Cougars look to get back into the win column on the road against the Bulls
The Cougars (2-3) stumbled at the end of September with back-to-back losses against Washington and Toledo. Their 28-21 loss to the Rockets two weeks ago stung in more ways than one. BYU QB Zach Wilson threw a costly interception with a minute to go that set up Toledo's winning touchdown. Wilson also injured his hand on the play and is expected to miss six to eight weeks.
The Bulls (2-3, 1-1 American) snapped a nine-game losing streak to FBS opponents with a 48-22 thrashing of Connecticut. Against the Huskies, USF put together its most productive game of the season on offense. The Bulls totaled 503 yards — 313 on the ground — and averaged 7.9 yards per play.
This is the first meeting between both schools. BYU is looking to end a streak of futility in the Sunshine State. The Cougars are 0-7 all time in games in Florida.
BYU at USF
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: BYU -5.5
When BYU Has the Ball
With Wilson sidelined, Jaren Hall will start at quarterback for the Cougars this week. Hall will make history as the first African-American to start at quarterback for BYU. He brings a different dimension to the offense than Wilson.
Hall is more of a dual-threat quarterback than Wilson. BYU used him at times in special packages and designed QB runs during the first month of the season. He'll likely be counted on to use his mobility to help the offense with limited depth in the backfield for the Cougars. Emmanuel Esukpa, BYU's top healthy rusher, has tallied 141 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries this season. No other Cougar running back behind him has more than 50 total yards.
The pressure will also be on Hall to match Wilson's production in the passing game. Wilson threw for 1,312 yards and completed 62 percent of his passes in BYU's first five games. With him at the controls of the offense, the Cougars have passed for at least 200 yards in seven straight games extending back to last season. Hall has 58 yards on 4-of-7 passing through the first five games.
Hall certainly has some reliable targets to help him be an effective starter right away. Aleva Hifo leads BYU with 283 yards and two touchdowns on 20 receptions. Hifo, Micah Simon, and Matt Bushman are all averaging 14.1 yards per catch. Five BYU receivers have caught at least 10 passes through the first five games.
When South Florida Has the Ball
The Bulls found an offensive groove against UConn. Part of it stemmed from getting the running attack going again. South Florida scored on four straight drives before halftime, with a healthy mix of ball control and quick-strike plays.
Jordan Cronkrite helped the USF offense rise from the ashes with his first 100-yard game of the season, running for 148 yards on 20 carries. He tallied 75 yards on 33 carries over the Bulls' first four games. Cronkrite had five straight 100-yard games in 2018, and USF won all five contests en route to a 7-0 start. If he is back to his old form, that could spell trouble for a BYU rushing defense that is allowing 220.8 yards per game.
Inconsistency at quarterback remains a problem for the Bulls. Jordan McCloud threw for 157 yards and three touchdowns against UConn. The redshirt freshman also had a pair of interceptions and completed only 52 percent of his passes. McCloud has completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in all three of his starts since taking over for injured senior Blake Barnett. Still, USF is at least moving the ball and putting points on the board with him behind center — something that wasn't happening with Barnett in the first two games of the season.
This could be BYU's best chance to break into the win column in a football game in Florida. USF has looked thoroughly terrible at times this season and has been in a tailspin since the middle of last season. The Cougars are in flux on offense, breaking in a new starting quarterback. But they do have enough talent to score points against a mediocre defense. BYU's own defensive issues, however, will give the Bulls a chance to hang around longer than they should. BYU will scratch out a win, but it won't be easy or pretty.
Prediction: BYU 27, USF 24
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.