No. 12 BYU football ready for “a different beast” in No. 25 Oregon
As enjoyable as last week’s 26-20 upset over Baylor was, BYU football is ready to put it in the past.
“You can’t sit on your wins for too long,” linebacker Ben Bywater said. “We’ll enjoy it for 24 hours, but then we’re right back to the drawing board Monday morning. It was a huge win, and it will be a memory for me and Cougar Nation for a long time, but it’s about Oregon this week.”
Riding — or maybe outrunning — the high of a double overtime, field-storming celebration at LaVell’s house, the Cougars hit the road this weekend to face No. 25 Oregon in an attempt to knock off ranked foes in consecutive weeks.
“We’re facing a different beast this week,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “I’ve been in that environment before. It’s a tough place to play, not a lot of teams come out of there successful. We need to work hard during the week and as we do our best, the best versions of ourselves will show up on Saturday.”
Making its first trip to Eugene since 1990, No. 12 BYU likely won’t face as belligerent a crowd this season than what awaits at Autzen Stadium. BYU’s veterans are no strangers to intense surroundings, having earned road victories against Wisconsin, Tennessee and several other Pac-12 schools over the past few years, not to mention last season’s burrito throwing incident at Georgia Southern.
“As a defense, it’s really fun to play in a hostile environment,” linebacker Payton Wilgar said. “We thrive on that. We like the noise.”
In addition to the raucous crowd, BYU and Oregon will garner plenty of attention as one of just two matchups between ranked squads this week, along with filling the coveted FOX midday broadcast slot to attract a sizable national TV audience.
“Autzen Stadium is going to bring a lot of energy, and that will help us,” added cornerback Kaleb Hayes, who played in Eugene while part of Oregon State’s program prior to transferring to Provo. “It’s exciting, this is what we’ve dreamed of since we were little kids, to be in a spot where millions are looking at us.”
The Ducks have been a team of extremes early this season, getting curb stomped by defending national champion Georgia before dropping 70 points on FCS power Eastern Washington last week. Receiver Chase Roberts called Oregon “some of the most athletic football players I’ve ever seen on film,” presenting a unique challenge for BYU’s defense, which has held its opponents to less than 300 yards in each game so far in 2022.
“They’re utilizing their talent very well,” Sitake said. “I know they will be ready, so I have to make sure we’re ready on our end.. If we want to have success, we need to do some things better, and I know we can do better.”
Although BYU did orchestrate 26 points against Baylor while missing top receivers Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua, its run game was smothered by the Bears to the tune of just 83 yards and 2.5 yards per carry. With Romney likely out again and Nacua still questionable, BYU can’t afford to have similar struggles on the ground against the Ducks.
“Obviously I don’t think we did as good a job as we could have in the run game (against Baylor), and that’s our responsibility as an offensive line,” center Connor Pay said. “Oregon has great defense. They’re fast, they flow, so it’s going to be another challenge this week to run the football, and we need to be really consistent in our technique.”
Not only are the Ducks an early 3.5-point favorite for Saturday, but Oregon is paying BYU a cool $1.1 million to make the trip to Eugene— quite a sum for a team that finished 5-0 against the Pac-12 last year.
However, BYU’s “de facto 2021 Pac-12 championship” will mean nothing Saturday. Playing at Oregon appears much more challenging than any of the Cougars’ opponents from the league last year. Beating Baylor proved that a special season in Provo was a real possibility, and Saturday against Oregon could easily derail the nationwide hype train or raise expectations even further.
“We need to come in and not worry about the opponent or rankings or anything, we’ll just go in and play BYU football, which is four quarters of tough, physical football,” Wilgar said. “If we do that, everything else will fall into place.”
The Cougars and Ducks will kick off at 1:30 p.m. MDT on Saturday. The game will be broadcast on FOX.