BYU in review: Stout defense paves the way for stellar offense in rout of Trojans

(Rick Bowmer | AP pool photo) BYU defensive back Troy Warner (4) tackles Troy wide receiver Kaylon Geiger (1) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Provo, Utah.

While BYU quarterback Zach Wilson may have put up a highlight reel of one of his career-best performances Saturday against Troy, the Cougar defense set the tone for what turned out to be a 48-7 routing of the Trojans.

In its first two games of the season, BYU has scored a total of 103 points while giving up only 10 points. The BYU defense has also prevented an opponent from reaching 200 total yards.

On Saturday, Troy managed to put up 181 yards. Nearly three weeks prior, Navy only put up 149 yards.

“I’m really pleased with the physical part of the game, I thought out guys were able to respond the right way on defense and offense,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “We asked them to toughen up and play some tough football. We put some of our guys in some compromising positions that would test the physical part of their game and I thought they answered the right way.”

If last season’s defense was highlighted by interceptions, led by the linebackers, this season could be highlighted by sacks.

The Cougars recorded four sacks against Troy, led by senior defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga, who had two. Add in the five sacks at Navy and BYU is at nine sacks for the year from just two games. For comparison, last season, the Cougars made 17 sacks through 13 games.

Tonga believes the increase of sacks this season comes from trusting their play. The players have trust in the technique and what they’ve practiced, he said.

Overall, Tonga has been “super happy” with the defensive performance in the first two games of the season.

“Our D-line has been working super hard this whole offseason,” Tonga said. “As soon as their numbers are called, they’re giving 100% effort. I’m grateful for guys who come to play, whether it’s one snap or 90 snaps.”

BYU’s performance on Saturday kept the Cougars in the AP Top 25 Poll. The Cougars, who were previously ranked 18th, dipped down to No. 22 in the first in-season AP Poll with Big 10 and Pac-12 teams.

In-state rival Utah, which was ranked No. 22 in the preseason poll on Aug. 24, despite the Pac-12 having postponed two weeks earlier, received 14 votes, but didn’t make the Top 25.

Three Takeaways

• BYU struggled a bit with third-down and fourth-down conversions, going 5 for 12 and 2 for 4, respectively. But the Cougars were solid where needed — in the red zone.

BYU went 6 of 7 in red-zone scoring chances. The sole miss came on an end-of-game kneel-down possession.

Tonga would have liked to score in the final drive, but understands why Sitake chose to take a knee three yards from the goal line to end the game.

“That’s something I love about coach Kalani — no matter who the opponent is, we’ll always show respect and class and good sportsmanship,” Tonga said. “It’s fun. We don’t see it at the moment, but we realize it after it happens.”

• The Cougars had 10 receivers with a minimum of 10 receiving yards. BYU was able to spread out the action, but still had the big guns to pull out the big plays.

Dax Milne and Gunner Romney led the receivers with 140 yards and 138 yards, respectively. Milne’s longest reception was a 70-yard touchdown reception at the start of the second half. Romney’s biggest catch of the night was a 52-yarder that helped set up the Cougars' third scoring drive.

“As a quarterback, I can honestly say that a quarterback is only good as the guys around him, and I’m fortunate to have a great 10 guys that rally around me,” Zach Wilson said. “I can make an easy play and they can make it a big play.”

• The strength the Cougars have in the kicking game was highlighted by similar field goal attempts. At the end of the first half, BYU went for a 54-yard field goal. In the third quarter, Troy attempted a 53-yard field goal. Only one was successful.

Jake Oldroyd tied his career-best with the 54 with a strong kick that left no doubt as the ball soared between the uprights. The Trojans' attempt, however, fell flat before the goalpost.

Player of the game

Zach Wilson, junior, quarterback.

Wilson was hot right off the blocks, playing a perfect first quarter on the way to throwing for a career-high 392 yards (23 of 28) and two touchdowns. The junior also added two rushing touchdowns.

Wilson’s 392 passing yards are the most for a BYU QB since Christian Stewart threw for 433 against Cal in 2014.

“He’s throwing the ball really well and he’s seeing things really well,” Sitake said. “There is still room for improvement and I know Zach will think that this isn’t good enough. There are some plays that I think he’ll want back, but I just like the way he is working and leading this team.”

Play of the game

Not quite a play, but a response.

In what would have been the Cougars' first drive of the game, Dax Milne muffed the punt return, which was recovered by Troy on the BYU 22-yard line. But instead of the Trojans scoring early in the game, the BYU defense shut them down.

The Trojans slowly moved the ball — first five yards, then three and one more yard on their third attempt. On fourth-and-1, the Trojans decided to go for it on another running play, but the Cougar defense set up a wall.

Officials brought out the chains and determined the Trojans fell short of a first down by a couple of inches and turned over the ball due to downs.

“The guys handled it well,” Wilson said. “Personally for me in that situation, I saw the muffed punt and honestly just shook it off. It was no big deal. Guys make mistakes and Dax Milne will tell you that first hand. It was no big deal for us. We knew we were going to be able to come back. We knew the defense would get a stop for us and we were going to be able to come back and put a drive together.”

Up next

The Cougars will face another first-time opponent in Louisiana Tech, which was added to the BYU schedule most recently. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The Bulldogs are also undefeated and coming to Provo off a 66-38 victory over Houston Baptist.

But while the Cougars are averaging 51.5 points per game and 5.0 points allowed, the Bulldogs are averaging 48.5 points per game and 34.0 points allowed.

However, BYU’s preparation (and Louisiana Tech’s) will be cut a day short with the upcoming game being played on a Friday night. It may speed things up a little, but running back Lopini Katoa believes the team will be ready as long as they remain focused.

“We might lose a day of film, preparation that we might not have, but just getting our minds focused on our next opponent a little sooner,” Katoa said. “I don’t think it’ll be too big of a problem, though.”