After more than a decade operating as an FBS Independent, the BYU Cougars are back as conference mates with the TCU Horned Frogs. With the old Mountain West rivalry set to be renewed as a Big 12 battle on Saturday afternoon at Amon G. Carter Stadium, we got with Robby McCombs of Vanquish The Foe to catch up on the latest with the squad from Provo and hear the BYU perspective on the match up with the Frogs this weekend
Frogs O’ War: So we meet again, old friend. Welcome to the Big 12! After over a decade apart since the days of the Mountain West, our paths have crossed yet again. Do you see the Cougars and Horned Frogs picking up right where they left off in the mid-2000s as conference rivals, if perhaps not each other’s primary rivals?
Vanquish The Foe: I remember very well those MWC matchups, as do most BYU fans. Andy Dalton, Jeremy Kerley, Jeremy Hughes, etc, versus Max Hall, Dennis Pitta, Harvey Unga, Austin Collie and company. TCU blew us out too many times, and that 51-50 2005 matchup is still painful to think about.
With Utah coming in the conference next season, I don’t think TCU will be BYU’s primary rival. It was a rivalry back in the MWC because both teams were at the top of the league, but I don’t think BYU will be at the top of the new Big 12 enough for that to factor into it; i.e., both teams consistently in the top 3 gunning for a conference championships. With 16 Big 12 teams it’s also unlikely the game is played annually. However, I think a close game Saturday will put it back on a rivalry trajectory and cause both fanbases to rekindle some of that sports hate we have for each other.
FOW: How are BYU fans feeling about the move to the Big 12 and what are the expectations for where the Cougars will stack up in the league pecking order going forward?
VTF: The hope for year one was to get to a bowl – go 6-6 and fans will be happy. Going forward, I think the expectation is that BYU will consistently be in the top half of the league, win 7-8 games a season, and every ~5 years appear in the conference championship game. I would be thrilled with that.
FOW: The BYU defense ranks last in the Big 12 with 1.4 sacks per game, but averages over an interception per game. The unit will now face Josh Hoover in his first start at QB for TCU; in limited action he has two interceptions, a lost fumble, and has been sacked several times. How do you expect that Cougar defense to attack Hoover and who are the players most likely to ruin his debut?
VTF: Jay Hill is BYU’s new defensive coordinator and is universally loved. He was a very successful head coach at Weber State at the FCS level and is a breath of fresh air for BYU fans. He has a completely different philosophy than the past defensive staff – he will play more man coverage and bring pressure from multiple spots – linebackers, corners, safeties, he will bring it from each level of the defense. BYU’s run defense has been the achilles heel, and stopping Emani Bailey will be the focus. I expect BYU to load the box and bring pressure on obvious passing downs to rattle Hoover. If Hoover can hit the 1-on-1 matchups on the outside, TCU will be successful. So I fully expect a healthy dose of blitzes in the first quarter and depending on how Hoover handles that will dictate if BYU adjusts.
FOW: Offensively, BYU ranks 117th nationally in yards gained per game, but is still averaging 31 points per game and has continued to find ways to win games. While TCU remains among the nation’s worst red zone offenses, the Cougars are top-15 overall at converting those scoring opportunities into points. What is the secret to that red zone success? Asking for a friend.
VTF: BYU’s been lucky with the field position battle – Arkansas’ punter shanked multiple punts and BYU had good starting field position in the loss versus Kansas. BYU’s run game has been non-existent, and veteran QB Kedon Slovis has been impressive with that limited run game. Slovis isn’t much of a scrambling threat, but he navigates the pocket well and has some big targets to throw too. BYU has three receivers 6-foot-3 or taller and TE Isaac Rex is a load at 6-foot-6. Slovis is accurate and hits those tight windows in the red zone.
FOW: What do you see as BYU’s best path to victory in Fort Worth and what is your projected final score?
VTF: BYU has to pressure Hoover. If they can force him to sub-55% completion percentage, force a turnover, and keep the box loaded so they can focus on Bailey, they will give themselves a shot. This is one of the best cornerback rooms BYU’s ever had (which isn’t saying much), but I think they will get burned a couple times in man coverage which will open up things just enough for Bailey. Slovis has been good this year and offset a paltry running game, but they’ll need something on the ground in Fort Worth. I think Hoover hits on a couple big plays and TCU squeaks by 24-21.
Big thanks to Robby for taking the time to provide feedback on the Cougars and this match up with the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth on Saturday. Make sure to follow the team at Vanquish The Foe for all their coverage of BYU athletics and this weekend’s game. Follow them on Twitter: @VanquishTheFoe