FRESNO, Calif. — After a much-needed home win last week, BYU will hit the road to face its fourth Mountain West conference opponent of the season: Fresno State. This will mark the 11th all-time meeting between the Cougars and the Bulldogs with the series standing at 5-5.
After winning in Provo in 2015, the Cougars travel to the Central Valley for the first time since 1998, when the two schools were still in the Western Athletic Conference. Here are six numbers for fans to watch for as the Cougars look for a second straight win on Saturday (8:45 p.m. MT, ESPN2).
Since going independent prior to the 2011 season, BYU has registered 17 wins and only four losses during the month of November in all games. During the same time span, the Cougars have tallied a 16-1 record versus non-P5 opponents. The lone loss came on Nov. 17, 2012, when BYU lost 20-14 on the road against San Jose State.
With four games left, BYU will need to continue its November dominance if it wants to secure an invite to a 13th straight bowl game.
After improved performances in their last two games, the BYU offense will face a difficult task on the road this weekend. Fresno State will be the sixth team out of ten opponents that are ranked in the top 40 in total defense. The Bulldogs are allowing 308.3 total yards per game, which ranks them sixteenth best in the country.
Statistically, this will be the third most difficult defense that the Cougars have faced. Only Wisconsin (268.0 yards allowed, No. 5) and Mississippi State (281.8, No. 6) allow fewer yards. The Bulldogs also allow 18.3 points per game, which is 19th best in the country.
BYU’s offensive struggles have been documented this season, but the Ty Detmer-led group has looked more cohesive over than last two games than at any other time during this season. Against two admittedly poor defenses, the Cougars have averaged 508 yards of total offense over the past two games. Assuming junior quarterback Tanner Mangum gets the start as expected, he should become the fourteenth BYU quarterback to eclipse 5,000 career passing yards early in the game against Fresno.
If BYU is going to have a chance to earn the upset victory, Mangum will need to have a good passing day against the Bulldogs, who are allowing just 184.0 yards per game through the air.
As is always the case in college football, turnovers will play an important role in the outcome of the game. Fresno State has demonstrated that they can protect the football so far this season. The Bulldog offense has turned the ball over less than one time per game this season, with four total fumbles and three total interceptions.
Fresno quarterbacks have not thrown an interception in four complete games (the last happened on September 30against Nevada). BYU’s three quarterbacks — Mangum, Beau Hoge and Koy Detmer Jr. — have each thrown at least three picks this season and the Cougars have thrown at least one in each game this year with the exception of the opener against Portland State. If BYU can avoid throwing interceptions this week, it could help them earn the win.
Special teams is an often-overlooked aspect of football games. Especially when it comes to the kicking game and extra points. Many assume wrongly that it is an “automatic” point and only realize how important it can be when a kick is missed. BYU has been excellent at extra point kicking all season and a big part of that is junior placekicker Rhett Almond.
The Valencia, California native has made all 15 of his point-after attempts this season. After starting his career with a miss against Arizona in 2016, Almond has made 54 straight PAT and is closing in on the career record for consecutive PAT kicks made. That record sits at 70 and was set by former Cougar Justin Sorensen (2008, 2011-2013).
Another special team facet that BYU could exploit is punt returns. Fresno State is ranked near the bottom of all FBS teams (No. 127) in punt return yardage allowed. On eight returns so far this season, the Bulldogs have allowed an average of 18.25 yards per return as well as one punt return touchdown.
BYU is near the bottom of punt return yardage, only gaining 21 total return yards. That 1.62 yards per return average has BYU ranked No. 128. BYU has explosive playmakers on the field during punt returns and should have an opportunity to improve their averages this weekend.
Landon Walters studied history and political science at Salt Lake Community College. He is an avid sports fan and loves writing. Email: [email protected]