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Virginia Football Opponent Preview: BYU Cougars

The Cougars had a huge season in 2020, but can they continue it in 2021?

NCAA Football: Boca Raton Bowl-Central Florida at Brigham Young Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The stretch run for Virginia Football begins with a road game against Bronco Mendenhall’s former team. This will be the first matchup between Bronco and BYU, and there are bound to be some complex feelings impacting Mendenhall and some of his assistant coaches who all got their careers started in Provo.

Let’s take a look at the Cougars.

2020 Recap

Record: 11-1
Postseason: Boca Raton Bowl, 49-23 win over UCF

Led by the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Zach WIlson, the Cougars finished 11-1 and were ranked No. 16 at the end of the regular season. They blew out UCF in the Boca Raton bowl, showing off why they had one of the best offenses in the nation. The BYU offense ranked sixth in the nation in total offense and third in scoring offense for the season.

Wilson threw for 3,692 yards, 33 touchdowns, and just three interceptions while also rushing for over 250 yards and another 10 touchdowns. Tyler Allgeier rushed for 1,130 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Daz Milne led the team with 70 catches for 1,188 yards and eight touchdowns. Tight end Isaac Rex actually led the team with 12 touchdown catches (out of 37 total receptions).

On the other side of the ball, the defense finished 10th overall in the nation. They were led by Isaiah Kaufusi, who had 83 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries, all of which led the team. He also had an interception which he took back for BYU’s only defensive TD of the season.

That team finished the season third nationally in scoring and fourth in scoring defense. That’s pretty impressive and a big part of why they finished 11-1. Replicating that success for another season won’t be so easy.

2021 Outlook

Key Returners: RB Tyler Allgeier, WR Gunner Romney, LB Keenan Pili, LB Payton Wilgar, S George Udo
Key Departures: QB Zach Wilson (NFL), OL Grady Christensen (NFL), DT Khyiris Tonga (NFL), Isaiah Kaufusi (NFL)
Key New Faces: WRs Puka Nacua (Washington) & Samson Nacua (Utah)

This team lost a ton from last year. Obviously Wilson is the high profile loss, but they also must replace leading WR Daz Milne and three-fifths of their offensive line. Things might be even worse for the defense, which loses seven of the top 10 tacklers. Kaufusi is gone, though his younger brother Jackson continues the Kaufusi tradition at BYU. Along with Jackson and Isaiah, their cousins Branson and Corbin also both played at BYU. Branson and Corbin’s father played in the NFL and then was a DL coach at BYU and their mother is the mayor of Provo, UT. That family has been a big boost to BYU both on the field and off.

After the highs of last season, this is probably a bit of a down season for BYU as they develop their next QB. The OL is being rebuilt on the fly as well and the defense must replace both its top LB and DL.

Series History

All-time Record vs. BYU: 3-2
Last meeting: 2014, BYU win 41-33

This will be the sixth all-time meeting between these two schools. All-time, Virginia leads 3-2, with one of those wins coming in Provo, where this matchup occurs. The last time Virginia went to Provo, the Cougars used a strong second half to beat the QB duo of Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns.

This series will continue as BYU comes to Charlottesville in 2023, and Virginia heads back to Utah in 2025.