Oct 21, 2023; Provo, Utah, USA; Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Chase Roberts (2) reacts to scoring a touchdown against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first quarter at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State sits one win away from being bowl-eligible for the sixth time in seven years, but faces a number of unique challenges this Saturday at BYU. (1) The game won’t kick off until 9:15 p.m. Iowa time. (2) Provo is 4,549 feet above sea level. (3) It’s the farthest west the Cyclones will have ever played a Big 12 Conference game — for now, given the league will expand to include Arizona, Arizona State and Utah next season. So brew a late-night pot of coffee as the Cyclones (5-4, 4-2) seek to improve to 5-0 all-time against the injury-plagued Cougars (5-4, 2-4). Let that caffeine seep in — and then take a look at five BYU players to watch in this intriguing game that will be broadcast on ESPN:
QB Kedon Slovis (or Jake Retzlaff)
Slovis is in “a day-to-day, week-to-week type of deal” while dealing with injuries, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake told reporters after last week’s humbling 37-7 loss at West Virginia. In other words, the highly-regarded Pitt/USC transfer is in football purgatory, so don’t be surprised if Retzlaff — broadly considered to be the top JUCO quarterback prospect last season — gets his second consecutive start. The Corona, Calif., native completed 24 of his 42 passes for 210 yards last week and also carried the ball 10 times for 26 yards. Slovis has thrown for 1,716 yards and 12 touchdowns this season while being picked off six times. He’s less active as a runner, so given the Cougars’ recent struggles, Retzlaff may get the nod as a starter regardless of Slovis’s injury status as he’s a more potent dual-threat option for an offense that’s scored just one touchdown in its past two blowout losses.
CB Eddie Heckard
The former Weber State standout boasts 10 career interceptions — including three this season. Heckard earned Big 12 defensive player of the week honors earlier this season after turning a fumble recovery into a touchdown and picking off a pass in the Cougars’ 27-14 home win over Texas Tech. The 5-10, 190-pound senior from Las Vegas has also forced a fumble this season while serving as one of the league’s best cover corners. Heckard totaled a season-best 10 tackles in last week’s loss to West Virginia and is one of five BYU defenders with one or more sacks.
RB LJ Martin
The 6-2, 205-pound freshman from El Paso hasn’t played since the Cougars’ win over Texas Tech on Oct. 21 because of injury, but if healthy, he’ll give his team a big boost in the backfield. Martin’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry and leads BYU in rushing touchdowns with four. If he’s not cleared to play, expect the Cougars to lean on bruising junior Aidan Robbins, who led the team with a modest 37 yards on 10 carries in last week’s loss to the Mountaineers. Robbins is 6-3 and weighs 240 pounds, so he’ll be a factor at the goal line either way, while Martin serves as a more pronounced big-play threat.
WR Chase Roberts
The 6-4, 210-pound sophomore leads BYU in receptions (37), receiving yards (512) and average yards per each (13.8). He’s tied with Darius Lassiter for the team lead in touchdown grabs with four — and Lassiter, like several Cougars, couldn’t play last week because of injury. Roberts grew up in nearby Highland, Utah, and has recorded at least two catches in each game this season. He also hauled in a season-long 59-yard touchdown reception in BYU’s first-ever Big 12 win — a 35-27 triumph over Cincinnati five weeks ago at home.
LB Max Tooley
The 6-2, 225-pound senior leads BYU in tackles with 67 and boasts seven career interceptions. Tooley and fellow linebacker AJ Vongphachanh stand 1-2 atop the team tackle chart this season and the veteran duo is also tied for the team lead in career tackles at 267 among active players. Tooley has seven interceptions in his career, including one this season. He tallied a career-high 16 tackles earlier this season in the win over Cincinnati and racked up 12 stops in last week’s loss at West Virginia.