LAS VEGAS — Following another defeat, to Fresno State, in which quarterback Tanner Mangum was lost for the season, BYU heads to Vegas to face the UNLV Rebels.
The Cougars hold a commanding 16-3 lead in the series.
Here are five statistical numbers to watch for as the Cougars look to continue their dominance at Sam Boyd Stadium on Friday (7:30 p.m. PT, ESPN2).
For anyone hoping for a display of passing, this is not the game to watch. Mangum's potential replacements — Beau Hoge, Koy Detmer Jr., Joe Critchlow and currently-redshirted Kody Wilstead — have thrown a total of 70 passes this season, completing only 32 for 407 yards and two touchdowns.
UNLV is expected to start QB Johnny Stanton this weekend. The 6-foot-2 senior has thrown only 55 passes for 355 yards, but all were during the last two games. Up to that point, Stanton had more of an impact on defense and special teams, registering eight tackles and a blocked punt. The 125 pass attempts thrown by these quarterbacks is less than all but four FBS teams’ season totals. Only traditional option teams Air Force, Army, Navy and Georgia Tech have thrown less passes this year.
The Cougars' passing attack has improved over the last two games and a big reason for that is freshman Matt Bushman. The tight end had his biggest game of the season in that loss to Fresno, registering 97 yards on nine catches. That moves his season total to 40 catches for 401 yards and two touchdowns.
Bushman now has the fourth-most receptions ever by a Cougar freshman and could potentially move to the top of the list over the next three games. Only Austin Collie (53), Matt Bellini (51) and Cody Hoffman (42) have tallied more catches as a Cougar in their first season in Provo than Bushman.
BYU’s defense will face another talented running back as this season winds down. After rushing for about 1,150 yards over his first two seasons in the desert, junior Lexington Thomas has carried the ball for 1,063 yards in 2017. That works out to be 118.12 per game. Thomas has also added 14 rushing 7 touchdowns. The Texas native is currently ranked as the fifth highest rushing yardage player in FBS football.
Thomas, who is also a capable receiver (seven catches for 127 yards or 18.1 per reception), is also ranked in the top 25 of individual all-purpose yardage per game. BYU’s run defense has been average this year but will need to keep Thomas in check if possible.
The play of BYU's offensive line has been a bright spot this season. Overshadowed due to the offense's ongoing struggles, the Cougars have quietly moved near the top of one statistical category. Coach Mike Empey’s linemen have allowed only 32 tackles for loss, which ranks behind only Missouri (3.20 tackles) per game. The big guys up front have also allowed 16 total sacks this season (No. 46).
UNLV has also done well in categories related to the offensive line. The Rebels have allowed 47 total tackles for loss (5.22 per game, No. 37) and 15 sacks allowed, ranked tied for No. 48. BYU will need these types of possession-changing plays if they want to spoil the Rebels' first potential bowl invite since 2014.
Landon Walters studied history and political science at Salt Lake Community College. He is an avid sports fan and loves writing. Email: [email protected]