Provo • Two more wins.
That’s all that separates BYU from bowl eligibility, a goal that started to look unreachable during its three-game skid, but after consecutive rivalry game wins is starting to seem inevitable.
Saturday night’s dominating performance against Utah State improved the Cougars to 4-4 for the season. They will return home to host Liberty and Idaho State before closing out the season at UMass and San Diego State.
Linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi said the two-game winning streak — and bringing back the Wagon Wheel to Provo — will help the Cougars get through the final month of play.
“It's huge for us,” the junior said. “I think it's a big momentum booster. Coming off the wins from Boise and Utah State, I think guys are confident. A lot of guys have stepped up and are playing really well. So, I think it'll just continue to happen.”
Once again, for the third time in the past four games, BYU had to use more than one quarterback. Starter Jaren Hall left the field toward the end of Utah State’s final drive of the first half and wasn’t able to return due to a concussion. It is Hall’s second concussion in as many starts.
Baylor Romney stepped in at the end of the first half for BYU to close out the game.
Coach Kalani Sitake wasn’t sure where Hall’s injury stemmed from, but videos shared online showed it was an uncalled helmet-to-helmet tackle during Hall’s second rushing touchdown play.
When asked about the no-call after the game, Sitake was surprised.
“Someone should have told me, I would have taken a timeout or asked the refs,” Sitake said. “It's a violent game and an unfortunate part of it is, sometimes, injuries. So, we'll see how he progresses right now. I just want him to be healthy, that's the main thing.”
For the first time at BYU, a set of brothers connected for a touchdown pass. Backup quarterback Romney threw back to his younger brother, and Cougar wide receiver, Gunner Romney on a 1-yard pass midway through the third quarter. Baylor Romney said the moment was pretty special. “I wasn’t even aware that it was him until I sent him in motion,” Baylor Romney said. “I saw it was him and I knew it was going to be a pretty special moment.”
The defense played one of its most aggressive games of the season. Although it did allow the Aggies to get 521 total offense yards — their third-most of the season and huge improvement from last week’s 128 yards at Air Force — the group also forced five turnovers. USU’s starting quarterback, Jordan Love, has thrown more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (nine) so far this season. BYU is averaging 1.5 interceptions per game. “We really were just playing the quick game,” Kaufusi said. “Jordan Love is a very rhythm passer — three steps, quick five steps, get the ball out. Just really being in tune to the three step and five step, and stopping the run.”
The Cougars set a season-high 93-yard scoring drive in their first possession of the game, and then set a new season high (99-yard drive) at the start of the fourth quarter. BYU had yet to have any 80-yard drives so far this season. The team’s 639 total offense yards are also a new season high, besting its previous best (455 yards at Toledo) by 184 yards. Running back Lopini Katoa said the offensive breakout was what the Cougars had been waiting for. “Those are our true colors, really,” Katoa said. “We know we can do that week in and week out. So, the fact that we came and put it together today was huge for us.”
Player of the game
Jaren Hall, redshirt freshman, quarterback.
Even though the starter played only the first half, Hall amassed a total of 268 yards — 54 rushing yards for two touchdowns and 214 yards on 75% passing. The redshirt freshman scored both of his rushing TDs after the defense forced turnovers with interceptions by Kavika Fonua and Payton Wilgar, returned for 16 and 17 yards, respectively.
Runner-up: Lopini Katoa, sophomore, running back.
Katoa finished with 151 total yards and a touchdown, but it was really the air game where the sophomore excelled. Katoa had 129 yards on four receptions — his longest a 77-yard play on second-and-12 that set up the Cougars in the red zone for their eventual score in the fourth quarter.
Play of the game
There were many impressive plays by the Cougars — both on offense and defense — but one of the most unique ones was when wide receiver Micah Simon stepped in at quarterback and connected with backup quarterback Baylor Romney on a 13-yard reception. An added USU penalty, for roughing the passer, placed the Cougars 5 yards from the goal line. The play showed off the versatility — and depth — BYU is capable of.
BYU eventually scored on a Romney-to-Romney touchdown pass to put up the Cougars 35-14 in the third quarter.
The Cougars will host fellow independent Liberty at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The Flames are coached by first-year head coach Hugh Freeze, who suffered a potentially life-threatening staph infection after undergoing emergency surgery for painful back spasms during fall camp, but still coached the season opener, albeit in a hospital bed up in the press box. In Liberty’s first season as a certified FBS member, the Flames are 6-3 after routing UMass — another upcoming BYU opponent — 63-21.