You can place the blame on a lot of different places but overall, we have to do a better job, coaches and players. —BYU head coach Kalani Sitake
PROVO — BYU has been in a down-to-the-wire contest every game so far in 2016.
That trend could continue Saturday as the Cougars (1-2) face a critical juncture in the season when they head East to face West Virginia (2-0) of the Big 12 Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins.
For BYU, the challenge is to shake off the negativity from a two-game losing streak and find solutions to get the Cougars over the top, after losing to Utah and UCLA by a combined four points.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, are coming off a bye week and will be looking to go undefeated in nonconference play.
Here are three aspects of the game to watch during Saturday’s contest.
The play of the offense
Much has been made of the Cougars’ offensive struggles early in the 2016 season, especially following the team’s 17-14 loss to UCLA. Against the Bruins, BYU fell behind by 17 points and had minus-9 rushing yards in the first half before the Cougars rallied to make it a three-point game in the final minute.
On six of their 15 possessions vs. UCLA, the Cougars went three-and-out, and on another, BYU had a 55-yard field goal blocked after moving 8 yards on three plays.
BYU simply hasn’t shown enough consistency on that side of the ball and is struggling to produce chunk plays. The Cougars are tied for last nationally in 20-yard plus scrimmage plays with just five in three games, with only two in the pass game. The Mountaineers have given up only nine plays of 20-plus yards in 2016 and two of 30-plus yards, tied for third in the nation.
While BYU has managed to drive for critical scores during the fourth quarter in each of their games so far, head coach Kalani Sitake knows greater execution on offense is needed, especially against Power 5 competition.
“We don't help ourselves when we don't, all 11 (players), do what we're supposed to,” Sitake said. "You can place the blame on a lot of different places but overall, we have to do a better job, coaches and players. The goal is to put forth our best effort and make sure that we are clicking."
Cougar cornerbacks vs. West Virginia receivers
West Virginia comes into this weekend’s game ranked No. 18 in the nation in passing offense, averaging 321 yards per game. The Mountaineers also have a trio of wideouts with plenty of experience in Daikiel Shorts, Shelton Gibson and Ka’Raun White.
BYU freshmen Troy Warner, Dayan Lake and Chris Wilcox each have earned a start at one cornerback position in the early part of the season, with mixed results. At times, they’ve made plays, and at other times, it’s apparent that opposing teams are testing them to see how the young players hold up.
With JC transfer Isaiah Armstrong in also in the mix at the corner spot opposite senior Michael Davis, the Mountaineers are likely to attack the most vulnerable position of a largely veteran Cougars secondary to see if they can take advantage of the young BYU corners.
White said he's confident West Virginia has an advantage over the BYU cornerbacks, according to Allan Taylor, who covers the Mountaineers.
Pressure, pressure, pressure
Both teams struggle to produce sacks. BYU is tied for No. 76 in the nation in sacks per game (1.67) while the Mountaineers struggle at 0.5 per contest, 122nd nationally.
If either team can get pressure on the opposing quarterback, it could give them the edge.
Here’s where the Mountaineers, led by senior center Tyler Orlosky, present another challenge. West Virginia is one of four teams that has yet to give up a sack in 2016.
The Cougars, meanwhile, have just one sack the past two weeks after four in the season-opening win against Arizona.
Can BYU get the first sack against West Virginia this season and help its chances by getting some pressure on Mountaineers senior quarterback Skyler Howard?
“I think everyone is excited to go after their quarterback, especially the idea of coming up against a high-power offense," BYU sophomore defensive end Corbin Kaufusi said. "Let’s see what we can do. It’s not that the teams we’ve gone up against have had low-powered offenses, but you like the challenge that’s presented."
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