PROVO — After earning wins in two of their last three games, BYU will return to LaVell Edwards Stadium for the final time this season on Saturday when fellow independent Massachusetts comes to town for the second straight November.
The Cougars lead the all-time series 1-0 after a 51-9 victory a year ago. BYU coach Kalani Sitake’s team has shown improvement late this season and will be looking to celebrate Senior Day with a win against the Minutemen on Saturday (1 p.m. MT, BYUtv). Here are six numbers for BYU fans to watch for during the game:
One of twenty seniors that will be honored prior to Saturday’s game is linebacker Fred Warner. Warner was elected as one of the team captains this season and has played — and started — all 11 games this year on a team that has been battered by injuries. Warner leads the team in total tackles with 77 and also has accounted for nine tackles for loss, one sack, and two forced turnovers (a fumble and interception).
BYU fans should be excited to watch No. 4 on the field at home one last time before he moves on to the NFL.
Another of the seniors that will be honored this weekend is center Tejan Koroma. The Texan has been a fan favorite throughout his four years in Provo and should register his 50th career start against UMass. Koroma — as well as fellow seniors Keyan Norman and Tuni Kanuch — have anchored the offensive line that has had the same five starters in every game this season.
That unit has been a bright spot for the offense, allowing only 17 sacks this year. That ranks 37th amongst all FBS teams in sacks allowed.
Where BYU has been above average in sacks allowed, the UMass offensive line has been among the worst in the country. The Minutemen have allowed an-FBS worst 43 sacks this season (4.30 per game) for a loss of 245 total yards (5.30 yards per sack). However, BYU has struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks, achieving only 13 sacks on the season (1.18 per game), which ranks 119th in the country.
The Cougar defense will need to earn more than their average number of sacks per game against the UMass offense that has shown potential to rack up yardage at times this year.
UMass has also shown improvement over the last portion of the season, winning three of their last four games after starting the season with six straight losses. However, Mark Whipple’s team was in every game and no loss was by more than 10 points. A big reason for the recent wins has been running back Marquis Young. The junior has rushed for 356 total yards in the three victories, an average of 118.67 per game.
He has averaged 7.57 yards per carry and earned four touchdowns during that stretch as well, including a season-long run of 95 yards against Appalachian State. BYU’s defense has allowed 100 or more yards rushing in every game this season with the exception of the opener against Portland State and will need to contain Young on Saturday afternoon.
Presumptive starting quarterback Andrew Ford has been another bright spot for the Minutemen offense this year, throwing for 2,345 yards on 172 completions. Ford has thrown for 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions while going over 300 yards passing in four games. The junior is completing 62.8 percent of his passes, which is his career best.
BYU’s pass defense has been exploited by opponents this season, partly because they are allowing opposing offenses to be very efficient. The Cougars are allowing a completion percentage of 65.4 percent and rank 102nd out of 129 teams in pass efficiency defense.
One final player that BYU fans will undoubtedly miss after this year is senior Jonny Linehan. The New Zealand native — and excellent Twitter followee — has helped the Cougars out several times this season with his punting. With more than 50 punts to his credit for the year, Linehan is averaging 42.7 yards per punt. He is a big reason why the Cougars are ranked in the top 15 in net yards per punt as well.
Cougar fans should pay attention to “Jonny Rugby” for the remainder of this season, if for no other reason than to see if the coaching staff will allow him to try another fake punt.
Landon Walters studied history and political science at Salt Lake Community College. He is an avid sports fan and loves writing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org