BYU defensive back Troy Warner (4) celebrates his interception with Tyler Batty (92) in the first half against UTSA, Saturday, Oct. 10, in Provo. Warner has two interceptions in the last two games. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, Pool)

Five things to know before BYU Football takes on Houston

The Cougars of Provo will meet the Cougars of Houston for the first time since 2014 in what will be the toughest matchup of the season thus far for both Cougars. Here are five things to consider in anticipation of the Cougar fight on the gridiron.

1. BYU’s offense put to the test

BYU had three dominant offensive performances against Navy, Troy, and LA Tech but was tested through four quarters against UTSA last week. Junior quarterback Zach Wilson – currently projected as the fifth-best quarterback on ESPN analyst Mel Kiper’s 2021 draft board – threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns against the Roadrunners, but Wilson and the Cougars struggled to finish drives.

The 27-20 victory may have been the wakeup call that BYU needed. Winning “ugly games” has been a challenge for the Cougars in the Kalani Sitake-era, but BYU proved it is capable of producing wins even in those “ugly games.” 

“I was proud of our team – we competed,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said after the one-score win. “I’m very excited about the opportunity to learn from this and get back on the field in less than a week.”

The Cougars’ dynamic offense has proven to be a threat to their opponents early in the 2020 season, as the Cougars lead the nation in total offensive yards with 557.8 yards-per-game through four games. Wilson and the Cougars are looking to continue their hot streak and improve to 5-0 for the first time since 2008. 

2. Houston has a potent offense to match

Two of the Houston Cougars’ first three drives resulted in a turnover turned touchdown for Tulane in Houston’s season opener: one pick-six and a fumble returned for a touchdown. Houston quarterback Clayton Tune was responsible for both turnovers. Despite the rough start, Tune led his offense to four consecutive touchdown drives to open the second half against Tulane, outscoring the Green Wave 28-7 in the second half.

Tune is the perfect quarterback for head coach Dana Horlgorsen’s air-raid style offense, as shown by the prolific scoring through the air. Marquez Stevenson is the Gunner Romney equivalent for the Houston offense. Stevenson, Tune’s top downfield target, hauled in five receptions for 118 yards and one touchdown. BYU struggled to defend the Roadrunners in the air during last week’s matchup, so Houston’s pass-happy offense could be lethal.

3. BYU’s “ball bawk” defense forcing turnovers 

The BYU secondary struggled against UTSA in the air but senior defensive back Troy Warner has had interceptions in the Cougars’ last two games. San Francisco 49er and former BYU Cougar Fred Warner tweeted the following after his little brother’s second interception of the season against UTSA: “BALL HAWK!! They come in bunches!!”

The Cougar defense leads the nation (among teams who have played four or more games) in yards allowed per game with 250.5. BYU’s defensive line has proved lethal through four games of play. The Cougars have registered 13 sacks in four games for a total loss of 77 yards. Tyler Batty leads the Cougar defense with a total of four sacks. Linebackers Keenan Pili and Isaiah Kaufusi lead the Cougars in total tackles with 24 apiece.  

4. Houston’s special teams make plays 

Marquez Stevenson returned a kick for 97 yards and a touchdown in the second half against Tulane, proving his speed and strength downfield. The senior wide receiver could create problems for BYU’s secondary and special teams when he has the ball.

Houston cornerback Marcus Jones returned eight punts for a total of 108 yards and a long of 34. BYU will certainly need to stop Houston’s kick and punt returns quickly to minimize the damage done on special teams. Dalton Witherspoon was perfect on extra points for Houston, but missed his only field goal attempt of the season.

5. BYU is wearing the “Gifford Nielsen look” uniforms 

According to BYU Equipment Operations, the Cougars of BYU are bringing royal blue back into the uniform scheme, rocking the “Gifford Nielsen look” in this week’s matchup with Houston.

Nielsen is a former BYU and Houston football great. Nielsen never made an appearance for the University of Houston, but spent six seasons playing quarterback for the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans). Nielsen was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994. BYU will wear royal bottoms, white tops, and white helmets with a gray facemask much like the Cougars did when Gifford Nielsen was the Cougars’ quarterback. 

The Cougars will meet on the gridiron at TDECU Stadium in Houston on Friday, Oct. 16. Former University of Houston quarterback and Heisman winner Andre Ware will call the game along with Jason Benetti on ESPN’s national broadcast set to begin at 7:30 p.m. MST. 

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