Cougars look to rebound after tough loss by taking on Blue Raiders

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Jordan Parker, MIddle Tennessee running back. (Photo by Bradley Lambert, MT Athletic Communications)

Running back Jordan Parker averages more than five yards per carry for Middle Tennessee this season. (Photo by Bradley Lambert, MT Athletic Communications)

The BYU players and coaches are more than happy to have a short week to leave the Utah game in the dust and focus on Friday’s home game against Middle Tennessee.

After a lackluster performance against the Utes, where the Cougars scored 13 of a possible 35 red zone points, the focus on the upcoming game did not waver and coach Bronco Mendenhall said the fire in his team’s eyes to get back on the winning side has been commendable.

“We were very disappointed after the loss,” Mendenhall said. “But I think our best medicine is to have a game one day earlier than we normally play and be forced to get right back to work. I was impressed with their practice habits and their resiliency.”

Despite the 1-2 start, BYU still presents several challenges to defenses who try to attack the up-tempo offense. BYU ranks first in the nation in plays per game, with 98.1, as well as challenging defenses in the running game, as every player in the backfield has proven to be able to break a big run. Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said the Cougar running game is a challenge the Blue Raiders will need to be prepared to face.

“There’s the power game with both the running backs and the quarterback,” Stockstill said. “Their quarterback (Taysom Hill) is a very dynamic runner. Whenever there’s a quarterback as effective at running the ball as him, it adds another element to your offense.”

BYU running back Jamaal Williams, who suffered a concussion and a severe stinger in the Utah game, is listed as day-to-day and his status for the upcoming game is uncertain. Williams is averaging 126 yards rushing per game, while Hill averages 133 on the ground, both ranking in the top 25 in the nation.

Middle Tennessee enters the game with a 3-1 record on the season, beating Western Carolina, Memphis and Florida Atlantic, but losing to North Carolina. The Blue Raiders have their own potent rushing attack, as their two primary running backs — Jordan Parker and Reggie Whatley — each average at least five yards per carry. Whatley gave a 154-yard, three touchdown performance against Florida Atlantic. Tyler Beck, who replaced Spencer Hadley following the Hadley’s suspension, said Middle Tennessee is better than the odds show.

“They have some great athletes,” Beck said. “They have two running backs that are pretty good. They run a lot of the same things, some of the rides and zones that we have seen. We’ll be ready.”

Even though the Cougars have dropped two games in their toughest schedule to date, Mendenhall said he still believes BYU is one of the top programs in the country and looks forward to that manifestation on the field.

“I think that we are one of the best in the country, at least if you consider top-25 consistency,” he said. “I’m not setting off any flares of hitting the panic button. We’ve been here before at 1-2 and have yet to be excluded from a bowl game and we always just find a way to be resilient and win.”

The game will kick off  at 7 p.m. on Friday and will be televised on ESPNU.

Reggie Whatley, Middle Tennessee running back. (Photo by Bradley Lambert, MT Athletic Communications)

Reggie Whatley rushed for 154 yards and three touchdowns against Florida Atlantic this season. (Photo by Bradley Lambert, MT Athletic Communications)

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Scott Hansen is covering BYU football for the second straight season. He covered the football team last year for The Universe, BYU's student-run paper. He also has covered the men's basketball team and spent this summer in Brooklyn, N.Y. covering the Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league baseball team. He is a senior at BYU majoring in journalism.

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