The UAB Blazers (8-4, 6-2 C-USA) make their fifth program bowl appearance in this year’s Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl. Their opponent will be the No. 13 BYU Cougars (10-2, FBS Independent) who impressed many with five victories over Pac-12 opponents including victories over then-No. 21 Utah and then-No. 19 Arizona State. The internet even rallied behind the idea of the Cougars being the transitive Pac-12 champions thanks to Utah’s league title.
With an efficient offense generating the ninth-most yards per play (6.77) in FBS, the Cougars have high expectations for their own performance. Per DraftKings, BYU are favored by seven points heading into this contest with an over/under of 54.5 points.*
For more on this game and why BYU’s success this season, we dove into the Cougars’ strengths and weaknesses with Nick Lee, editor of SB Nation’s BYU community Vanquish The Foe, who was kind enough to chat with us a bit about Kalani Sitake’s squad.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Describe this BYU team in 5 words or less.
“Tenacious, tough, and resilient.”
Based on internet discourse, I take it this was not BYU’s preferred bowl situation. What was the preferred bowl situation?
“BYU fans, and most inside of the program, are very disappointed with how their bowl matchup turned out. No disrespect to UAB, but when you go 21-3 with two top-15 finishes in the last two years, you would like better than the Boca Raton Bowl last year and Independence Bowl this year. They should at least be playing a ranked opponent or a Power 5 foe. This season, BYU played seven Power 5 teams, going 6-1, including 5-0 against the PAC-12. They beat the PAC-12 champions in Utah and Mountain West champion Utah State. One of their two losses this year came against Baylor, who won the Big 12 and is headed to the Sugar Bowl. They have one of the strongest resumes in the country, yet they were left one spot short of a NY6 bowl, while watching Utah, who they beat, leapfrog them, knocking them down a slot short and play in the beloved Rose Bowl. Alas, this is one of the perils of BYU being independent. Once you lock into a bowl contract, ESPN isn’t required to move you off that bowl if you don’t make a New Year’s Six bowl. There was hope that BYU’s positive relationship with ESPN would’ve resulted in them slotting the Cougars in a different bowl for higher ratings and more revenue, but it didn’t happen. It’s honestly a shame that the No. 13 team in the country that basically played a Power 5 conference-level schedule gets relegated to Shreveport, LA against UAB after one of the best seasons in program history.”
What concerns you about this matchup with UAB?
“Something that jumps off the page immediately is their defense, which looks to be the best in C-USA. They are battle-tested, playing the likes of No. 3 Georgia and UTSA. BYU will try to run the ball and UAB has a tough run defense. Also, there is the motivation factor. I imagine UAB will be much more motivated to play in this game than BYU. This will be a stiff test for the BYU coaching staff, getting the Cougars ready and motivated to play in what many perceive as a disappointing bowl game destination and opponent. UAB running back DeWayne McBride put up huge numbers, and BYU is prone to allowing chunks of rushing yards. Any time there is a team with a solid defense playing a team that may be unmotivated, that could spell trouble.”
You’ve had a lot of praise for BYU running back Tyler Allgeier. What makes him such a fun story?
“Going from walk-on, and then switching to linebacker, only to return to running back and become a Doak Walker Award semifinalist and almost certain NFL Draft pick is an underdog story for the ages. The best part of Allgeier is his humility. You will never hear him talk about himself, as he is always quick to delfect praise. And then he goes on the field and sucks the whole soul and every ounce of joy out of every opponent with his brutal running style and complete disregard for his own health and safety. BYU has ran him ragged this year and he has answered the bell time and time again. Several times this year, BYU has needed one final drive to seal a win and Allgeier has been the man each time. He is the epitome of a one-man wrecking crew.”
Defensively, who are some names to watch for the Cougars on defense?
“Unfortunately, most of the marquee names on defense for BYU are on the shelf with various injuries. Defensive captain Keenan Pili went down early in the year with a torn ACL. Among those still able to play, safety Jakob Robinson was just named to the Freshman All-American team. Kaleb Hayes is another defensive back that has made a big impact, making some huge plays to seal the win against USC. Ben Bywater is a tackle machine at linebacker, making up for the loss of Pili.”
As of this Q&A, Kalani Sitake is still the Cougars’ head coach. What’s the feeling among the fan base in regards to keeping him around with some high profile coaching vacancies out there?
“BYU fans are certainly nervous. You might not find more of a players’ coach in the entire country than Sitake. He brings the fire and passion that is infectious and truly loves his players like his own sons. BYU’s head coach is a unique position, having to balance faith with football and dealing with a rigorous honor code at the school and Sitake has done it perfectly so far. He played at BYU under legendary coach LaVell Edwards and has been quoted saying he wants to be the ‘Polynesian LaVell Edwards’ in Provo. This is home to him. This is his dream job. That being said, if BYU can’t promise him a competitive wage heading into the Big 12 Conference era, along with the recruiting resources needed to match such competition, it’s not impossible that he would jump to a job where he feels more supported and set up for future success. Don’t let the cuddly, nice-guy persona fool you- he despises losing. I am confident he stays at BYU but it’s certainly a nervous time.”
What’s your prediction for this game?
“BYU is favored by eight points, which seems about right. UAB deserves some respect for having a solid defense and an eight-win season. I think this will be a close game. BYU will come out a bit sluggish, with the question of motivation. I respect BYU’s coaches too much to say they will completely lay an egg in this game. With the strength of Tyler Allgeier, Jaren Hall’s playmaking ability at quarterback, and a battle-tested defense, I am expecting BYU to win, but perhaps not cover. Let’s say somewhere in the range of 27-21, Cougars.”