Monday night’s opener at Navy provided BYU with a national spotlight that the team took advantage of, but the game also highlighted how the pandemic has affected college football.
Because of Maryland’s tougher restrictions, there were no fans in the stadium and the Midshipmen went into the Labor Day matchup not having any practices where they tackled or scrimmaged. The lack of preparation was apparent by lopsided efforts that led BYU to rout Navy, 55-3.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo took full blame for his team’s performance, crediting BYU coach Kalani Sitake with having his Cougars ready.
“There’s no one to blame, but myself,” Niumatalolo said. “I erred on the side of keeping our guys safe with COVID-19 and contact tracing. We weren’t ready to play. This was the woest Navy football game we’ve ever played. We weren’t prepared and that was my fault because I chose block bags and tackle donuts. … I’ve been coaching a long time and I’ve never seen a Navy team play like that. We weren’t prepared because I didn’t have us prepared and that is the bottom line.”
However, even if Navy was in midseason shape, BYU’s offense would have still given the Midshipmen a run for their money.
The Cougars' offense looked sharp, and scored the second-most points in a season opener in program history. It all started with the celebrated offensive linemen.
“They’ve been doing it all camp,” Sitake said. “We were a little concerned because when we started doing live work they took it to our defense. That was a little shocking because usually the defense is further ahead in scrimmages early on in camp. The defense had to respond. … It’s a clash every time and I’m glad that they were able to make each other better.”
BYU scored touchdowns on its first two drives of each half and put up an even attack, totaling 301 rushing yards and 279 passing yards. The Cougars averaged 8.2 yards per play.
Unlike last season, the Cougars showed improvement in the key areas of extending drives and red zone scoring. BYU punted just once (a 56-yarder by Ryan Rehkow) and went 6 for 7 in the red zone. Rather than running up the score, the Cougars took a knee on the Navy 10 to end the game.
Not only did BYU put up a complete game, the team also played a clean one. The Cougars committed only one penalty (false start, 5 yards) while the Midshipmen committed six uncharacteristic penalties for 39 yards.
Sitake isn’t sure if the season opener is enough to establish the team’s identity just yet, but it was a good start.
• Quarterback Zach Wilson started a little shaky, missing his first two pass attempts and giving up an interception in the first quarter, but then the junior settled in.
The air attack resulted in Wilson’s career fourth-best efficiency (206.04) and the Cougars third-highest in a season opener. Wilson went 13 of 18 for 232 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game in the third quarter. Baylor Romney and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters took over for the remainder of the game.
Wilson moved into 18th on the BYU career passing yard list and tied Christian Stewart for career passing touchdowns at 18.
• Pepe Tanuvasa started his collegiate carer at Navy, playing 13 games for the Midshipmen before transferring to BYU. On Monday, Tanuvasa led the team with eight tackles.
“I know the coaches had a really good game plan going into the game,” Tanuvasa said. “So, we were confident in who we had on the field, that whatever they threw at us, we were going to rally, too. Playing behind guys like [defensive lineman] Khyiris [Tonga] makes it easy. I feel like anyone could have done what I did.”
• The defense held a usually formidable Navy offense to 149 total yards (119 rushing and 30 passing). BYU also racked up five sacks (linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi made a team-high two sacks), eight tackles for loss (for 35 yards), two pass breakups and three quarterback hurries.
“It was very disciplined play,” Tonga said. “It was a matter of stepping the right way and being really sound on the defensive line. Navy cuts a lot and we were able to use our hands more and continue to be dominant up front.”
Player of the game
Tyler Allgeier, sophomore, running back.
The Midshipmen were the ones expected to run all over the field, but instead Allgeier racked up 132 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
Allgeier was backed up by fellow co-starter Lopini Katoa, who added 80 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
The sophomore, who has played on both sides of the ball previously, proved he and Katoa will provide a strong 1-2 punch for BYU’s offensive production.
“We’ve talked about it — it’s not a surprise for us two,” Katoa said. “We knew what was coming. I always knew what Tyler could do. Just to see him show on the field today, I was so happy for him. And to be able to run up with him is just great.”
Play of the game
The Cougars had taken an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter when Wilson threw an interception. It wasn’t a mistake from the junior quarterback — the throw was seemingly good — but the intended target, Neil Pau’u, tripped up just as he was setting up to catch the pass and instead Navy linebacker Evan Fochtman came away with the pick.
However, the way BYU’s defense responded was the pinnacle of the Cougars' performance on Monday. The defensive line put up a wall and prevented the Midshipmen from getting a first down, getting possession back four plays later.
While last season the Cougars would tend to crumble after committing a mistake, this time they rallied and were able to keep the momentum on their side.
“We talked about it, specifically, that we were going to be aggressive and try to get an early lead as a team,” Sitake said. "We told the defense that, ‘hey, we’re going to try to do some things and be a little risky and you’re going to have to respond if there’s a mistake.’ And they did.”
Because the Cougars won’t get back to Provo until Tuesday, the team will have a bye week before getting back in action Sept. 19 at West Point to take on the Army Black Knights.
Army kicked off its season Sept. 5 with its own blowout win, 42-0, against Middle Tennessee and is set to play Louisiana-Monroe Saturday before hosting BYU in West Point.