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Three Storylines That Could Determine Winner Of BYU/Liberty Game

Oct 21, 2022, 12:45 PM
BYU/Liberty, Defense, Max Tooley...
Will the BYU defense stop Liberty on third downs? That's a big storyline entering Saturday's matchup. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – Who would have thought BYU/Liberty would feel like a big game? It’s not a big game within the national college football conversation for week eight, but this game has a lot at stake for BYU and Liberty.

For Liberty they are fulfilling the vision of its founder Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr. He once hoped to have his university line up against schools like BYU.

The magnitude of this game for BYU is entirely different. After allowing 644 yards to Arkansas last week, BYU’s defense is under the microscope heading into the faith-based matchup.

How much “faith” does Kalani Sitake have in embattled defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki? All signs point to changes this week, whether Kalani Sitake calling the defense, personnel in new spots, or position coaches coaching different groups. After what felt like a bottoming-out performance last week against the Hogs, something has to give.

So yes, this is a big game. Here are three storylines that could determine the winner of this intriguing matchup.

#1 BYU’s defense on third downs

BYU’s opponents have converted 23-of-31 third down attempts in the past two weeks. That’s good for a 74% conversion rate. But, with expected changes on the defensive side this week, will it lend itself to stops on third down?

Liberty is 114th nationally in third down conversion rate at 32%. If the Flames become successful on third down like Notre Dame and Arkansas were, it could be a long day on the mountainside in Lynchburg.

Players such as Max Tooley, Keenan Pili, and Tyler Batty have to lead the way for BYU to make stops on third down.

#2 Quarterback situation for Liberty

Former Baylor and Utah QB Charlie Brewer has practiced this week for the Flames as he continues to work his way back from a hand injury he suffered in week one. However, Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze didn’t come off overly optimistic about Brewer’s ability to make all the throws necessary for Liberty to try and pull off the upset against BYU.

Freeze was “hopeful” that Brewer would play against BYU.

BYU has a history with Brewer. They defeated him and Utah last year 26-17 in Provo. After that loss, Brewer started only one more game for the Utes before Cam Rising took over. Sending Brewer into the Transfer Portal.

Kaidon Selter is out with a groin injury, so if Brewer isn’t able to go, Liberty likely goes with Jonathan Bennett, who has three career starts at QB.

#3 BYU/Liberty: Time Of Possession

BYU is currently 117th in the nation in time of possession. That’s mainly due to the defense being unable to get off the field on third down. So in a game where BYU has questions on defense and Liberty has issues at quarterback and wide receiver, which team can eat up the clock and keep it on the ground? That might be the squad that ends up winning this ball game.

BYU has shown an ability on offense to be a quick strike attack, but when they get the ball, don’t be surprised if they turn to the ground more. BYU’s leading rusher Chris Brooks is gaining momentum in his play, and the Cougars get Lopini Katoa and Miles Davis back from injuries this week.

BYU vs. Liberty

Location: Williams Stadium (Lynchburg, Virginia)

Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. (MT)

TV: ESPNU

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM – Extended pregame begins at 11 a.m.)

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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Three Storylines That Could Determine Winner Of BYU/Liberty Game