BYU (4-4) at Middle Tennessee (5-3) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Floyd Stadium (30,788) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: BYU 2-2, MT 4-0. Away Record: BYU 2-2, MT 1-3. Neutral Record: BYU 0-0, MT 0-0. Conference Record: BYU 0-0, MT 4-1. Series Record: BYU leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The BYU Cougars hope to stop their downward spiral this weekend as they clash with the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at Floyd Stadium.
Since losing quarterback Taysom Hill to a season-ending injury, the Cougars have been fighting an uphill battle and now find themselves sitting at .500, that after starting off the 2014 campaign with four straight victories and being nationally ranked.
Last week, BYU paid a visit to Idaho to face the Boise State Broncos and was beaten down in a 55-30 final.
Meanwhile, the Blue Raiders have had trouble finding consistency from one week to the next. The team is 5-3 overall, and yet an impressive 4-1 in Conference USA action, which places it second in the East Division standings behind only Marshall which is nationally ranked and one of the last undefeated teams in the FBS.
Middle Tennessee has been idle since Oct. 18 when it captured a 34-22 victory over UAB at home, the third win in the last four games overall for the program.
The Cougars won the only previous meeting between the programs, a 37-10 final in Provo last season.
Last Friday night at Albertsons Stadium, the Cougars fell behind by 20 points early in the second quarter and were then trailing 41-16 at the break against a superior Boise State group that is finally gaining some control to the season. BYU finished with just 322 yards, which pales in comparison to the 637 yards the defense allowed the hosts.
Christian Stewart, who is now the starting quarterback for the Cougars, completed 23-of-38 passes for 259 yards and a score, but was intercepted once and sacked three times by the Broncos. Colby Pearson turned five catches into 109 yards and a score, while Stewart and Jamaal Williams both made it into the end zone on the ground.
Bronson Kaufusi finished in a tie for third in total tackles for the Cougars with seven, while also being the only player with a solo sack for the visitors.
Through eight games, of which he has missed two, Kaufusi is tied with Alani Fua for the team lead in sacks with three and has matched Zac Stout in tackles for loss with 6.5. Craig Bills and Skye Povey head the overall tackles list with 47 and 46 stops, respectively, each also notching one of the unit's six interceptions.
With the downturn of results in the last month, the Cougars are also facing the fact that they are not as disciplined as they need to be, averaging 9.4 penalties per game to rank 120th in the country. The secondary is also in need of work, permitting 305.5 ypg through the air, which means the Cougars are 117th in the FBS in that department.
In an attempt to fill some very big shoes, Stewart has completed 56.3 percent of his attempts for 165.3 ypg and eight TDs, but he has also tossed five picks. Averaging a mere 2.4 yards per rushing attempt is also a clear sign that Stewart is far from what Hill was bringing to the table for the BYU offense.
One of the more balanced offenses in the nation these days, of the 461.5 ypg the Blue Raiders are putting up on the average, 218.3 ypg comes from the rushing attack and the remaining 243.3 ypg through the air, the latter courtesy of Austin Grammer who has taken nearly every snap for the program through eight games. Grammer is hitting his targets at a 67.4 percent clip, leading to 11 TDs and five INTs.
Grammer has targeted Ed'Marques Batties more than anyone else, the receiver coming up with 29 catches for 307 yards, but he has landed in the end zone only once. Marcus Henry is not far behind with his 26 grabs for a team-best 360 yards, and he is tied for the team lead in TD receptions with three.
Middle Tennessee is keeping the ball on the ground to do even more damage on the scoreboard, with ball carriers coming up with 24 touchdowns, twice the number of the competition. Averaging seven yards per attempt, Reggie Whatley has produced 522 yards and four TDs, while Shane Tucker, who has three receiving TDs, is also first with six scores on the ground.
Unfortunately, as well as the MT offense performs, the defense is not quite up to par. With four games remaining, the Blue Raiders rank 107th in the country with 464.0 ypg allowed, of that 284.1 ypg (112th) comes over the top and that's why the group is permitting a lofty 31.9 ppg.
T.T. Barber leads the Raiders with 56 tackles and is second on the unit with two interceptions, while Kevin Byard has proven to be a true ball hawk with his five picks, not to mention a forced fumble and a blocked kick.
Enduring several key injuries and being on the road yet again this week, the Cougars will have their hands full trying to slow down the Middle Tennessee running game. However, as long as the offensive line can give Stewart enough protection and the quarterback doesn't gamble too much, this is still a game that BYU can pull out.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: BYU 38, Middle Tennessee 27Game Date and Time
Saturday, November 1, 3:30 p.m. (ET).