Three things to know about BYU Football’s first matchup against Troy

The BYU Cougars and Troy Trojans meet on the gridiron for the first time in program history on Saturday, Sept. 26. The No. 21-ranked Cougars, returning from an unanticipated bye week, host the Trojans in Provo at LaVell Edwards Stadium. 

Here are three things to know about the Cougar-Trojan matchup.

1. Offensive Coordinators   

Troy offensive coordinator Ryan Pugh — previously BYU’s offensive line coach in 2018 — led the Trojans’ successful offensive front in 2019. Last season, the Trojans averaged 34 points per game including a season-high 63 points against upcoming BYU foe Texas State. Pugh helped the Trojans finish in the top 20 in the nation in total yards last season. 

Coach Kalani Sitake celebrating with players in Annapolis, Maryland for their game against Navy. The Cougars were originally scheduled to play Army in week two on Sept. 19, but the game was postponed due to positive COVID tests. (BYU Photo)

BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes led the Cougars to a great start in 2020, scoring on nine of 12 total drives in their season opener against Navy. Grimes has a very successful history as an offensive line coach which has catalyzed the Cougars’ successful run game and ability to protect the pocket — the BYU O-line was given a run-block grade of 82.2 while allowing zero QB pressures against a complex Navy defense.

Grimes and the BYU offense received national attention following the opening week win including the entire BYU offensive lined being named to the Sixth Year Sports National Team of the Week. Wide receiver Gunner Romney and running back Tyler Allgeier were also listed on the Team of the Week.  

2. Productive Defenses  

Troy’s defense was a big question mark coming into the 2020 season. In 2019, the Trojan defense allowed an average of 35 points per game — one point more than what their offense was able to produce on average. However, the defense proved productive during the 2020 season opener against Middle Tennessee State.

The Trojans forced Middle Tennessee to punt three times and forced three consecutive turnovers — an interception, turnover on downs, and a safety — in the first half.  

BYU linebacker Kavika Fonua celebrates a play against Tennessee in 2019. Fonua and the other linebackers are key to BYU’s defense this season. (BYU Photo)

Although BYU’s defense was very productive in its week-one matchup against Navy, it will need to transition from focusing on guarding a triple-option offense to guarding a Troy offense whose wide receivers are the dominant playmakers.

During the 2019 season, the Cougar defense forced eight fumbles and 15 interceptions. Payton Wilgar, who led the team with three picks in 2019, returns to the roster this year. BYU also returns Khyiris Tonga on the defensive line, Isaiah Kaufusi and Kavika Fonua at linebacker, and Zayne Anderson and Troy Warner at defensive back in 2020. All played significant minutes in 2019 and contributed to BYU’s defensive success. 

3. Quarterbacks 

Gunnar Watson was named the Troy starter ahead of the Trojans’ week one matchup against Middle Tennessee State. The 6-foot-3, 208-pound sophomore beat out junior college transfer and National Junior College Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year Parker McNeil and Vanderbilt transfer Jacob Free for the starting job. Watson had a very productive starting debut against Middle Tennessee. Midway through the third quarter, Watson had already completed 25 of 36 pass attempts for 230 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. 

Quarterback Zach Wilson reading the defense in Annapolis, Maryland against Navy in the 2020 season opener. Wilson was named the Manning Award Quarterback of the Week for his week one performance. (BYU Photo)

BYU’s Zach Wilson was named the Manning Award Quarterback of the Week after an impressive week one performance. The junior quarterback has much more collegiate experience than Watson does for Troy. Wilson has appeared as the starter in all three seasons of his collegiate career.

“Nothing is holding him back,” junior wide receiver Dax Milne said of Wilson. “He’s ready to make any throw that he needs given the play and he is going to be great this year.”

Wilson completed 13 of 18 pass attempts for 232 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception during the season opener against Navy. 

BYU is highly favored in the first-ever matchup with the Trojans. ESPN’s Football Power Index has BYU as the 89.1% favorite.

Kickoff is set for Saturday, Sept. 26 at 8:15 p.m. MDT. BYU originally planned on allowing 6,000 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium, but the change to orange phase for Provo’s COVID-19 precautions forced the team to not allow any fans in person. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

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