Defensive lineman Bracken El-Bakri and the 11th-ranked BYU Cougars have a chance at accomplishing a little school history.
Should the Cougars beat Western Kentucky at home on Saturday night, they would become just the fourth BYU team to start 7-0.
Although, El-Bakri, is more in tune with recent history than past.
“I’ve never really been a great history student as some of my professors will probably tell you,” joked El-Bakri, whose team is attempting to join the 2001, ‘84 and ’79 squads as the only ones in program lore to begin 7-0. “It’s fun to be part of this history and we hope to make more of a history out of it, obviously.
“For me personally, I’m not like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re one of the only teams who’s ever been like this.’ I’m more excited, like, ’Hey, we’re playing great. We’re feeling great. We’re making plays. Let’s just keep rolling.’”
That means keeping the focus squarely on the Hilltoppers (2-4), who went 9-4 a season ago and won the First Responder Bowl. This could be a proverbial trap game, given the Cougars face a ranked Boise State team the following week.
Then again, BYU coach Kalani Sitake refuses to let them look down the road.
“These kids understand the situation, but they also understand the harm it could do when you’re looking past the opponent and don’t respect the game,” Sitake said. “You don’t look to the next week. I think it’s disrespectful to the game itself and we’ve talked to them about that.”
There’s not a bit of pressure on the Hilltoppers. After all, they’re a 28 1/2-point underdog.
“The whole world thinks they’re supposed to come out there and put 50-something on you, dominate you and make you look bad,” Western Kentucky coach Tyson Helton said. “There’s really no stress, or anything to worry about. Our guys like these kind of games.”
Western Kentucky’s defense will take a bend-don’t-break mentality against Zach Wilson and a high-powered BYU offense that’s averaging 45 points a game.
“They’re going to move the football. They’re going to score,” Helton said. “You’ve got to take the approach of, ‘It’s OK for them to move the football, let’s keep them out of the end zone. Field goals aren’t a bad thing. Let’s go manage the game so when you’re in that fourth quarter you’re in it.’”
Helton pointed out the UTSA game against BYU on Oct. 10, where the Roadrunners pulled to within 21-13 early in the fourth before falling 27-20.
“They had an opportunity,” Helton said. “There’s opportunity there for us as well. That’s the approach our defense has to take, because they’re going to score their points.”
Western Kentucky was originally scheduled to host Old Dominion on Halloween, but the game was canceled. The team announced on Aug. 21 it would face BYU. This will be the first time the Hilltoppers have played a football game in the state of Utah.
The Hilltoppers are one of six programs the Cougars will see for the first time this season.
QB Kevaris Thomas started the last two games for the Hilltoppers but suffered a hip pointer against Chattanooga last week. They also have Tyrrell Pigrome, who has thrown 113 passes this season without an interception. He has seven TD passes.
Helton thinks the late-night start on national television could be a big benefit down the road.
“It’s a great opportunity to be on a platform to showcase our program and what we’re all about,” Helton said. “We’ve been recruiting really hard and talking to a lot of prospects. It’s an opportunity to watch us and see what we’re all about. A lot of big things for us for sure.”
IN GOOD HANDS
The play of Wilson has him in the Heisman Trophy conversation. Don’t forget his receivers, though. Dax Milne was recently added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list. Receivers Milne (37 catches, 639 yards), Gunner Romney (21, 456) and Neil Pau’u (19, 231), along with tight end Isaac Rex (12, 175), are all having big seasons.
“Zach is putting the ball where it needs to be. Sometimes we have to make the tough catches and we’ve been able to come down with a lot of those,” Pau’u said. “It’s a collective group effort and it’s awesome to see.”
BYU has outscored teams 146-44 in the first half.
“We know we’re going to get the other team’s best shot. The key for us is making sure they get our best shot,” Sitake said. “If we can do that, I feel really good about our chances of success.”