No. 15 BYU struggles with UTSA, but hangs on for 27-20 victory to improve to 4-0

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars tight end Masen Wake (13) leaps over the top of UTSA Roadrunners cornerback Corey Mayfield Jr. (26) in football action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the UTSA Roadrunners, at Lavell Edwards stadium, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020.

Provo • Maybe it was bound to happen sooner or later, but No. 15 BYU returned to earth on Saturday.

Grinding out the yards but struggling to score, the Cougars found themselves in a close game for the first time all season. Yet, they did rise to the occasion when it counted, holding off the upset-minded UTSA Roadrunners 27-20 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

It was a wake-up call.

For the first time in four games, the Cougars found themselves in a real battle. They trailed and failed to score in the first quarter.

Yet, BYU coach Kalani Sitake said there was no panic among his Cougars.

“We trust our offense and our coaches and our players," Sitake said. "I’m not really focused on trailing or all the stats or whether we score points every quarter or not. I felt like UTSA did a great job of slowing the game down and I thought they tried to possess the ball a little bit more, run some clock and limit our possessions. And I thought they did a good job at that.”

BYU started the game looking a little out of sorts, and never really did get untracked save some explosive bursts.

Example: Midway through the first half and facing a fourth-and-short on the UTSA 4-yard line, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson scrambled, but found wide receiver Neil Pau’u tucked away in the back right corner of the end zone — where the redshirt junior managed to keep his feet inbounds to score for the Cougars less than two minutes into the second quarter.

“I didn’t have pressure, so if I would have been able to get to my front-side read, I think I actually had Neil right out of his break, sitting in the end zone,” Wilson said. “I ended up scrambling because I was trying to make a play. Really, at that point, the guy had his back turned and I was really just trying to throw it up and give Neal a shot in that situation. And he did a great job going up and catching it and getting his foot inbounds. That was huge.”

By halftime, BYU extended its lead to 14-3 thanks to an 11-yard reception by Lopini Katoa.

Toward the end of the third quarter, the Cougars added another score on a 4-yard rushing touchdown by Wilson, but the Roadrunners responded at the start of the fourth quarter with a 32-yard touchdown reception.

Nursing an uncomfortably tight 21-13 lead, BYU saw its first competitive fourth quarter of the season. In all three previous games, the starters had been pulled from the field by the fourth quarter or shortly thereafter.

This time, the Cougars had to leave the starters in.

BYU 27, UTSA 20

• BYU is 4-0 for the first time since 2014 after holding out to beat UTSA.

• Zach Wilson topped 1,000 passing yards this season (1,241) — fastest BYU QB to do so in a single season

• UTSA adjusted after halftime, giving the Cougars some difficulty and the most competitive game of the season

Junior wide receiver Dax Milne expressed frustration with the offense’s lack of consistency early, especially considering the dominating performances the Cougars have put up in recent weeks, but was glad the team was able to push through and improve to 4-0.

“Throughout the game, I thought that we were still able to move the ball — I mean, at halftime we had around 300 yards offense," Milne said. "I knew we weren’t in trouble. I just think we just needed to clean up a couple things and we’d be all right.”

Playing his first complete game of the season, Wilson finished the day with 292 passing yards (22 of 30) and two touchdowns. The junior also added a rushing score.

Wilson also made a little BYU history.

With his first two completions of the day, the junior quarterback surpassed 1,000 passing yards this season. And the 73 attempts it took to get the mark is the fastest of any BYU quarterback in school history.

“It really makes our job on defense easier when you have a quarterback who can just make plays," senior linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi said. “Just really excited about what our offense can do — and the offense just seems different this year. We’ve got playmakers all over the field. Really just proud of those guys.”

The Roadrunners (3-2) were left beaten, but unbowed.

“Our best is good enough, we have just got to be [more] extraordinary than ordinary,” said UTSA coach Jeff Traylor. “We gave great effort and I was proud of our kids. We are getting better every week, but our best is good enough. I am proud of their effort, but we are pretty hurt right now.”