BYU Gets Tougher Than Expected Test in UVA
BYU football is flying high right now.
The Cougars are 3-0 for the first time since 2008; they are getting a ton of national media attention, and they have moved up to Nos. 21 and 23 respectively in the latest major polls.
One thing that would make things even sweeter is for them to get redemption for last season’s debacle at Virginia by knocking off the Cavaliers in LaVell Edwards Stadium this Saturday.
BYU laid an egg in Charlottesville during a rain-drenched, weather-delayed game to open the 2013 season, losing to a bad Cavaliers team 19-16, despite outgaining them by 139 yards. It was Virginia’s only win over an FBS program last year.
It was also the Cougars’ first game implementing a new offense and the players have spoken openly this year about their desire to atone for what turned out to be an embarrassing loss.
Before this season got started, it looked like BYU would be a prohibitive favorite in Saturday’s contest. However, the Cavaliers (2-1) appear to be a much improved team after going toe-to-toe with No. 7 UCLA in week one of the new season and then knocking off No. 21 Louisville 23-21 on Saturday. It was their first win over an FBS opponent since beating the Cougars last year.
Of particular note thus far in the early going has been the UVA defense, which has held the Bruins, Cardinals and FCS opponent Richmond to an average of just 87.5 yards rushing. In their 28-20 loss to UCLA, the Bruins scored three defensive touchdowns to avoid a huge upset and escape Scott Stadium with the win.
On Saturday, the Cavs held a Louisville team that was averaging 49 points and 470 yards through the first two games of the season to 282 yards of total offense, including just 79 yards on the ground. That defense will come focused to shut down BYU’s read option attack directed by surging Heisman Trophy candidate Taysom Hill.
Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta seems to have turned the corner with his squad, which has given up just five touchdowns in the first three games. Tenuta is known as one of the best defensive minds in the country and has NFL-caliber talent to work with in the form of defensive end Eli Harold, linebacker Henry Coley and safety Anthony Harris. So far in 2014 the results have been fabulous.
As good as Virgina has been on defense, the offense has struggled.
The Cavs will likely start Greyson Lambert at quarterback, but he could give way to redshirt freshman Matt Johns if he fails to move the offense in the altitude of Provo. Johns came in against UCLA after Lambert threw two pick-sixes and nearly rallied the Cavaliers to a victory, tossing two TDs in the process. Against Louisville, Lambert was 13-of-24 for 162 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while Johns saw very little action.
Though Virginia got the win on Saturday, the offense managed to put up just 285 yards on the Cardinal defense and had just 13 first downs on the day. That group will run up against another stingy BYU defense that has looked particularity good in the red zone thus far.
It all adds up to what could be a defensive struggle come Saturday. Just how well UVA deals with what was an emotional win last time out, along with a long road trip across country could also be important factors in the outcome.
One thing for sure, this game is looking much tougher for BYU than it appeared on paper just a few weeks ago. And amid all the talk about the Cougars’ chances to run the table, they better come focused and ready to play if they want to push their record to 4-0 and remain in the national conversation.
Here’s a look at highlights from Virginia’s games against Louisville and UCLA, as well as last year’s game vs. the Cougars in Charlottesville.