The pandemic may have ruined BYU’s original 2020 schedule, but it also brought an opportunity the Cougars wouldn’t have had otherwise.
On Monday, BYU opened its heavily-revised 2020 season in Annapolis under a unique national spotlight as the Cougars faced Navy for the first time in more than 30 years. BYU is the lone FBS team west of Texas still playing a fall season.
The Cougars relished the opportunity and took advantage of it, routing the Midshipmen 55-3 in an empty Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“I’m happy with the win and really pleased with the leadership on this team,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “I told the guys I was going to let loose and have fun tonight. All the coaching took place already, so I wanted to see them lead and take over this game. And they did. It was an awesome sight to see as a coach.”
BYU had a couple of hiccups — an interception toward the end of the first quarter and forced to score on a field goal in the second half — but otherwise dominated the game from start to finish.
Navy’s triple option was supposed to give BYU fits. Instead, the Midshipmen rushed for just 119 yards as BYU smothered the Navy attack. The Middies averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.
The Cougars were the ones who rolled up the big yards on the ground, rushing for 279 yards on 49 carries and 580 in total yardage. BYU’s offensive line, whose starters average 6-foot-6 and 308 lbs., lived up to its preseason billing, making all types of holes for its rushers against Navy’s smaller defensive front.
Tyler Allgeier finished the game with 132 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Lopini Katoa added 80 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries, and an added 32 receiving yards and touchdown on three receptions.
Gunner Romney led all receivers with 134 yards and one touchdown on four receptions. Starting quarterback Zach Wilson threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns on 13 of 18 passing. He simply didn’t need to throw it much.
“I’m proud of every one of these guys,” offensive lineman Tristan Hoge said. “I know they didn’t back down an inch. The foot was always on the gas.”
The Cougars’ defense helped set the tempo for the game and gave up only a second-half field goal to the Midshipmen. In the first half, Navy had seven drives, but they only resulted in 48 total yards (6.8 yards per drive). The BYU defense held Navy to 1.6 yards per rush.
Due to the pandemic, aside from testing players twice a week (BYU is testing players three times a week), the Midshipmen had not been able to scrimmage or even tackle in practices.
That lack of live work, a concern going in, was noticeable Monday. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said he took “1000 percent” blame for the loss and plans to reassess — with team doctors — how the Midshipmen prepare going forward.
Besides not being prepared for the game, Navy was led by a quarterback who had never thrown a career pass, but there was zero chance the Cougars were going to be affected by that.
“We knew Navy, coming in, was a great offense, great defense, great overall team — so we knew we couldn’t let up at any point,” defensive lineman Khyiris said.
• BYU is is thoroughly impressive in its season opener, dominating Navy on both sides of the ball.
• Cougars rack up 580 total yards while holding Midshipmen to just 149.
• BYU’s offensive line powers a 279 yard rushing attack. Tyler Allgeier runs for a team-high 132 yards.
By the latter part of the second half, the Cougars played most of their second stringers and, after Baylor Romney initially relieved Wilson, put in freshman Sol-Jay Maiava at quarterback.
Overall, the Midshipmen just fell flat and BYU ran away with the game.
While the pandemic has halted many different events, it has put the focus on others. One of the biggest issues through the last few months has been focused on social injustices, following a few high-profile police violence cases throughout the nation. The Cougars used their platform in Annapolis to share their point of view on the situation.
Walking out of their hotel and into the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the Cougars were seen wearing shirts that read “We Are One” and “Love One Another.”
“With what’s going on in the world right now, we came together as a team to figure out ways we could address the issues that are going around in the country,” senior Troy Warner said in a video released by BYU Football. “We thought, what better way to address it than to put something that means a lot [to us] on a shirt.”
Because of the circumstances — playing a nationally televised game on Labor Day against a service academy — the contst was set to be the most-watched BYU football game in quite awhile. With that much national exposure, players wanted to take advantage.
In the video, that was shared on Twitter a couple hours before kickoff, senior linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi said the team wanted to spread a message of love and unity to the world and nation.
“If you go into our locker room right now, you’ll find guys from different backgrounds, different cultures, different beliefs,” Kaufusi said. “We decided we wanted to be united together, and we do that through love. In a world full of confusion, misinterpretation, inequality and injustice, we’ve chosen to love and that unites us.”
Once on the field, the Cougars’ focused shifted to matters at hand. If BYU was looking to make an early statement, it succeeded.