No. 20 BYU (3-1) will face arguably its toughest test of the season on Saturday as the Cougars travel to take on No. 11 Washington (3-1) at Husky Stadium in a Saturday primetime game (6:30 p.m. MDT, FOX).
The Cougars will be looking for its third win on the road and its third win as a double-digit underdog. Washington comes in as a 17-point favorite over the Cougars which makes BYU a double-digit underdog in all of its road games so far this season (Arizona -14, Wisconsin -23, Washington -17).
While I expect Washington to squeak past BYU in a low scoring game on Saturday, the contest is going to be a lot closer than most people expect. Here’s why.
BYU has played one of the toughest schedules in the country heading into Saturday’s Top 25 showdown against the Huskies. Yet despite the tough schedule early on, BYU still sits with a 3-1 record with impressive victories over Wisconsin and Arizona on the road. And while some teams are loading up on cupcakes and padding their stats before conference play begins, BYU — and despite its daunting early schedule — still remains near the top in several statistical categories.
So far this year, the Cougar defense has held each of its opponents to less than 24 points per game. BYU ranks No. 23 overall in scoring defense (17.0 ppg) and No. 28 in total defense (328.3 ypg) despite facing some explosive offenses and high-profile players in Khalil Tate and Jonathan Taylor — who many expect to be in the Heisman Trophy race this year.
Playing at Camp Randall Stadium earlier this month against Wisconsin, BYU won’t be intimidated going up against a Washington team that many expect to be in contention for a playoff berth.
No. 20 BYU (3-1) at No. 11 Washington (3-1)
Date: Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018
Time: 6:30 p.m. MST
Location: Husky Stadium (70,138)
TV: FOX | Social Media: #BYUvsUW #GoCougs #GoHuskies
Commentators: Joe Davis (play-by-play), Brady Quinn (analyst), Bruce Feldman (sideline)
Why BYU Will Cover The Spread
The Huskies opened as 17-point favorites and have remained there. So how have teams played this year against the spread?
BYU sits at 3-1 against the spread with a pair of upsets on the road. Meanwhile, Washington is just 1-3 on this season. So where is the smart money going to side when the Cougars challenge the Huskies on Saturday in Seattle?
No question, I’m taking BYU and the points!
Let’s be clear, picking BYU to cover the spread does not mean that the Cougars are necessarily going to beat Washington, but means that BYU will keep the game closer than the current 17-point line indicates on Saturday.
Washington comes in averaging just 21.3 points per game against FBS opponents so far this year. And considering BYU’s defense is expected to be the second toughest the Huskies have faced so far this year, Washington will likely only put up around 20 points on Saturday. But with its stifling defense, 20 points may be enough to win at home over BYU.
And because of the way BYU plays on offense, with its slower pace and dominating time of possession, the Huskies won’t have as many opportunities on offense as it usually has against teams that play at a high-tempo pace.
Washington couldn’t cover the spread against North Dakota or Arizona State and is now heavily favored against a BYU team that is not fazed playing in big stadiums. The Huskies will likely win this game, but smart money takes the Cougars and the points.
Keys To The Game
Win The Turnover Battle
In every win this year, the Huskies have won the turnover battle. In their only loss, they lost the turnover battle. As for BYU, the Cougars are 2-1 when it wins the turnover battle.
So far this year, BYU’s defense has forced eight turnovers through the first four games, nabbing four interceptions and picking up four fumbles. The Cougars are now tied for No. 21 nationally with their eight takeaways. BYU checks in at No. 9 in the nation in turnover margin (+5). If BYU can create some turnovers, the Cougars will be in great shape to pull off another monumental victory on the road this season.
First To 100 Yards
Since the 1947, Washington is 213-66-3 (.760) when a Husky player rushes for over 100 yards in a game. Over the past three years, the Huskies are 14-1 in such games.
BYU using its running game to open up the pass and has made its living running the ball this year behind Squally Canada. The senior running back has five touchdowns on the year and ranks No. 12 nationally. Canada has been scoring in bunches, with three against Arizona and two against Wisconsin and looks to continue the road trend against Washington.
Protect The QB
The Cougar offensive line has allowed less than one sack per game (0.75) through the first four contests. BYU gave up two sacks to Cal in its home opener and just one at Wisconsin, while keeping Tanner Mangum clean against Arizona and McNeese.
By giving Mangum more time in the pocket to throw the ball this year, the Cougars have not turned the ball over as often as BYU has just three turnovers through the first four games, ranking No. 12 nationally. This same time last year, BYU had six in its first four games.
BYU is off to its best start since going 4-0 to start the season in 2014. It is just the third time in the last decade that the Cougars have won at least three of the first four games including the 2014 campaign. BYU got off to a 3-1 start in 2009 before finishing the season ranked No. 12 with a record of 11-2.
A win on Saturday for BYU would give the program two wins over Pac-12 schools in the same year. The last time that happened was back in 2008 when the Cougars defeated Washington (28-27) and UCLA (59-0).