It’s hard to accurately articulate just how important Saturday’s game with the San Jose Spartans is for the BYU Cougars, but in an already lost season, it is an absolute MUST-WIN.
And let’s be clear, I am not trying to blow up a meaningless game to give it some over-inflated importance. After all, that would be really difficult to do for a matchup between two 1-7 teams struggling to find any identity on either side of the ball.
The reason this game is must-win, is two-fold – The Cougars have two remaining home games on the schedule to show fans that they are making progress, and the other is it would be one of the worst home losses in the last 60 years.
I know that the loss to the East Carolina Pirates was BAD, but at least it was on the road on the other side of the country. But losing at home to a 1-7 team that has already been destroyed by rivals Utah and Utah State would be on a whole other level.
The Spartans come to Provo on a five-game losing streak, including some really painful outcomes. They lost by 51 to Utah State at home while totaling just 162 yards of offense and coughing the ball up five times.
A week later, they lost by four touchdowns to UNLV while allowing 548 yards of offense. We aren’t talking about a good UNLV team either. The Rebels are 2-5 on the season with their only other win coming against a 2-5 Idaho team.
On top of those painful setbacks, the Spartans struggle in just about every facet of the game. They are 74th in the nation in passing yards, 114th in rushing yards at 117.3 per game, 122nd in points per game and 127th in points allowed.
Now none of that means that the Cougars are guaranteed a win. They will need to come up big in some key areas if they hope to get back in the win column.
1. Win the turnover battle
It seems obvious, but the Cougars really have to force turnovers against a team that turns the ball over a ton. The Spartans have 26 turnovers in eight games with just 10 takeaways.
2. Play penalty free football
The Cougars haven’t been terrible in this department, but did struggle against East Carolina with eight infractions that cost them 69 yards..
As for the Spartans, they have had a horrible time with penalties all season long. They have committed at least six penalties every game for at least 50 yards. BYU really needs to take advantage of those Spartan miscues on both sides of the ball, to help the defense get off the field and to help move the chains on offense.
3. Run the football
This might be easier said than done with leading rusher Ula Tolutau’s status up in the air, but the Cougars really need to attack the Spartans on the ground.
The San Jose State defense has been susceptible to the run all season long giving up 278.3 yards a game, including four game of more than 300 yards.
While the running game hasn’t been a strong suit for the Cougars on the season – 127th in the nation with 89.6 yards per game – the recent return of KJ Hall should help get the ground game moving against a team that has really struggled to stop the run.
If the Cougars can come out on top in these three areas they will have a really good chance of snapping their seven-game losing streak and earning their first win of the season against a FBS opponent.