Following a bitter home loss to Utah, BYU looks to bounce back with a win in a showdown against the Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders on Friday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m. MDT at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
This will be the first meeting between these two teams. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall enters Friday’s game with a 4-1 record against Conference USA opponents.
Meanwhile, the Blue Raiders currently lead the East Division of Conference USA, with a 1-0 conference record and a 3-1 overall record.
As BYU and Middle Tennessee State prepare for the game, here are 10 must-know facts and stats.
Michael Chase is a graduate of Dixie State University and Deseret News contributor. He is the owner of Mike's Professional Editing LLC, which provides proofreading and audio transcription services. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
• BYU is 23rd in the nation in total offense; MTSU is 61st.
• BYU averages 23 points per game; MTSU averages 31.
• BYU is 44th in the nation in total defense; MTSU is 94th.
• BYU allows 20 points per game on average; MTSU surrenders 28.5 on average.
Because of its home loss to Utah, BYU must win at least one road game to qualify for a bowl game this year (assuming the Cougars win their four remaining home games). BYU has five more road games, none of which will be easy. In their remaining road games this year, the Cougars face Utah State, Houston, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Nevada. As for remaining home games, the Cougars host Middle Tennessee State, Georgia Tech, Boise State and Idaho State.
BYU’s overall record since becoming an independent is 19-10. If BYU beats Middle Tennessee State, the Cougars will have won two-thirds of their games since going independent. BYU is 5-7 as an independent against opponents that were AQ BCS teams at the time BYU played them.
Thirteen of coach Mendenhall’s 31 losses were by a touchdown or less. In these close games, BYU lost by an average of just 3.5 points. In the 18 games when Mendenhall’s Cougars were defeated by more than a touchdown, they lost, on average, by 20.7 points.
Four of Utah’s last six wins over BYU were by a touchdown or less. Even when Utah’s blowout wins in 2008 and 2011 are considered, the average score during the last nine rivalry games is Utah 29.8, BYU 21.6. These numbers suggest that under coach Mendenhall, BYU is overall quite good at keeping scores close in its matchups with Utah (thanks mostly to its defense). But it goes without saying that the Cougars and their fans don’t merely want close losses and moral victories against Utah. They want actual wins over the Utes.
BYU’s current record is 1-2. Have coach Mendenhall’s Cougars been in similar holes before and been able to climb out? Yes. In 2005 (Mendenhall’s first season as BYU’s head coach), the Cougars started with a 1-3 record but finished the year at 6-6 and played in a bowl game. In 2006, BYU began with a 1-2 record, then won 10 straight games to end the season. The same thing happened in 2007. Mendenhall’s worst start to a season was in 2010, when the Cougars found themselves at 1-4. By year’s end, BYU was 7-6 and had won a bowl game. In 2011, BYU had another 1-2 start but finished at 10-3.
In its first three games, BYU has scored on 12 of its 14 red zone scoring attempts — five touchdowns and seven field goals. The Cougars could easily be undefeated right now if they had more touchdowns than field goals.
After a brilliant performance against Texas in which it surrendered zero sacks, the Cougars’ offensive line allowed Utah to sack Taysom Hill five times. BYU’s offensive line is allowing 2.67 sacks per game, which ranks 103rd among the 123 FBS teams.
While there’s no question that Jamaal Williams and Taysom Hill are talented runners (both are among the top 10 rushers in the nation), Hill’s passing efficiency is currently 74.3 (worst in the nation). He has completed just 40 of his 114 passing attempts (35 percent) and has thrown three interceptions and one touchdown pass. Yes, Hill can improve his passing accuracy. But his receivers can also improve by catching more of Hill’s on-target passes. So far this season, the Cougars are running the ball 60 percent of the time, and rushing yards account for 62 percent of BYU’s total offense.
Turnovers and penalties are killing the Cougars. An interception against Virginia cost BYU a win, and a penalty negated a much-needed kickoff return for a touchdown against Utah. The timing and circumstances of these mistakes seem to be more lethal than the number of mistakes — although the volume of mistakes is still a concern, since BYU averages 7.33 penalties per game.