This week’s opponent blog post features the Q&A with an opposing beat writer. Jared Lloyd covers BYU and local sports for the Daily Herald in Provo. He stops by to answer a few questions about BYU. For his coverage of the Cougars, follow him on Twitter: @JaredrLloyd
Now onto the Q&A:
N&A: BYU remains one of the more respected programs in the nation despite its independent status. Do the Cougars envision remaining an independent, or is there work being done behind the scenes to join a conference?
JL: BYU's history and tradition in football has been a valuable commodity for the Cougars in their current situation, since it has allowed them to regularly schedule games with top opponents that fill key TV time slots. That said, I don't know exactly how long independence will remain viable for a program that believes it belongs among the upper echelon of the sport. Financially, independence has been better for BYU than remaining in the Mountain West Conference or joining another non-Power 5 conference — but it hasn't been at the level that the Power 5 conferences are at. Unless the university decides it values the moral high ground over the business side of college football which could be viewed as getting more and more greedy, I can't see the Cougars rejoining a non-Power 5 conference any time soon. BYU would certainly be open to opportunities in a Power 5 conference, if any became apparent.
N&A: BYU was one of three independent programs to shift future dates around to get Liberty on the schedule after the Flames began transitioning to the FBS ranks in 2017. Is BYU’s scheduling philosophy geared toward helping fellow independents, and do you see the Cougars and Flames extending the series beyond the current home-and-home for this season and 2022?
JL: BYU definitely walks a fine line when it comes to scheduling. It often has four or five games against Power 5 opponents and then balances those out with matchups from non-Power 5 competition. The relationship with fellow independent programs has been limited but consistent. There were early games with Notre Dame, a series with New Mexico State and a series with UMass. On the other hand, BYU hasn't yet scheduled Army, which I think would be a prominent game for both teams. I think there is a distinct possibility that the Cougars and the Flames will have other games in the future but it's hard to know just how frequent those will be — not too mention the fact that there might be another shift in the landscape that could change everything.
N&A: The three quarterbacks who have started for BYU this season have put up some eye-popping numbers. How have the Cougars been so consistent with different signal callers?
JL: The first key was that all three are quite talented and were ready for their opportunities. The starter in 2019, sophomore Zach Wilson, had some impressive showings as BYU finished strong in 2018. His backup, freshman Jaren Hall, got a little bit of playing time but then got the majority of the reps in spring when Wilson was recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Baylor Romney, who was the No. 3 guy, also benefited from additional reps during the spring and fall camps due to Wilson being limited. Perhaps the biggest factor, however, is that the BYU offense had enough versatility built into it that the Cougars can utilize the strengths of each quarterback while still doing the same basic concepts. There hasn't been a need to start over each time a new QB has started taking snaps.
N&A: Flames coach Hugh Freeze raved about the length of BYU’s linebackers and how disruptive they can be in the passing lanes. How has that group, with so many underclassmen, been able to flourish in the defense?
JL: There has definitely been ups and downs for the Cougar defense as a whole and specifically for the young BYU linebacking corps during the season. Their length and athleticism as well as a drop-8 coverage scheme has resulted in the Cougar linebackers intercepting a number of passes. On the other hand, BYU has been susceptible to rushing attacks this year (No. 113 in the nation against the run) because the youthful Cougars have had a tough time getting in the right gaps and shedding blocks. The last two games have shown some improvements in that area but this defense still has a long ways to go to be as consistent as it wants to be in both stopping the run and the pass.
N&A: What are your keys for BYU to defeat Liberty and extend its winning streak to three games?
JL: I think there are three keys for the Cougars this weekend:
1. Stay hungry
BYU was able to play with a lot of emotion in regional rivalry wins over Boise State and Utah State, both of which beat the Cougars in the last two seasons. The Flames, however, come to Provo without the same history or rivalry connotations. There is definitely a chance that BYU has a letdown and Liberty is plenty good enough to make the Cougars pay for it if they do.
2. Don't let Stephen Buckshot Calvert get comfortable
I imagine that Calvert is seeing the film of BYU only rushing three defenders and is pretty confident that he can find holes in the Cougars defense. He is a savvy quarterback who isn't easily confused, so BYU has to do things to not allow him to get in a rhythm. If he settles in and feels at ease, he's going to find ways to keep the chains moving and put points on the board.
3. Maintain offensive consistency
In the last couple of games, BYU's offense has been much more balanced with the run and pass game success with fewer costly mistakes. I think the Cougar offense will continue to play well but if it goes through droughts, the Flames could take the opportunity to seize the momentum.
N&A: This matchup marks the Liberty football program’s first trip to Utah. Do you have any recommendations for local restaurants or bars visiting fans won’t be able to find anywhere else? Do you have any suggestions for things to do in the area?
JL: Utah's reputation for lacking places to get alcohol isn't really deserved any more, since it is available — although I don't know if any bars in Provo fall into the "must-visit" category. Long-time local pizza joint Brick Oven is near campus and is always a local favorite. Downtown Provo has a wide variety of dining options, including really good ice cream at Rockwell Ice Cream. Those willing to go a little further afield might want to hit the casual fare at Bam Bam's BBQ in Orem a couple miles west of the stadium or see how much of the delicious meat skewers they can devour at Tucanos Brazilian Grill a couple of miles to the north.
As far as things to do, the weather is supposed to be excellent for early November so I would definitely recommend checking the nearby mountains and canyons. There are some great day hikes that a visitor could enjoy in the morning before heading to the game in the late afternoon.