saturday (5 p.m.) has to happen first. The UNLV Rebels are currently a dismal 2-8 with their only two wins coming vs. Northern Colorado and Fresno State in overtime. In the Mountain West Conference, UNLV is at 1-5 and will more than likely finish at the bottom of that league.
With UNLV having nothing substantial left to play for, I am sure that the Rebels would like nothing other than trying to upset other teams’ chances at bowl games. In other words, the Rebels have nothing to lose with this game and BYU has a lot to gain. This would be my main motivation this week if I was in the Rebels locker room.
Unfortunately for this year’s BYU team, even with UNLV playing poorly, this is no gimme. Vegas odds makers do not think highly of UNLV and have BYU the 24-point favorite. I see it much the same way, but I have already said that a couple of times this season and been let down completely.
The Cougars will have to show continued improvement in all areas of the game and especially with the younger players filling in due to injury. With Jamaal Williams being added to the list of injured players that will not return this year, Algernon Brown and Paul Lasike will need to step up big time and run the ball hard. Christian Stewart may face the weakest defense of the year, but the BYU offense still needs to play well and score points.
BYU’s defense has another chance (like the Middle Tennessee game) to throw a shutout and that should be the mind set going into this game. It would be really nice to see BYU just come out and blow out a team form their old conference after losing to Boise State and Utah State last month.
Lets break down UNLV and see what BYU will really need to do to get this 10th consecutive bowl game berth this weekend. On offense, the Rebels are a very pass-happy team with more than double the passing yards this season vs. run yardage (1,224 rushing and 2,554 passing). They are currently only averaging 20 points per game with their struggling offense. BYU will need to have a good game plan in place that brings the pressure and brings it often.
Currently at QB, Blake Decker is averaging 243.3 yards per game in passing with another 30.8 yard per game on the ground. What’s interesting here is that Decker was formerly a BYU walk-on before transferring to a junior college, then UNLV. He did leave last week’s game against Air Force with an injury, so we don’t know if that is who we will see. It could be backup junior Nick Sherry. Either way, with only 10 total passing touchdowns on the year, they are not a deep threat BYU will have to worry about Saturday.
A couple quick keys to shutting UNLV down is not letting the leading scorer, running back Shaq Murray-Lawrence, add to his season total. BYU will also have to shut down Keith Whitely, who is getting the majority of the snaps in the run game. At receiver, there are several solid players, but one absolute standout. Denote Boyd will be the favorite receiver for whoever plays QB.
The Rebels on defense are not very good and are giving up 37.2 points per game. This team puts up an effort, but sorely lacks talent at most positions. The secondary is rarely intercepting passes with only five on the year. This may be because they struggle to pressure the QB. At defensive end, UNLV’s Siuea Vaesau can be a beast and has four sacks and seven tackles for loss on the season. With very little pressure and just OK coverage, this should be the game we find out Christian Stewart’s true passing abilities.
I do not really believe or even think UNLV has a chance to win, but if BYU plays down to the current level UNLV is playing at, it may not be a total blow out.
Blue Blood is a weekly column written by former BYU captain Scott Young. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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