Wedged between BYU's two biggest rivals the Cougars play at Utah State next Friday the encounter with Middle Tennessee could be considered a trap game for BYU, except that the wildly inconsistent Cougars are not good enough to look past anybody, and they know it.
"I feel comfortable speaking for the team that that is not the case," said quarterback Taysom Hill, target of much early-season criticism because of his woeful passing efficiency rating, last in the country, and his 35.1 completion percentage. "We are all competitors. We all want to win, and it is like, offensively, we feel like we have something to prove, whether we play Middle Tennessee or whether we play Utah or Texas or whoever it is. We are going to show up."
The Blue Raiders, who own wins over Western Carolina, Memphis and Florida Atlantic to go with a 40-20 loss at North Carolina, will certainly show up as well. They talked Monday about being ready to pull off a monumental upset as three-touchdown underdogs.
"It's a great opportunity for us," said coach Rick Stockstill. "I told our guys this is the best team we've played so far this year. … Nobody thinks we can win it but us."
To a man, BYU coaches and players said during media availability Monday and Tuesday that the Blue Raiders are fast and athletic, with as much team speed, if not more, than Utah and Texas. They are especially impressed with junior running back and kick returner Reggie Whatley, a 5-foot-7, 167-pound lightning bug who rushed for 154 yards and three touchdowns in last week's 42-35 overtime win over Florida Atlantic.
"He might be the fastest guy we see all year," said BYU linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga. "Very athletic, kind of a jitterbug, scatback guy … We cannot sleep against these guys. They are coming in here to find a win. We need to fight right back at them. If we are licking our [wounds] from Saturday, they are going to take it to us."
Middle Tennessee's Logan Kilgore will be the most experienced quarterback the Cougars will see this year as well; the four-year starter from Rocklin, Calif., has thrown for 5,921 career yards.
"They look like a tough team," said BYU running back and kick returner Adam Hine. "They look like they are going to give us a good run for our money."
Hine and fellow running backs Paul Lasike and Michael Alisa will likely see their roles expanded because sophomore Jamaal Williams, who suffered a concussion and severe stinger against Utah, most likely will not play.
"They appear to be a smaller school on paper, but they have got guys with really good speed," BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae said of Middle Tennessee's defense. "They are capable of beating us. … We are preparing for a very fast, very good, opponent."
Middle Tennessee at BYU
O At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Kickoff • Friday, 7 p.m.
TV • ESPNU. Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 1-2, Middle Tennessee 3-1
Series history • First meeting
About the Blue Raiders • This is only their second game in the state of Utah. They lost at Utah State in 2003. … They are 7-1 in their last eight games, and have gone 3-0 in those games decided by a field goal or less. … RB Jordan Parker has rushed for 100 or more yards six times in his last eight games. … QB Logan Kilgore has throw for 5,921 yards in his career, fourth-most in school history.
About the Cougars • They will make a return visit to play Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro in 2014. … They are averaging 306.7 yards of rushing offense and just 188 yards of passing offense per game. … They have allowed just eight rushing touchdowns in their last 15 games, ranking No. 3 nationally for fewest allowed over that time period. .. They will play another Friday game next week when they travel to Logan to take on Utah State.