COUGAR TRACKS

BYU vs. Kansas: Game Day Preview Plus Score Prediction

Sep 22, 2023, 8:14 PM | Updated: 8:14 pm

LAWRENCE, Kan. – BYU vs Kansas in football is taking place for only the second meeting all-time.

The first matchup was in the 1992 Aloha Bowl in Hawaii. A 23-20 victory for Kansas after BYU missed three field goal attempts.  

Over thirty years later, BYU and Kansas square off as Big 12 foes.

Saturday’s game is the first-ever Big 12 Conference game for the BYU football program. The Cougars officially joined the league on July 1, 2023. They were invited to the conference back in 2021.

Over the past two years, they’ve been ramping up to prepare for this inaugural Big 12 schedule.

BYU and Kansas both come into the game with perfect records. Each team was 3-0, coming out of non-conference action.

BYU vs Kansas

Location: David Booth Memorial Stadium

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

TV: ESPN

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM) — Extended pregame begins from Lawrence at 9 a.m.

It’s time for the 3-2-1 game preview for BYU’s week four matchup and Big 12 lid-lifter against the Kansas Jayhawks.

Three Game Day Thoughts

#1 Kansas is better than Arkansas, but I’m still unsure if they are 10 points better

Last week, BYU pulled off an upset victory over Arkansas. It was a 38-31 victory for the Cougars as they roared back from multiple double-digit deficits.

No prognostications are buying into that win for BYU. It’s fair, as BYU was outgained in many statistics last week, yet they still came away with the win.

So they come into the Big 12 opener as a sizable underdog. Some projections have Kansas favored as many as 10 points.

Kansas is a far more efficient team than Arkansas. They’ve only punted four times this season. So, finding ways to come up with stops will be critical for BYU. 

QB Jalon Daniels and RB Devin Neal lead the way for Kansas. 

BYU will have its hands full trying to stop them. But if they can get a four-man rush as they did last week, that should bode well for BYU’s chances of preventing Daniels from going wild in this game.

#2 BYU safety depth is getting thin

The one position that has been hit hard by injuries for BYU is at safety. During a fall camp scrimmage, Starter Micah Harper went down with a torn ACL.

Then, his replacement, Talan Alfrey, suffered an injury days later in camp.

From there, walk-on Utah State transfer Crew Wakley suffered an apparent head injury against Arkansas.

Wakley was the starter for the Arkansas game but lasted only one snap. Malik Moore, who entered the season as the season, stepped in to replace him but was immediately pulled after BYU gave up a big touchdown run on the opening defensive series.

BYU continues to roll with Ethan Slade at strong safety. Then the starter at free safety this week is fellow walk-on Tanner Wall.

We highlighted Wall as a potential walk-on to watch in this program two years ago as someone to watch. But that was as a wide receiver. Wall made the switch to safety this season and has embraced the role.

If any injuries happen to the top two, other options include freshman returned missionary Raider Damuni and redshirt freshman Preston Rex.

#3 Time for a breakout game on the ground for BYU’s running backs

Kansas has a defense that is currently No. 1 in HAVOC rate. They’ve exceeded everyone’s expectations with a revamped defensive front.

It’s a tall order for BYU to face, but there are opportunities to attack. BYU is the best offense that Kansas has gone up against this season.

This feels like the week for a big game from BYU on the ground. LJ Martin had a 45-yard touchdown run, but aside from that, there wasn’t much to write home about.

It starts up front. BYU offensive tackle Caleb Etienne has taken his lumps this season, but in stretches last week, he showed flashes of his immense potential. Kingsley Suamataia had the best game he’s put together this season. Then, the interior stepped up as well.

Look for Martin and Deion Smith to put together BYU’s highest rush yards total they’ve had in a game this season.

Two BYU vs Kansas Questions

#1 How will BYU fare against the Kansas running backs?

BYU is 40th nationally in stopping the run this season. That’s a significant improvement from last year, where they were in the bottom 30 in the nation.

This week will be the toughest test to see how BYU fares against the run.

Kansas boasts a one-two running back tandem with star Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw Jr. 

Both backs are averaging better than seven yards per carry. Neal leads the way with 7.6. He’s rushed for 303 yards in the season’s first three games.

BYU’s defensive line has done a nice job so far this season. Defensive end Tyler Batty had the best game of his career last week with a nine tackle performance, 1.5 sacks, along with forcing a fumble and recovering one. That earned him Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors this week.

Batty leads the way and he will need another big performance.

Boise State transfer Isaiah Bagnah had the best game of his season last week. Then Blake Mangelson continues to emerge as one of the top defensive ends in the program. 

Jackson Cravens has been the best interior linemen for BYU this season. The entire defensive line will have to come up in a significant way to contain Neal.

BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill pointed out Neal as someone who stands out this week. There was a lot of praise given to Neal by Hill as he could be a potential NFL draft pick next April. 

If BYU can force Kansas to become one-dimensional, they can pull off the upset. But if Neal and Hishaw have success early, it could be a long day for the Cougars.

#2 Will BYU’s receivers create separation against the Kansas secondary?

BYU felt better about the prospects of their receivers compared to years past having success against secondaries that run press coverage. The reason, BYU’s defense incorporates that a lot in practice, so they were consistently being tested by that style of play.

The practice did not make perfect last week at Arkansas. BYU’s receivers struggled to create separation against the tall, athletic Hogs secondary.

The opposing secondary doesn’t get any easier as BYU faces one of the best DBs in the Big 12, Cobee Bryant. Kansas also has Mello Dotson and Kwinton Lassiter.

Lassiter, of course, is the brother of BYU wide receiver Darius Lassiter

Last week, BYU’s receivers finished with six receptions for 95 yards. That number has to go up this week as BYU continues to look for more production on deep passes heading into week four.

One Score Prediction for BYU vs Kansas

This whole week, I’ve felt that Kansas would win this game. I even gave a prediction to a Kansas outlet that the Jayhawks would win by a touchdown.

As game day is here, my feelings have changed. I’m going with BYU. Call it a Pat McAfee-esque gut feeling but I see the Cougs pulling off the upset.

Kansas defense has improved dramatically this year, but BYU’s offense has been efficient in the moments they get.

I expect that BYU’s defense or special teams will create a short field or two for Aaron Roderick’s offense and they will capitalize as they have made the most of their opportunities this season.

BYU escapes Lawrence with a close win to kick off its Big 12 schedule in a high-scoring game.

BYU 41, Kansas 38

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 Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU vs. Kansas: Game Day Preview Plus Score Prediction