BYU and Washington State are both dealing with turmoil entering a non-conference battle of the Cougars on Saturday.
Two straight losses have sent BYU (5-2) tumbling from a top-10 ranking to facing troubling questions on both sides of the ball. The Cougars lost to Baylor 38-24 last weekend after giving up 303 rushing yards to the Bears. It was the first time that BYU gave up 200 or more rushing yards to an opponent this season. On the other hand, the Cougars struggled to run the ball. BYU generated just 67 total yards on the ground.
Washington State (4-3, 3-2 Pac-12) is facing a different sort of turmoil. Head coach Nick Rolovich and four assistant coaches were fired on Monday for refusing to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in violation of a mandate that went into effect for state employees this week. Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert was named interim head coach. The Cougars were on a roll before this off-the-field drama. A 34-31 victory over Stanford last weekend marked their third consecutive victory after a 1-3 start.
BYU is 3-1 all-time against Washington State. This is the first time the two schools have ever played a game in Pullman.
BYU at Washington State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: BYU -4.5
When BYU Has the Ball
Jaren Hall continues to make strides as a passer. Hall posted his second straight 300-yard game, throwing for a career-high 342 yards and a touchdown against Baylor. He is averaging 241 passing yards per game in his five starts for BYU this season. Such production will pair well with his running abilities and give valuable balance to the Cougar offense.
Puka Nacua has emerged as a game-changer at wide receiver. Nacua repeatedly burned the Baylor secondary with long-distance catches. He tallied a career-high 168 yards and a touchdown on just five catches against the Bears. Nacua has totaled 444 yards on 20 receptions overall this season. His 22.2 yards per reception rank third in the FBS.
BYU's success against Washington State will rely on getting Tyler Allgeier more involved in the offense this week. Allgeier was a non-factor on offense against Baylor after the Bears focused on shutting him down. He rushed for a season-low 33 yards on 15 carries. It isn't likely to happen two weeks in a row. Through seven games, Allgeier has 675 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. BYU has lost only one game over the last two seasons when Allgeier rushes for 90 or more yards.
When Washington State Has the Ball
If the Cougars can overcome the off-the-field drama this week, they have the benefit of an offense that has progressed well enough to give good opponents some fits.
Jayden de Laura has become more comfortable in his second season as the starting quarterback. De Laura leads the Pac-12 with 15 touchdown passes, and his 1,467 passing yards rank fifth in the conference. The sophomore has three straight 200-yard passing games during Washington State's three-game winning streak. His best outing came against Oregon State when he threw for a career-high 399 yards and three touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his pass attempts.
Unlike during the Mike Leach years, Washington State has a reliable running attack to complement high-level quarterback play. Max Borghi is a true playmaking threat in the backfield, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Borghi totaled a season-high 89 yards on 17 carries against Stanford and ran for a pair of touchdowns. Deon McIntosh has done well as a complementary back. He has run for at least 50 yards in four games this season.
Washington State is 0-2 against teams from the state of Utah this season. The Cougars are not in a good spot to get in the win column this time around. Losing a head coach and four assistants in the middle of the season will have a detrimental effect on game preparation this week. BYU has struggled defensively as the season has progressed, but the Cougars are also improving offensively as Jaren Hall becomes more comfortable in his role. BYU's odds of improving to 4-0 against the Pac-12 this season are looking highly favorable.
Prediction: BYU 28, Washington State 20
– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.