BYU will play its first true road game outside of Utah this season when the Cougars face Baylor on Saturday in a sneak preview of a future Big 12 matchup.
The No. 19 Cougars (5-1) saw their hopes of a potential run to the College Football Playoff come crashing down amid a 26-17 loss at home to Boise State last weekend. BYU uncharacteristically committed four turnovers and the Broncos scored a pair of touchdowns off those takeaways. Sloppy play undercut multiple promising drives for a Cougar offense that totaled 413 yards and averaged 6.5 yards per play.
The Bears (5-1, 3-1 Big 12) have emerged as one of the Big 12's best teams while undergoing an offensive revival under new coordinator Jeff Grimes. They lead Big 12 teams with 7.32 yards per play. Ironically, Grimes headed up BYU's offense for three seasons before heading to Waco in the offseason. Baylor totaled 525 yards on offense in their latest win, a 45-20 victory over West Virginia last week.
BYU and Baylor are meeting for just the third time. The series is tied at 1-1. The Bears beat the Cougars in the only previous meeting in Waco, prevailing 40-36 in the 1983 season opener.
No. 19 BYU at Baylor
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Baylor -6.5
When BYU Has the Ball
Jaren Hall returned to action after a two-game absence. Hall fared well at times in his first start since suffering a rib injury against Arizona State, throwing for a career-high 302 yards and a touchdown. But he also completed just 59 percent of his passes and only ran twice after averaging 55.3 rushing yards over his first three games. BYU will need Hall to make plays with his legs to have a chance of keeping Baylor's defense off-balance.
BYU's offensive success hinges on the production of Tyler Allgeier more than any other player. When Allgeier is finding gaps and breaking off long runs, it's tough to contain the Cougars. He ranks 10th nationally with 642 rushing yards through six games. Allgeier is averaging 5.31 yards per carry this season on roughly 20 attempts per game.
Washington transfer Puka Nacua has quietly emerged as a top target for Hall in the passing game. Nacua has totaled 239 receiving yards on just 11 catches over BYU's last three games. He is pairing nicely with Gunner Romney as a deep threat that can stretch opposing defenses. Romney remains the top receiver for the Cougars with a pair of 100-yard outings to his credit in BYU's last three games.
When Baylor Has the Ball
Gerry Bohanon was absolutely electric in Baylor's win over West Virginia. Bohanon threw for a career-high 336 yards and tallied four touchdown passes against the Mountaineers. It was his first 300-yard game as a passer. With him at the controls, the Bears scored on their first three drives and led by double digits throughout the game. Bohanon seems to be settling into a groove as Charlie Brewer's successor. He's completing 65.8 percent of his passes through six games and has racked up 1,326 passing yards — third in the Big 12. Bohanon is one of only two FBS quarterbacks (Ole Miss' Matt Corral) who has thrown for at least 1,300 yards without an interception this season.
Baylor's biggest strength on offense, however, is in the run game. The Bears have totaled 1,371 yards on the ground this season – second only to Texas in the Big 12. They are averaging 228.5 rushing yards per contest. Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner have formed an effective tandem in the backfield. The duo has combined for 998 rushing yards, and both players average better than six yards per carry.
The Bears are so good on offense partly because they excel at taking care of the ball. Baylor leads the Big 12 with a plus-six turnover margin. The Bears are one of only two FBS teams – along with Ole Miss – that hasn't thrown an interception this season.
Baylor has taken big strides on offense as the season has progressed. The Bears are making life tough for opponents with explosive plays are complementing it with a stout defense. BYU isn't a team that will get blown out by Baylor. The Cougars' defense is too good to let the game get out of hand. Still, BYU has not shown an ability to be consistent on offense. An inability to finish drives, especially after halftime, is a weakness that will come back to haunt the Cougars against a tough opponent on the road.
Prediction: Baylor 24, BYU 20
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– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.