Saturday afternoon’s game against UTSA didn’t provide the same dominating performance BYU has become known for this season, but it did show growth and improvement.
A year ago, the Cougars may have not been able to hold on for the win (remember Toledo and USF), but this time around they were able to close the game with a 27-20 victory over the Roadrunners at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Last season, BYU had fourth-quarter leads against both the Rockets and Bulls, but late-game mistakes and lack of defensive stops led to the Cougars' fall. Those games have continued to haunt BYU players this year.
Junior wide receiver Dax Milne believes the past experience helped the team pull out the win.
“I think the veterans were able to lead the team because in the past we’ve seen games where we’ve played teams we should’ve beaten,” Milne said. “We knew that it was in the back of our head. We just didn’t want to make that happen again. Everyone was able to lean on the veterans and focus up and make plays.”
Although the Cougars gave a less-than-perfect performance, it didn’t necessarily hurt BYU in the rankings.
The Cougars moved up one spot to No. 14 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll and moved up two spots to No. 13 in the USA Today’s Coaches' Poll, both released Sunday.
BYU coach Kalani Sitake, however, did take a silver lining out of Saturday: The team was able to get uncomfortable. So far this season, BYU hadn’t gotten uncomfortable.
“I told the team that we’d been in this position before and lost these types of games,” Sitake said. “It felt good to get this win. It feels good to be 4-0 and learn from this. I think we’ll perform a lot better next time. The fact we get less than a week before Houston is a positive for us. These guys are excited to get back on the field.”
• While the Cougars' offense struggled to keep momentum, BYU still finished the game with a 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver for the second time this season. Milne tied his career best with seven catches for 102 receiving yards, and running back Tyler Allgeier had 116 rushing yards and one touchdown on 19 carries. It was the second 100-yard game this season for both players.
BYU finished with 470 yards — a sizable dip in production compared to the past couple of weeks. The Cougars ran for 178 yards on the ground and moved the ball 292 yards through the air.
• UTSA came to Provo as the 20th best team in the nation in the rushing game, averaging 209 rushing yards per game. The Roadrunners were led by running back Sincere McCormick, one of the top running backs in the nation.
McCormick had tallied 527 rushing yards (5.9 yards per attempt) and four touchdowns through the first four games, but didn’t find the same success against BYU. The Cougar defense effectively put a stop to McCormick, only allowing the sophomore 42 yards on 11 attempts.
• Both teams committed a total of 16 penalties, including a season-high seven for BYU for 55 yards. The penalties accentuated the Cougars' uncharacteristic sloppiness through the game.
Most were minor but still caused hiccups for BYU throughout the game.
“I don’t know what the score would have been if we made fewer mistakes and taken care of the football better, but I just like that these guys believe in each other and love each other,” Sitake said. “I’m happy that we were able to fight through it to get this win.”
Player of the game
UTSA’s Lowell Narcisse, quarterback, redshirt junior.
Narcisse became BYU’s biggest threat and almost stripped the win away from the Cougars.
The backup quarterback came out for the Roadrunners in the second half after starting quarterback Frank Harris struggled to get past BYU’s defense.
In one half, Narcisse threw for a season-high 229 yards and two touchdowns on 17 of 20 passing, and added 42 rushing yards.
“His performance was short of remarkable,” UTSA coach Jeff Traylor said. “The kid comes off the bench again and is 17 out of 20. He is playing great, and every time I put him out he plays great. The decision was made by me. It was a coaching decision based on what I felt was best for Frank and our team at that time.”
Play of the game
Midway through the first half, BYU found itself on a fourth-and-goal on the Roadrunners' 4-yard line. Instead of settling for a field goal — the easy play — the Cougars decided to risk it for a touchdown.
Zach Wilson ended up finding wide receiver Neil Pau’u tucked away in the back right corner of the end zone. Pau’u was getting pushed back by UTSA defenders, but managed to keep his feet in the end zone while catching the scoring touchdown and falling back.
BYU will travel to Texas to take on Houston in a cat fight — Cougars against Cougars — on Friday night.
Houston finally started its season Thursday with a win over Tulane, 49-31.
BYU will, for the second time this season, find itself with less than a full week to get ready and will make its second road trip of the season.
The game at Houston is one of just three originally scheduled games BYU had on its schedule prior to the coronavirus pandemic, although it was originally scheduled to take place in Provo.