Not many college football teams in 2019 have had as many crazy momentum swings as BYU.
For starters, the Cougars were dominated at home against Pac-12 Conference powers Utah and Washington, and suffered frustrating nailbiting loses on the road to Toledo and South Florida. On the flip side, BYU earned victories in Provo over a pair of top 25 teams in USC — the Trojans were ranked at the time and are receiving votes now — and Boise State, plus rallied on the road to stun Tennessee in double overtime.
In their last game, the Cougars were rock solid on both sides of the ball in their 28-25 triumph over then-No. 14 Boise State at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Baylor Romney, the third starting quarterback BYU has used this season, threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns, vs. no interceptions.
"We have some momentum going forward and I think (my team has) been able to respond to some new guys getting the opportunity to play," BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said at his weekly press conference. "I've been really impressed with the depth. You hate testing your depth, but you know going into the season that you'll be tested in different spots, and I've been impressed with the coaches and the way they've been able to organize a game plan."
Indeed, the Cougars (3-4) have been pretty resilient and have displayed some pretty solid depth this fall. Case in point: Ten different Cougars have started on the defensive line, plus six different starters at linebacker and safety. BYU has also dealt with its fair share of injuries in the offensive trenches and at running back, in addition to the QB spot.
Starting signal caller Zach Wilson broke his right thumb late in the fourth quarter against Toledo, and is "doubtful," Sitake said, to play this Saturday against Utah State. Second-stringer Jaren Hall started against USF before exiting in the fourth quarter due to concussion protocol.
Hall, who also competes on BYU's baseball team, has been cleared to play against the Aggies. As of Thursday, it was uncertain whether Hall or Romney would get the start against the USU. Romney and Hall, who is by far a bigger running threat than his fellow backup, have yet to throw an INT this season.
"It'll be about competition and seeing who gives us the best opportunity to win; that's what it comes down to," Sitake said. "We'll be practicing and they'll both get turns (with) the one's and two's, so we'll see who can make their group function better."
USU head coach Gary Andersen isn't going to fret too much over which Cougar quarterback his team will be facing Saturday night at Maverik Stadium.
"It doesn't really change it that much, honestly," Andersen said. "... The quarterbacks have won. They'll be in a position to play games and win games, so the (BYU) offense isn't going to say, 'Hey, we're going to drastically change because this guy's playing or that guy's playing.' Whoever they put out there is a quarterback has been able to successfully move the offense."
Regardless of what signal caller is running BYU's offense, he will have some experienced weapons at his disposal. Five different Cougars have between 218-398 receiving yards this fall, and three of them are seniors, plus star tight end Matt Bushman is a three-year starter as a junior.
Bushman currently leads BYU in receptions (28), yards (398) and receiving touchdowns (three). The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder had two of those TDs against Boise State — one on a flea flicker and the other on a clever fourth-and-one play. The junior was named the John Mackey Tight End of the Week after snaring five catches for 101 yards in that contest.
Bushman's backup is former Mountain Crest High standout Moroni Laulu-Pututau, who has persevered through a few major injuries during his collegiate career. The senior has five catches for 63 yards this season.
Senior wide receivers Aleva Hifo and Micah Simons have combined for 605 receiving yards and three TDs this season, while senior Talon Shumway and sophomore Gunner Romney have chipped in with more than 217 yards apiece.
South Carolina graduate transfer Ty'Son Williams was having a stellar season at running back for BYU, but blew out his knee against Washington. No other Cougar has rushed for more than 184 yards in '19, although freshman Sione Finau did have a 45-yard scoring scamper against BSU.
Defensively, the Cougars have been stingy against the pass as they currently rank 29th among all FBS programs in passing defense (188.0 yards per game) and have only given up 12 receptions of 20 or more yards. Additionally, seven different Cougars have teamed up to intercept nine passes. BYU ranks 15th nationally with its nine INTs, and the Cougars have a strong turnover margin of plus-five.
BYU's best defensive player has arguably been senior Dayan Ghanwoloku, who recently moved from cornerback to safety. Ghanwoloku is the team's second-leading tackler with 40 and has recovered an impressive six fumbles during his time in Provo.
"I love being back there (at safety) because I can see the whole defense and it's just exciting, especially having coach (Preston) Hadley as a position coach again," Ghanwoloku said. "He puts me at that level where I can understand film and watch a little more film to understand the defensive scheme and what they run. That's helped me out with my personal goals and I also think it's helping the team out to have me at safety."
Conversely, BYU has struggled to defend the run as it ranks 121st nationally in rush defense (217.3 ypg), although it did a respectable job against the Broncos. A potent BSU ground attack gained 174 yards on 40 attempts in that game.
The Cougars have a solid group of linebackers, led by junior Kavika Fonua, who paces his squad with 56 tackles. Fonua has also forced a fumble and picked off a pass. Sophomore linebacker Chaz Ah You leads BYU with 4.5 tackles for loss.
BYU's linebackers have accounted for eight of the team's nine INTs, and a tipped pass by a LB set up Ghanwoloku's game-sealing interception against USC in overtime. Brothers Isaiah and Jackson Kaufusi each picked off a pass against BSU as BYU won the turnover battle in that game, 2-0.
BYU's defense has only managed seven sacks this season, but did get two against Boise State. Senior Khyiris Tonga is an imposing physical presence and a legitimate NFL prospect as a 6-4, 321-pound nose guard.
"Defensively, they're what you'd expect — a physical, strong, experienced mature group of guys who handle what they're told to do very well," Andersen said. "They work 11 strong as far as working within their zone structures, their zone drops and their run fits. They're very disciplined in those spots. ... There's just not a lot of mistakes (by that defense), which is what you'd expect and you like to see if you're a defensive coordinator."
BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki has dropped eight players in coverage quite frequently this season, and "if you can't beat it, then you'll have a problem," Andersen asserted.
The Cougars have been pretty reliable on special teams in '19. Kicker Jake Oldroyd got off to an outstanding start, but has faltered a bit as of late. Nevertheless, the sophomore has still been successful on 13 of 18 field goal attempts this fall, plus has averaged 44.7 yards on his 24 punts.
Hifo has averaged an impressive 18.33 yards on his six punt returns. The senior had a 45-yard return against Toledo.
BYU hasn't blocked a punt or kick so far this season, but hasn't allowed any of them as well.