BYU fans welcomed the thought of no longer having to hear about BYU football’s “eight in a row” losing streak to Utah. But they now have to hear about “nine in a row.” After a season-opening loss to rival Utah, at least another year remains before the merciless streak is broken.
It’s easy to pull the plug on BYU football and assume the program is a sinking ship for the 2019 season, but there is a lot to keep in mind. Utah was ranked No. 13 at the time of the game, and many college football analysts picked them to be a final four college football playoffs team. ESPN analysts predicted that the BYU-Utah game would be the closest opening week matchup between an unranked team and a top-15 ranked team.
The most eye-opening thing learned from the season opener against Utah was the lack of help from BYU’s defensive line. This line was quiet and seemed overmatched by the Utah offensive line. BYU seldom applied pressure to Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley, and Utah running back Zack Moss had open lanes up the middle much of the night. BYU allowed 262 yards on the ground and was unable to tally a single sack in the season opener.
This aside, BYU’s kryptonite was its own blunders. Zach Wilson threw a pick-six with 10:16 left in the first half while being tackled, a decision that proved costly for BYU. Wilson’s knee was just inches away from the ground before Wilson made the throw. Had he been downed, it would have counted as a sack instead of 6 points for Utah. Had he not elected to throw the ball while being brought down, BYU could have gone into the locker room with a lead.
More second-half mistakes lead to a final score that didn’t tell the full story of the game. A second pick-six led to another Utah touchdown in the second half, another self-inflicted error by BYU. The pass was tipped by a receiver before it was intercepted by Utah’s Julian Blackman, but this type of play is not common and shouldn’t be considered the norm by any means. Accompanying these two turnovers was a Ty’Son Williams fumble on the BYU 22-yard line, which also led to a Utah touchdown, but this fumble came because of a miscommunication between Williams and Wilson. Again, this type of play likely won’t become the norm.
This game could have easily gone BYU’s way, but Utah was more fundamentally sound and ultimately walked off the field with the 30-12 victory. If anything, BYU showed that they can play with a top team. Utah is a top-ranked team that is returning most of its starters, and it also boasts a defensive unit that is predicted to rank in the top 5. BYU held its own but lost the game to mental errors, not a lack of talent.
Looking ahead, this is where BYU’s upcoming opponents sit after week one:
Tennessee (0-1): 38-30 loss to Georgia State
USC (1-0): 31-23 win over Fresno State
Washington (1-0): 47-14 win over Eastern Washington (FCS)
Toledo (0-1): 38-24 loss to Kentucky
USF (0-1): 49-0 loss to No. 17 Wisconsin
Boise State (1-0): 36-31 win over Florida State
Utah State (0-1): 38-35 loss to Wake Forest
Liberty (1-0): 24-0 loss to No. 21 Syracuse
Idaho State (1-0): 38-13 win over Western State Colorado (FCS)
UMASS (0-1): 48-21 loss to Rutgers
San Diego State (1-0): 6-0 win over Weber State (FCS)
Tennessee is coming off one its worst losses in program history, losing 38-30 to Georgia State. Georgia State is slated to finish third last in the Sun Belt Conference, a conference known to be the worst NCAA FBS conference. Despite the loss, ESPN still has Tennessee as 4-point favorites over BYU.
USC is coming off an impressive win over Fresno State, but this win came with a cost as the Trojans starting quarterback, JT Daniels, suffered a season-ending ACL injury. A fast start gave USC 14 of its 31 points in the first quarter, with Daniels throwing 25 for 34 before suffering his injury. Backup quarterback Kedon Slovis, a freshman from Scottsdale, Arizona, went six for eight while filling in for Daniels. Slovis is likely to start against BYU.
Other key matchups include No. 14 Washington, a team with the nation’s longest streak of holding power-5 opponents under 35 points. Washington is a perennially strong team with a good defense, but losing star quarterback Jake Browning to graduation could make for an interesting season for the Huskies. The Huskies new quarterback, junior Jacob Eason, went 27 for 36 in Washington’s season-opening win over Eastern Washington, throwing for 349 yards and four touchdowns. Eason was named by many outlets as the best recruit in 2016.
Utah State opened its season with a 38-35 loss to a Wake Forest team that is predicted by Bleacher Report to finish second last in the ACC Central Division. The Aggies’ Jordan Love threw three touchdowns and three interceptions in their opening game, something that is uncharacteristic of the Utah State junior. Despite the turnovers, Love went on to throw 416 yards and held a 68.8% completion rating.
Boise State is scheduled to visit Provo on Oct. 19, and the Broncos are fresh off a big win over Florida State. The Seminoles lead for most of the game, but a fourth-quarter comeback led the Broncos to a week one victory, earning them a No. 24 national ranking.
San Diego State pulled off a 6-0 week one win over Weber State, an FCS team that is currently ranked No. 8 overall. The game wasn’t very exciting, but keeping any team off the scoreboard is an impressive accolade.
If BYU is able to hone their turnover count, there is a high likelihood that many of these games go in favor of the Cougars. Finishing the 2018 season at 7-6 was a good start to rebuilding a successful program, but there will be a lot of upset fans if BYU football is to finish the 2019 season with that same record.