One word more than any other characterized what most observers were looking for out of BYU football on Saturday night.
They wanted to know if the impressive combo-pack of offense and defense the Cougars used what seemed like so long ago — 19 days — in the drubbing of Navy was and is and will be the truth.
It was and it is. And it will be, as best can be determined, given the lineup of opponents BYU has in front of it over the next couple of months. More on that in a minute, because that’s at the core of the conclusion here.
The somewhat marginalized opponent this second time around was Troy, a Sun Belt Conference team whose credentials were buoyed mostly by way of a 33-point beatdown of Middle Tennessee State a week prior.
None of that helped the Trojans against the Cougars, as evidenced by the play throughout and, ultimately, the lopsided numbers on the board shining into the dark sky over an empty LaVell Edwards Stadium: BYU 48, Troy 7.
The same prowess seen in the opener dominated again, starting with an offensive front that repeatedly looked like a tall slab of concrete toppling over on a flattened Trojans resistance. Hoisted up at the line of scrimmage and toppled over. Set, hut-hut. Hoisted. Toppled. Set, hut-hut. Hoisted. Toppled. Set, hut-hut. Squished.
BYU O-lineman Brady Christensen had forecasted that performance, saying before the game that the guys up front aimed to replicate what they did against the Midshipmen:
“We know we have to back it up and play great,” he said. “We have a tough challenge, facing a very athletic defensive line. … Everything has to be in unison to get the job done. We love protecting our QB, that’s my favorite part of the job.”
He added: “We’re not just the big, fat guys everyone thinks we are.”
No. That offensive line is the best part of an improved BYU team. And when a team benefits from a gifted front like this one, everybody’s in the pool.
Not only did it keep Zach Wilson clean, enabling him to throw for 392 yards, 2 passing touchdowns and 2 rushing scores, it also opened wide gaps for running backs Lopini Katoa and Tyler Allgeier and others, who gashed the Troy defense when given the opportunity, handed the open space they were so generously gifted.
All told, the Cougars offense rolled for 664 yards.
BYU’s defense, challenged in a way run-heavy Navy never could muster, showed the capacity to build a wall on the ground, even with a minimal three-man front, and a shield through the air with eight men back. The Trojans had used a balanced, multifaceted attack in beating Middle Tennessee, and while those abilities showed from time to time against the Cougars, they were not consistent enough to cause real trouble.
Troy’s final offensive numbers: total yards — 181; passing yards — 162; rushing yards — 19.
It doesn’t take Buddy Ryan to know if a team is held to fewer than 20 yards on the ground, defeat will be its reward.
As was the case against Navy, big Khyirus Tonga jammed up any plans to get business done at the center of BYU’s defense, and he got help from his friends. An emerging linebacking crew took a mop to whatever remained, frequently frustrating Troy’s plans for either secondary yardage or for going wide.
It was another thorough, convincing performance, this time against a team that likely is a little better than what most people believe it to be.
Is BYU better than most people believed it to be?
The answer is rounding out to a two-fisted yes.
The side-door irony is what everyone now knows — that a scheduled season that nine months ago had been described as the toughest, most stacked schedule BYU had ever faced — with a bunch of quality opponents from P5 conferences — has been decimated and downgraded into a schedule that may never have enough hurdles in it to prove how good the Cougars really are or how good they might become.
That’s no slam on BYU. With a pandemic raging, the Cougars grabbed and held onto what they could — Navy, Army (oops, no), Troy, Louisiana Tech, UTSA, Houston, Texas State, Western Kentucky, North Alabama — just to have a season. To save a season. Maybe they can add more.
Their biggest test moving forward likely will be what it’s already been — summoning everything out of themselves that’s within them, against opponents who may not always require it. And those are scenarios that are much easier than playing rugged opponents every week, but dangerous in potentially leading the Cougars into fatheaded self-betrayal, to an unexpected upset.
BYU learned a lesson, though, from a year ago, when it was younger and a bit more vulnerable, that it could soar to beat teams like USC, Tennessee and Boise State, but stumble and bumble to lose to outfits like Toledo and South Florida.
There will only be room for that kind of sorry indictment in 2020 if these very good Cougars allow it. In all the confirmation here, more than anything, that much was clear on a night when they absolutely would stand for no such betrayal, no such slip-up.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.