We’re pleased to be joined this week with Phil Hiatt of Vanquish the Foe, the home for BYU sports on SB Nation.
1. It’s been a bit of an up and down season for BYU with wins over Tennessee, USC, and Boise State, but also losses to Toledo and USF. What’s the general sentiment among the fan base after the last two wins? Are they satisfied with the season’s results thus far?
Phil Hiatt: These past two victories over Boise State and Utah State have done wonders for the outlook on this team. The biggest change has come from the coaches. Coach Sitake shouldered a lot of the blame after the loss to USF, saying the coaches had to be better. And by all accounts they have been. Practices have reportedly been more physical, which has led to the players performing better in game, and the play-calling has drastically improved on both sides of the ball. BYU fans were skeptical, about what this team could be a month ago, but the team seems to have turned over a new leaf and fans are starting to expect them to run the table.
2. How has life been as an Independent? Do you think it’s sustainable?
PH: This is probably the most divisive topic among our fan base. Being Independent has allowed us to play top quality opponents, and we’ve won our fair share of those games, but our schedule has always been front-heavy. That creates a feeling among a lot of fans that there is nothing to play for in November. Personally, I’m not in that camp. I’ve enjoyed Independence, and I do believe it’s sustainable. However, it’s sustainable for BYU because our national fan base allows it to be. BYU fans don’t necessarily travel to away games; BYU fans already live in the area and will fill out the stadium. At Tennessee this year, there were almost 6,000 BYU fans that attended. It’s different than almost any other fan experience in the country. Because of this, we have a strong TV contract with ESPN. So, is Independence sustainable for BYU? Yes. But, if a P5 conference comes knocking, I’d expect BYU to re-think the situation.
3. How do BYU fans view Liberty? Is it just another game, or do they see this as potentially building into a rivalry of sorts with both institutions’ being faith-based?
PH: This is the very first meeting between BYU and Liberty. I know of Liberty because I grew up in the area and have lots of friends that have graduated from Liberty, but I’m not sure how many BYU fans even knew Liberty existed. Building a rivalry takes time. Aside from football, BYU is in the WCC, which is completely private, faith-based universities. Our rivalry with those schools have been built by consistent match-ups and extremely close competition. So at this point, I’d wager many BYU fans see this as just another game. But if we can get together and consistently play each other and be really close, this could become a game that’s circled at the beginning of every year.
4. BYU has had three different quarterbacks start a game this season, mainly due to injury. What is Jaren Hall’s status and who should we expect to play Saturday?
PH: For the safety of Jaren Hall, I hope he doesn’t play. It hurts so much to say that because he has been phenomenal this year, but 2 concussions in 2 consecutive times on the field is not good at all. Putting him in the game would be playing with fire. This is the first time since his injury that Zach Wilson has been listed on the mid-week depth chart, which is surprising because it is ahead of schedule. If he performs well in practice, Wilson could very well end up playing on Saturday. But the safest bet is Baylor Romney. He’s proven in the wins over Boise State and Utah State that he is extremely cool under pressure and can run the offense to almost perfection. Wilson will probably push to get on the field, but I think the coaches hold him out one more week just to be safe.
5. What’s your prediction for the game?
PH: Liberty has a phenomenal passing game. Buckshot Calvert will probably be a fan favorite on name alone, but he’ll scare BYU by game time. They’ve proven they can move the ball, even when the defense knows it’s coming. But, BYU will be their toughest test this season, and they’ve shown in the past two games their ability to take away an offense’s strength. BYU will play a lot of zone coverage and “drop-8” that will confuse Calvert and bait him into a few interceptions. Plus, the altitude is a real thing. When I first came here, it took me about a month to get used to the lower oxygen because of the high altitude, and Liberty will only have a few days. Don’t be surprised if they start slowing down in the second half and allow BYU to eventually pull away.
BYU 35, Liberty 17