Idaho State travels to Brigham Young University on Saturday to take on the Cougars in the Bengals’ second of two “money games” against FBS teams this year. With time winding down on their season, here are three keys to the game for Idaho State, as well as three players to watch for each team.
Find Something That Works
What’s worse, scoring 20 points against the Big Sky Conference’s worst defense, Northern Colorado, or scoring five — three on offense — the next week against Eastern Washington? It’s a question that’s almost not worth thinking about, but one thing’s for sure — Idaho State needs to figure out something that can work on offense.
Nobody’s looking for the Bengals to put up 500 yards on BYU, but at the rate they’ve been going, even putting a few drives together would be nice. ISU found some success late against Eastern Washington by putting Matt Struck in at quarterback and going back to the downfield passing game that was so effective in the Bengals’ wins this season. ISU’s offense is built to take what the defense gives it, but it’s an open question if, facing a talent disadvantage, the Bengals can both find what that is and then execute it.
Sink or Swim
Remember when your parents used to threaten to make you learn how to swim by just throwing you in the deep end of the pool? It’s a good time to do that with some of the young players on ISU’s roster Saturday. Even the freshmen have had nearly a full season to learn the scheme, and at this point, they won’t lose their redshirt by playing. If the coaches think they have talent, there’s no better way to test them than on the road against a very good team. If a young player can survive against BYU, they’ve definitely got Big Sky talent. Freshmen Keithan Gooden, Quantraill Morris-Walker, Preston Helu, Josh Crane and Raiden Hunter all played against Eastern Washington, and that list might get even longer this week.
Make Them Earn It
Idaho State’s defense barely held on in the first half against Eastern Washington last week, holding the Eagles to four field goals and just one touchdown. That changed in the second half, as the Bengals crumpled and allowed EWU to score four touchdowns on six drives in just over a quarter. Three of those four drives took three plays or fewer, as the Eagles scored touchdowns of 89, 80 and 59 yards. Idaho State has tackled poorly and, as a consequence, given up big plays galore during its four-game losing streak, and the effort that the Bengals showed against EWU in the second half is unlikely to lead to a close game against BYU. Idaho State can take some inspiration from its early-season money game against Utah, when the Bengals held the Utes to 33 points and just seven in the second half (admittedly, mostly against backups by that point). A repeat of that Utah performance would be pretty encouraging — hold BYU to a field goal here, force a turnover there — but it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll show up and do it.
Players to Watch — BYU
Baylor Romney (Fr. QB) — BYU’s game of musical chairs appears to have stopped, for the time being, with Romney in the driver’s seat. The redshirt freshman started last week against Liberty and went a respectable 23 for 33 for 262 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. He’s been efficient in four games — two starts — so far this season, completing 64% of his passes with seven touchdowns against just two picks. He also has 24 carries for 59 yards, which shows at least a willingness to run, if not a great deal of effectiveness. It’s unlikely that BYU will want Romney taking too many hits if he doesn’t have to, though, so expect him to stay in the pocket for most of Saturday’s game.
Sione Finau (Fr. RB) — As with Romney, Finau wasn’t expected to be the guy for BYU this season. Like the quarterback, he’s been pushed into a starring role by some injuries elsewhere on the roster. After not having a carry until four games into the season, he’s gone over 60 yards in each of the last three games — three wins for the Cougars. He had 10 carries for 69 yards last week against Liberty, and is averaging 6.0 yards per carry, which demonstrates his effectiveness thus far. One thing Idaho State likely doesn’t have to worry about is Finau catching the ball out of the backfield — he has just two receptions for 7 yards this year.
Kavika Fonua (Jr. LB) — Fonua was one of the top 10 prospects in the state of Utah, per Rivals.com, coming out of high school in 2013. He played in 11 games as a freshman in 2014 before going on his mission, and returned to sporadic playing time in 2017 before playing just four games and using his redshirt last year. The time off appeared to have helped, as Fonua is leading the Cougars with 65 tackles in 2019. A former safety, he’s also second on the team with two interceptions. He had a season-high 13 tackles in BYU’s early-season upset win over USC.
Players to Watch — ISU
Sagan Gronauer (Fr. QB) and Matt Struck (Jr. QB) — This isn’t strictly about what the quarterbacks — both of whom are likely to play Saturday, according to head coach Rob Phenicie — do against BYU. It’s about manufacturing some hope around ISU’s quarterback position going into next year. BYU certainly has the defensive talent to make Idaho State’s recent struggles there look like a walk in the park — it can always get worse. On the other hand, the bar is pretty low against an FBS team. A few nice throws, a scoring drive or two, or *lights several candles at elaborate basement shrine* an interception-free day could be enough to get some positive vibes going again, and it’s always nice to fuel the offseason hype cycle with a good last impression.
Oshea Trujillo (Jr. LB) — Along the same lines as the quarterbacks, Trujillo will likely be one of the leaders on Idaho State’s defense next year after seniors like Kody Graves, Luke Holloway, Gilbert Varela, and the entire starting secondary depart. The junior outside linebacker has shown flashes of being a potential star — a pick-six against North Dakota, 10 tackles against Idaho, two tackles for loss last week against Eastern Washington — but it’s been an up-and-down season overall. Still, he’s probably the closest thing to an all-Big Sky caliber player that will return on Idaho State’s defense next year. Seeing something more out of Trujillo in a tough matchup would be a major positive for Idaho State.