Provo • The Cougars weren’t supposed to win, but they found a way.
With a third-string quarterback, fourth-string running back, third-string right tackle and third-string left guard, BYU handed No. 14 Boise State its first loss, 28-25, of the 2019 season and snapped its own three-game losing streak.
It also was the first win against the Broncos since 2015.
The team’s depth is something coach Kalani Sitake has been boasting for weeks now, especially after losing season starters Zayne Anderson (linebacker) and Ty’Son Williams (running back) to season-ending injuries and quarterback Zach Wilson for the majority of the season with a fractured right thumb. Not to mention the minor weekly bang-ups that are all too familiar in football.
“It’s been a rough couple of weeks leading up to this game, and we had to take our licks a little bit, but we’ve got to keep trusting them,” Sitake said. “These guys are a resilient group, and when their backs are against the wall, they respond the right way. The guys did a great job of getting ready for this game.”
But Sitake also had been talking about reevaluating everything and making necessary changes and adjustments for the past few weeks without result.
So, what changed?
BYU tight end Matt Bushman doesn't know.
He can't pinpoint why the team sometimes plays well and other times is pretty horrible.
“Offensively, we were more aggressive this game, even though we had some weird weather, but I just think it was a collective effort,” Bushman said. “Our special teams did a lot better, our defense played really well. It was just a collective effort. We needed this win, and we went out and got it.”
The defense also stepped it up.
Before Saturday, Boise State averaged 488.17 total offense yards. Against BYU, the Broncos managed 359 — 4 yards short of their season-low 355 yards against Air Force a month prior.
The defense also had two picks — from brothers Isaiah and Jackson Kaufusi — while not turning over the ball on defense. While under the direction of Sitake, the Cougars are 10-1 in games with zero turnovers and have won seven straight.
“There’s a different feeling from this game and the aggressiveness our defense had,” Sitake said. “We had two turnovers, but there were really a lot of opportunities — we had our hands on the ball quite a bit. If I’m being picky, and I’m going to watch the film and be kind of a jerk about it, we should have had three more. … But defensively, the guys did a great job keeping an explosive offense under wraps and scoring 25 points.”
• Just as the remainder of the season was looking grim for BYU, the Cougars may have salvaged their bowl eligibility — and Sitake’s extension — with Saturday’s win. Had BYU lost to Boise State, the team would have had to win four of its last five games to be bowl eligible. The task, which continues at Utah State in a couple of weeks, would have seemed even more daunting on a four-game skid. Instead, the Cougars now need only three more wins — and they got a huge confidence booster.
• The offense has struggled to finish drives this season, but it was more efficient Saturday. The change may have come from having offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes on the field instead of in the press box. Sitake believes Grimes has a really strong presence among the players, which helped the offense perform better.
“Hard to do it on a telephone and everything like that,” Sitake said. “It was coach Grimes’ idea to be on the field and I agree with it — and you saw the results.”
• The team likes having a chip on its shoulder.
Before the Boise State game, linebacker Chaz Ah You said BYU had nothing to lose. The Cougars weren’t picked to win, so they could go out there and take whichever shots they wanted. So, they did. And Sitake will try to re-create tough situations, like the one BYU face as it entered the Boise State game, throughout the rest of the season.
“I like being in a tight spot,” Sitake said. “I’m going to keep manufacturing tight spots. I think we respond better that way. … I’m comfortable saying that these guys need to play with a chip on their shoulders all the time, and that’s what BYU is all about. The fact that we’re independent, we’re going to play some tough teams and ranked teams.”
Player of the game
Baylor Romney, redshirt freshman, quarterback.
In his first start since his high school senior season five years ago, Romney went 15 for 26 with 221 passing yards and two touchdowns. He also joined Ty Detmer, Taysom Hill, Tanner Mangum, Joe Critchlow and Zach Wilson as the only freshmen, redshirt or true, to win their first start at BYU. Romney took over the starting role for Jaren Hall, who wasn’t cleared from concussion protocol from an injury he sustained a week prior against South Florida.
“This is what I’ve been preparing for since I graduated high school, for my opportunity to come play at a collegiate level, and it showed tonight,” Romney said.
Runner-ups: junior tight end Matt Bushman and freshman running back Sione Finau.
Bushman recorded his first 100-yard game with 101 yards on five receptions and two touchdowns — his first multi-touchdown game. Finau provided the Cougars’ longest scoring run (46 yards) of the season and finished the night with 89 rushing yards on 11 carries. Bushman and Finau combined for BYU’s 21 unanswered points in the third quarter.
Play of the game
The fourth quarter, fourth-and-inches scrum play that pushed Austin Kafentzis over the BYU 34-yard line for the much-needed first down, which secured the Cougars’ possession and allowed them to go into victory formation. The play came after Romney kept the ball on a 3-and-1 play. It was initially ruled Romney’s play was good for a first down after the chains were brought out, but after further review the officials announced it was short, setting up the momentous play.
Had BYU punted instead, Boise State would have had the opportunity to tie or win the game. Instead, the Cougars guaranteed their win.
The Cougars will have a bye week before facing another rival — Utah State — Nov. 2 in Logan. BYU, which hadn’t dropped consecutive games to the Aggies since the early 1970s, has lost the last two games against Utah State.
Although Hall hasn’t been cleared, Sitake is hoping to use the bye week to help get the quarterback (and other players) healthy. As of now, the four-year skipper said he doesn’t know who will get the start — Hall or Romney.
Either way, now that BYU is past the halfway point of the season, the Cougars will continue to try to improve for the remaining games.
“We’re going to have a week off, but a week off means that we’re just off on Saturday,” Sitake said. “We’re going to work hard this week and be ready for the Aggies when we go up to Logan.”