Provo • For the first time in the Kalani Sitake era, the BYU Cougars have started the season 3-0 following a third consecutive dominating performance to beat La. Tech 45-14 Friday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
With the strong start, No. 22 BYU is poised to have, not only a winning season, but possibly the best finish under fifth-year coach Sitake.
The overwhelming early success comes as a contrast to previous years, in which BYU would win one or two marquee games, but ultimately the early-season strength of schedule would prove too much for the Cougars.
Since becoming a football independent, BYU has played a handful of Power Five opponents each season. As of late, the bulk of those games came at the start of the season and often resulted in the Cougars being banged up and dealing with injuries through the remainder of the season.
This year, BYU was poised to play its strongest independent-era schedule with six P5 opponents, but the COVID-19 pandemic shook things up. Somehow, after only keeping two of its originally-scheduled games, BYU has managed to put together a 10-game season.
But, after blowing past a visibly unprepared Navy team and postponing the Army game due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the BYU team, the Cougars won’t see the bulk of their difficulty until the latter half of the season, against Boise State and even San Diego State — though the Oct. 16 visit to Houston will not be without its challenges. The UH Cougars, still waiting to play their first game after multiple postponements, are scheduled to open their season on Thursday at home against Tulane.
However, senior defensive back Troy Warner said the Cougars aren’t focusing on their schedule. They’re more concerned with themselves.
“I feel like every week is a new opportunity for us to get better and to show what we’re capable of doing,” Warner said. “I’m just really proud of the way our defense and our offense has been playing right now, and just the way the coaches have prepared. And just kind of the whole collective effort from everybody has been really spot on. We’ve just got to keep it going, keep it rolling. Can’t get too high — gotta be even keel and just keep going.”
• Junior wide receiver Gunner Romney had a career-high seven receptions for 101 yards and one touchdown. It was his third consecutive 100-yard game. He is rapidly making a name for himself nationally.
The last player to have 100-plus receiving yards in three consecutive games was Cody Hoffman in 2012. Hoffman, who was then the Cougars' all-time leading receiver had four 100-yard games to finish up the season.
“I think everything is clicking right now,” Romney said. “It’s obviously not just me … Our quarterback is just doing an amazing job of getting the ball to us. So, I think it is just everything combined.”
• The Cougar defense continues the dominance over the opposing team’s quarterback by recording multiple sacks in a single game. The three sacks against La. Tech bring BYU’s season total to 12, or, an impressive four per game.
True freshman defensive end Tyler Batty recorded all three sacks against the Bulldogs himself, and now leads the team in quarterback takedowns. The last time BYU had a player with three sacks was in 2015 when Bronson Kaufusi had three against Fresno State.
“Tyler’s going to be really good,” Sitake said. “The hardest part about Tyler Batty was that I had to wait for his church mission to be complete. He’s got a lot of football ahead of him. He’s a tough kid that loves playing football. You have to credit the D-line for all their hard work.”
• La. Tech came into LaVell Edwards Stadium having forced a turnover in 19 straight games dating back to he 2018 season — the longest active streak in the country — but were unable to get a takeaway against BYU.
Instead, the Cougars ended with a +2 takeaway margin thanks to interceptions from Warner and Max Tooley. For Warner, a senior defensive back, the first quarter pick was his first career interception.
Player of the game
Zach Wilson, junior, quarterback
Wilson was near perfect against La. Tech, going 24 of 26 for 325 yards and two touchdowns. His 92.3% completion rate set the school record for completion percentage in a single game with a minimum of 20 or 25 attempts. Wilson already owns the best mark for a 15 attempt minimum when he went 18 for 18 in 2018 vs. Western Michigan.
Wilson has also thrown for 300+ yards in back-to-back games for the first time in his career (392 yards against Troy), the first since Tanner Magnum did it in 2015 against UConn and East Carolina.
If that weren’t enough, the junior quarterback from Draper also became the first BYU quarterback to have a pass efficiency rating of 200+ in three consecutive games (222.7, 231.6, 206.0).
“I would say being in the zone is definitely a thing for a quarterback,” Wilson said. “That’s where you want to be. You want to feel like your confidence is at an all-time high. I think the whole team was in the zone. I felt like anything we wanted to do tonight, we could do.”
Play of the game
Instead of one play, the Cougars put together a perfect five-play, 80-yard scoring drive in just 37 seconds toward the end of first half.
After the Bulldogs punted, Wilson rushed for 15 yards on the ensuing play to get a first down and then threw an 11-yard pass to Nail Pau’u, 13 and 19-yard passes to Dax Milne and a 22-yard pass to Romney to score and go into halftime up 28-7.
Those five plays turned out to be the most efficient drive the Cougars put together.
UTSA will make its first trip to Provo for the Roadrunners first meeting against the Cougars on Oct. 10, at 1:30 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN2.
The Roadrunners currently boast a 3-0 overall record (1-0 Conference USA) and were set to face University of Alabama at Birmingham Saturday.
UTSA got added to BYU’s schedule on Aug. 26 after both teams had open dates due to cancelations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.