Saturday night’s game against UNLV will be the third of four games that could be considered “trap games” for the BYU football team (you could possibly argue that the Florida State game actually fell into that category as well, making this the fifth of six) where there is very little for the Cougars to gain and yet significant benefit that will accrue to the opponent should they pull off the upset. Considering UNLV’s performance last week, and that Coach Mike Sanford is literally fighting for his career this weekend, watch for UNLV to come out with their A game, as they find themselves in a similar scenario to Florida State prior to the Seminoles playing the Cougars. This will be their chance to right the ship, prove the doubters wrong, turn the season around, and save their general. Or it will be the last hurrah. Here are a few things to keep an eye on as you watch this drama unfold on Saturday night:
• A Clean Game—BYU can give the ball up as they have been doing and still come away with a victory. However, as turnovers and mistakes have been a focus in practice this week, the team needs to come out and play a clean game in order to show that it is improving and ready to take on TCU in two weeks.
• Health and Concussions—The team needs to avoid injuries, as several key players have gone down in recent weeks. In particular, concussions has become a recurring problem this season (can anyone remember a season that featured more head injuries?). There were two last week as Steven Thomas and Tucker Lamb both were knocked out in special teams play—neither will play this week. In addition, we lost Matt Bauman in the Oklahoma game and Scott Johnson in the Tulane game both to concussions. Four players in five games is staring to border on a serious issue. Will the team avoid a concussion this week?
• More than Cover the Spread—As this is a prime time game on the Mtn, the voters will not be watching and will only see the box score when all is said and done. In order to continue to move up the rankings, BYU needs to beat the teams it is supposed to and in a manner that is expected (whether fair or not). That means covering the spread at a minimum which is 16.5.
• Rushing and Total Offense—Harvey Unga looked quick and effective last week. Can he keep it up this week? UNLV gave up 559 yards rushing and 773 total yards to a winless Nevada team last week. Watch for Harvey and the other backs to exploit this and for BYU to go over 500 yards. Again whether fair or not, 773 is the number in the backs of all of the box score viewers minds…
• Filling in for McKay Jacobsen—after missing last week’s game with a hamstring injured while stretching in warm-ups, it was determined earlier this week that it is more serious than expected and Jacobsen will be out 4-6 weeks recovering. Ashworth filled in nicely last week. Hafoka seemed to be in the dog house after fumbling the first catch of the game. Watch for both of these receivers to have good games as the offense gets rolling.
• Dennis Pitta Encore—After his biggest game of the year last week and being named the John Mackey Award Tight End of the Week, Pitta could take advantage of the spotlight by adding to his stats and overall frontrunner status this week against a soft UNLV defense.
• Mike Sanford’s Final Game—Should UNLV get down early and give up on their head coach as they did last week, this will likely be Sanford’s last game in Sam Boyd Stadium. In order to keep his job, the Rebels don’t have to win the game, but they need to play hard from beginning to end. Anything less and Sanford might as well begin dusting off his golf clubs.
I think UNLV will come out swinging in the first half, play a good game, but will be outmatched by BYU’s talent. The Cougar offense will cut down on the turnovers (but likely still have at least one) and get into the end zone more than last week as they pull away in the second half. BYU ends up winning big and Sanford is out of a job before Monday. BYU 52, UNLV 13.
How do you see it playing out? Post your own take and prediction below.