Saturday’s game between BYU (4-4) and Liberty (6-3) will mark the first game in the series between both independent programs. The two teams are scheduled to meet again in 2022 with the Cougars taking a return trip out to Lynchburg, Virginia.
The game will also mark BYU’s first home game of the season that the Cougars won’t be facing a ranked opponent inside LaVell Edwards Stadium after taking on then-No. 14 Utah, then-No. 24 USC, then-No. 22 Washington and then-No. 14 Boise State.
This is BYU's 5th home game this year and
FIRST one vs a foe that is not ranked
Utah was #14
USC was #24
Washington was #22
Boise St was #14
Liberty is not ranked
— Phil Steele (@philsteele042) November 4, 2019
It’s been arguably the best home schedule in BYU football history and a big reason why the Cougars have played the 12th toughest schedule so far this year.
BYU is coming off a huge 42-14 victory over Utah State, snapping a two-game losing streak in the series as the Cougars brought back the Old Wagon Wheel to Provo, Utah. The Cougar defense forced a season-high five turnovers and thanks to 639 yards of total offense — including a season-high 418 yards through the air — BYU walked out with a statement win on the road.
But don’t sleep on Liberty.
Now in its second season at the FBS level — and coached by former Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze — the Flames are 6-3 and have won six of its last seven games.
Liberty is coming off a 63-21 road victory over UMass and set a new program record for most total offensive yards in a game (730 yards). Quarterback Stephen Calvert threw 474 yards and four touchdowns and running back Frankie Hickson rushed for 99 yards and three touchdowns in the win for the Flames.
Date: Saturday, November 9
Time: 5:30 p.m. MT
Announcers: Mike Corey (play-by-play), Rene Ingoglia (analyst)
Location: LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,470) — Provo, Utah
The Spread: BYU -17
Money Line: BYU -900, Liberty +600
After going up against Jordan Love and pass-happy Utah State last week, the Cougars secondary will be going up against a Liberty team that loves to throw the ball just as much.
Calvert comes in averaging 293 yards per game through the air and has 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions on the year. Last week, the senior bested his own school record of 447 passing yards against Baylor with 474 yards and four touchdowns to extend his school record for career passing yards (11,000) and touchdowns (85).
Calvert’s top target has been 6-foot-4 senior Antonio Gandy-Golden, who leads the team with 54 catches for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. With his six catches last week, Gandy-Golden is now tied with Darrin Peterson (2012-15) for the school’s all-time career receptions leader (215).
Despite beating Utah State by four touchdowns, the BYU defense did give up over 500 yards of total offense to the Aggies. I’m expecting another three-man rush performance by the Cougars in the bend-but-don’t break defense. While the defense tends to give up a lot of yards, it hasn’t translated into a lot of points for opposing offenses as the Cougars rank 65th nationally in scoring defense (27.8 points).
On the other side of the ball, the Cougars are coming off its highest scoring game of the season, despite having a number of key players out with injuries. A number of underclassmen have stepped up for the Cougars, including running back Sione Finau and quarterbacks Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney.
Hall and Romney have combined for 905 yards and five touchdowns, completed 63% of their passes and have rushed for 162 yards and three touchdowns over the last three games since starter Zach Wilson went down with an injury. Finau has rushed for 188 yards and a touchdown and is averaging a team-high 5.7 yards per carry for the Cougars. This has opened up the passing game more which has allowed Hall and Romney to hit on a number of big plays.
One of the biggest questions heading into Saturday’s game is who is going to get the start under center for BYU after Hall sat out the second half against Utah State due to concussion-like symptoms.
With Wilson likely out for another week and with the team staying cautious on Hall, Romney looks to be the starter against the Flames. Reports out of practice say that Wilson is getting closer to returning and had his cast on his right hand removed last week which allowed him to start throwing again. Wilson was back on the depth chart for the first time since his injury on Sept. 28, but coaches said his status for Saturday’s game is “between questionable and doubtful.”
With all three quarterbacks starting games this season, it marks the second time in three years that the Cougars have had to play at least three quarterbacks. Luckily for Liberty, the Flames have been on the opposite side of things, with quarterback Stephen Calvert set to make his 40th consecutive start on Saturday. However, no matter who starts for the Cougars, the team should be able to put up a ton of points against a mediocre Flames defense.
Playing Time: Senior defensive backs Troy Warner and Chris Wilcox are expected to get some playing time soon. The plan from coaches is to get both players in three of the Cougars’ final four regular-season games, as well as a bowl game. That would keep both players within the four-game redshirt rule and allow them to keep their current eligibility heading into next year.
The Series: BYU and Liberty are playing for the first time. The two teams are scheduled to meet again in 2022, with the Cougars traveling to Lynchburg, Virginia for the return game.
Independence: This is the first meeting against another independent school for BYU this season. The Cougars will face its second independent school of the season next week when BYU hosts Idaho State on Senior Day.
100: Lopini Katoa had his first 100-yard receiving game with four receptions for 129 yards at Utah State. It was the fourth 100-yard game by a BYU player this season (Micah Simon, Aleva Hifo, Matt Bushman).
400: BYU had 418 passing yards against Utah State last week — the most in three years. The last time the Cougars threw for more than 400 passing yards was against Southern Utah (441 yards) in 2016. The last time it happened against an FBS opponent was against Houston (417 yards) in 2013.
Prediction: BYU 43, Liberty 17
Both teams come into Saturday’s game feeling pretty good after coming off season-high performances in total offense and points scored. The game might be close at halftime, but the Cougars will pull away in the second half and cruise to the victory.
Liberty has several skill players that will make some big plays, however, the defense will force a couple of turnovers to keep the Flames in check as the Cougars coast to what should be a blowout victory. It will be interesting to see if the coaching staff continues to have fun and open up the playbook like they did against Boise State and Utah State, or if they go back to being vanilla like they did in games against Toledo and South Florida.
BYU is currently a 17-point favorite over Liberty with the over/under set at 58.5. When the first lines came out, the Cougars were 20-point favorites and the over/under was at 55. The Cougars are 4-1 against the spread in its last five games and Liberty has failed to cover in eight of its last 11 games.