With running back Jamaal Williams already sitting out for a concussion suffered last week in the loss to Utah, BYU’s running game was already hurting.
Then, the Cougars coaching staff made the decision to suspend top receiver Cody Hoffman for today’s game for a violation of team rules so there goes the passing game too, right?
What were the Cougars to do when so many key pieces were missing? In all, BYU had six top players sitting out this game, one that could swing the pendulum one way or the other.
Well, BYU got help from a number of areas that Cougar fans might be unaccustomed to.
Here’s how the Cougars got the 37-10 win over the 3-2 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Friday night in Provo to move to 2-2 overall:
5. Game Management
With running back Jamaal Williams already sitting out for a concussion and Cody Hoffman sitting due to a violation of team rules, BYU was missing some of its best players.
But, the Cougars still had quarterback Taysom Hill (pictured) who hasn’t been spectacular as a passer — but has been a big time threat on the ground. Tonight Hill managed the game magnificently, going 14-of-19 for 177 yards — and he ran the ball another 18 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
BYU coaches may be onto something here, as Hill has bigger games to come — including a huge rivalry game at Utah State next Friday night in Logan.
4. Kyle Van Noy
The senior linebacker (pictured) did not go quietly into that good but cold night in La Vell Edwards Stadium on Friday, giving BYU a needed boost when the Cougars trailed MTSU 10-7 early.
Van Noy hasn’t been the force he’s been in the past but he might be coming on for BYU at just the right time.
He tackled a Blue Raider running back in the end zone for a safety, cutting the MTSU lead to 10-9, which would help BYU overcome the early deficit soonafter — and never look back.
For the game Van Noy had seven tackles and one for a loss but that safety not only gave the Cougars some needed points when its offense was strugging — it also swung the game’s momentum for good.
3. Pass Defense
The Cougars have struggled in their pass defense this season.
But, what a difference one game makes, as the Cougars held MTSU to 107 passing yards and forced Blue Raider QB Logan Kilgore into an interception for a touchback, which really stunted any hope for a MTSU comeback after the Cougars had shut down the Blue Raider rushing game and forged ahead with a comfortable lead.
BYU’s run defense also allowed just 107 yards on the ground to MTSU — a shade over their 96-yards-per-game average.
But, BYU hounded Blue Raider QB Logan Kilgore into a 16-for-34 passing night and the constant pressure they put on him was certainly a key factor.
Craig Bills was huge for the Cougars, posting seven tackles and Daniel Sorensen (pictured), who had that key pick for the touchback, was critical to keeping BYU in the game as well.
2. Field Position
Field position as a general term can be important when it comes to determining the course of a game — definitely the case in the loss to Utah — but never was it more important than this Friday night.
MTSU neither threw nor ran for more than 120 yards — and punted nine times, which resulted in 107 return yards for BYU — as well as a back-breaking touchdown by J.D. Falslev.
Conversely, the Cougars punted just five times in the game, which only resulted in six total return yards by the Blue Raiders.
Average starting field position for MTSU was very good in the first quarter — their own 42-yard line. After that first quarter, however, their starting field position average worsened to their own 25 over the next two — and most pivotal — quarters of play.
1. Special Teams
Adam Hine electrified the crowd early on with a kickoff return — and this time it wasn’t nullified by a holding call like it was against Utah.
His 90-yard runback took the Cougars inside the MTSU 10-yard line, punched in for a touchdown soon after that by Taysom Hill.
But Hine wasn’t the only difference maker on this night; veteran J.D. Falslev made up for a lackluster season thus far with a highlight reel 71-yard punt return down the sideline for a touchdown later in the game.
On this night when BYU’s offense didn’t exactly impress anyone — its special teams certainly did.
That unit accounted directly or indirectly for at least 14 of BYU’s 37 points on a cold, frosty Friday evening in Provo.
The much-maligned unit came through big to close out a win against MTSU — who certainly gave Cougars fans their money’s worth early on before succumbing to the high altitude, cold autumn temperatures and a Cougar team that now enters their toughest stretch in some time.