PROVO, Utah — Brent Venables grew up during BYU football’s greatest era.
As a kid in Kansas, the Cougars weren’t his team or anything, but as a football junkie, he couldn’t help notice the BYU teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were coached by the legendary LaVell Edwards. They were quarterbacked by the likes of Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco. They had standouts with some of the coolest names of all time. Vai Sikahema. Thor Salanoa. Lakei Heimuli.
Those teams made an impact on the OU coach
“It’s an incredibly tradition-rich program and has been for such a long time,” Venables said.
“All that college football history and excellence, that’s represented by players and coaches and wins at BYU.”
Even though Venables has gotten to experience many of college football’s most tradition-rich stadiums, first as a player at Kansas State, then as a coach at K-State, Clemson and OU, Saturday will be his first trip to BYU.
It’ll be OU’s first, too.
The programs have played each other twice before, but both were neutral site games. The first came in the 1994 Copper Bowl, played in Tucson, Arizona, and won by BYU 31-6. The second game was a season-opening, kickoff-classic-style game played at JerryWorld in 2009 and won by BYU 14-13.
Venables has faced BYU twice before, too, but they weren’t the same two games. He was around for that 2009 game, but his other encounter was when he was coaching linebackers at K-State. The Cougars beat the Wildcats 19-15 in the Cotton Bowl after the 1996 season.
Again, neither game was at BYU.
Venables seems excited about getting a game in Provo.
“If you like college football, there’s a picture of their stadium nestled down in the mountains and the valley there,” he said. “Looks pretty cool.
“It will be fun to go compete. I’ve got incredible respect for their program, for Coach (Kalani) Sitake and what he’s been able to do. Again the passion and loyalty that the fan base has is second to none.”
Here are some other nuggets to chew on before OU-West Virginia gets under way at 10 a.m. in Provo, Utah:
Sooner to watch: The number of games that Drake Stoops will wear an OU uniform can now be counted on one hand. Even if the Sooners were to make the Big 12 title game, then somehow make the College Football Playoff, the Sooner wide receiver has five games left at max. So enjoy him while you can. He’s playing the best football of his life, coming off back-to-back games in which he set career highs for receiving yards. Even when the ball isn’t thrown to him, he’s still working. Just follow him for a few plays. You won’t be disappointed.
Sooner newcomer to watch: Maybe Austin Stogner shouldn’t be considered a newcomer — he transferred from OU to South Carolina, then came back to Norman — but the tight end is coming off his biggest game since returning to OU this season. He had four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. After only having three catches total in the three previous games, Stogner was a much bigger part of the offense on a day the Sooner offense was as good as it has been all season.
Cougar to watch: Who BYU will start at quarterback is a bit of a mystery. Kedon Slovis has been working through injuries, and while he warmed up last Saturday and was available to play, Cougar head coach Kalani Sitake said this week, Slovis didn’t end up playing. Without him, BYU’s offense has been anemic. It has scored a combined 26 points in the past three games. If Slovis plays, it will be interesting to see how effective he is because coaches have said he’s not going to be a hundred percent healthy.
A familiar face in Provo: BYU’s director of football athletic performance Coleby Clawson might not be a familiar face or name to OU fans, but he made a play that will be familiar to Sooners everywhere. He was the BYU linebacker whose legal hit on OU quarterback Sam Bradford early in the teams’ 2009 opener injured Bradford’s shoulder and drastically altered that season for the Sooners.
Cool stat going into BYU: Against teams it has played more than once, OU only has a losing record against six programs: Notre Dame (2-9), Southern Cal (2-6), Clemson (2-3), LSU (1-2), Northwestern (1-3) and BYU (0-2). And yes, the Cougars are the only team in that group to be undefeated against the Sooners.
Something to watch in Provo: In case you think OU’s run game has struggled, may I present the BYU run game? The Cougars are averaging a paltry 90.5 rushing yards per game. Only six teams in FBS are worse at running the football than BYU. OU, by comparison, enters the game averaging 181.6 rushing yards per game. (And don’t look now, but OU has had its three highest yards-per-rush games these past three weeks. 4.9 at Kansas, 5.5 at Oklahoma State and 5.3 against West Virginia. Gavin Sawchuk, by the way, has started all of those games.)
Did you know?: There are all sorts of family connections on this BYU football team. Twelve of the players had dads who played football for the Cougars, and there are four sets of brothers on the team. Additionally, 31 of the players are married and 10 of them have children.
If you go to Provo …: Pack some waterproof cold-weather gear. According to the National Weather Service, the forecast calls for a high of only 53 and there’s a 40% chance of rain. Not great. Could be worse, though. Provo usually has its first snow in November, but it hasn’t had any yet this fall.
If you don’t go …: You still can watch Dillon Gabriel try to make more history. The OU quarterback accounted for eight touchdowns, a program record, last week. He also moved into the top 10 in career passing yards in FBS history with 14,274. Gabriel could take over the ninth spot with 213 passing yards, which would put him ahead of Washington State’s Luke Falk or even the eighth spot with 334 passing yards. Who would Gabriel move ahead of there? Former Sooner great Baker Mayfield.
If I could be in two places …: College Station would be a fascinating destination on Saturday. Texas A&M is playing its SEC-midseason-nonconference dud, Abilene Christian, but after the school decided to pay head coach Jimbo Fisher $76 million to go away, I’d love to be a fly on the wall to hear some of the conversations among Aggie fans.
Playing favorites: BYU is known for having the nicest fans in college football. So nice, in fact, they give the visitors free ice cream before the start of the fourth quarter. I’m a visitor, and I’m a fan of anything chocolate.