Gordon Monson: BYU makes a big, big Boise Statement

Boise State quarterback Cade Fennegan (8) looks for a receiver as the BYU defense closes in during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)

The problem with playing a schedule filled with weak opponents is that when a strong one finally appears, a ranked one, everything rides on that single game — pride, validation, reputation, respect.

There’s no room for coming out flat or coming up short.

That would conjure only disappointment and disrespect.

BYU was fully aware on Friday night in Boise — and played like it knew.

It avoided what it considered such silly, superfluous pratfalls.

One of the principles running deep through the Cougars' game against Boise State, then, was a football fundamental. Whatever team was most physical would have the advantage. Which is to say, whoever could punch the other guy in the mouth would win.

Brutal and brutish but true.

The Cougars washed away any and all pressure by doing that and achieving a whole lot more. A 51-17 victory was their prize.

Not only did they beat Boise State, they made a Boise Statement.

As much attention as Zach Wilson has gotten this season, alongside his receivers, and well deserved all around at that, the big’uns up front remain the rocksteady force of the operation. And everybody knows why — they give the quarterback and those targets the time needed, they create space for the guys in back to haul the ball forward.

So punch away they did — to the benefit of BYU’s attack.

Tyler Allgeier on BYU’s first possession, second play, busted off an 86-yard run for a touchdown. The Cougars followed that with a field goal, leading 10-3 at the start of the second quarter. That all set a nice tone to which Wilson danced.

The BYU QB was pretty much smooth as he ever was, repeatedly dropping back, getting comfortable, perusing the field, accurately spinning the ball, despite some initial aggression by the Bronco defense. Regardless, Boise State, which has a talented secondary, didn’t look all that much different than Troy or Western Kentucky or Texas State. They are better athletically, but, again, it didn’t matter. Ranked team or relegated one, the QB found himself and his guys, throwing for 359 yards and two touchdowns, running for one, more than complementing the hammers on the ground.

A quarterback couldn’t have looked more confident.

Conversely, going the other way, from nearly the beginning, Boise State had to deal with the loss of dinged quarterback Jack Sears, who for the second straight game was playing in place of starter Hank Bachmeier, plugging in third-stringer Cade Fennegan and later, fourth-stringer Andy Peters. That compromised the Broncos' overall offensive effectiveness, the replacement’s replacement, a freshman, was half-bad, and his replacement, more of the same.

Wilson, meanwhile, was all-good. He and his Cougars rolled.

They scored just before the half on a quarterback draw, Wilson taking it in from four yards out, their kick failing, making it 16-3. They had another chance to score right before the half after a recovered Boise fumble in Broncos' territory, but butchered clock management killed that gaping, unfulfilled opportunity.

No worries, the Cougars getting an additional TD in the third, on a Wilson-to-Isaac Rex throw, jacking the lead to 23-3. Yet another touchdown pass to Rex and 2-point conversion boosted it to 31-3. A Lopini Katoa scoring run made it 38-3. And then a 1-yard rush by Neil Pau’u lifted the lead to 45-3. Allgeier got one more, finishing it off.

Goodbye, Boise. Hello, ridiculously flawless execution.

All told, the Cougars gained 573 yards.

BYU’s defense was almost as impressive as the O, benefiting from the Broncos' quarterback woes, but … the whole of it looked entirely lopsided, that resistance imposing its rugged will — punch thrown — without getting too sloppy about it. There were a few instances of carelessness at the end, leading to a couple of long touchdown passes for Boise. The Cougars have used a nice mix of launching three at the line, dropping eight into coverage and then picking their spots to get aggressive and pressure the passer and clog the running lanes.

On this occasion, they accomplished enough of both — with an emphasis on the aforementioned bruising behavior. Boise got all of 61 rush yards. The Cougars roughed up the Broncos on their home field, making it clear who the toughest kid in the region is.

It was bigger than just that, though.

The Cougars were doing what they could to let all of college football know that they are the real thing, having grown weary of the constant chatter about them looking good and all, but lacking the credibility of being truly challenged by worthy opponents.

For one week at least, that credibility, with or without Boise’s quarterback troubles, was gained and there likely will be a lingering effect over their last two regular-season games, games that are spread out over more than a month. That’s the way it is — unless BYU schedules yet another game in this most unique of seasons. One of those future certain games is a reflection of what the Cougars have already experienced — a win before the game is played.

North Alabama could play BYU 100 times, a thousand times, and take a whupping in every single game. San Diego State, on the other hand, will give the Cougars additional credibility — if BYU plays anywhere near the way it did on Friday night.

It’s not exactly breaking news, but here’s the absolute truth: Wilson can flat-out play — and that conclusion is solid, not to be stained with any kind of asterisk. It matters not if he’s facing the limited range of what the Cougars have on their schedule and it wouldn’t matter if he were facing some of college football’s better defenses.

That much was apparent in Boise.

And it sure looked as though the same can be said for BYU, as a whole.

The Cougars pulled off what they’ve never done before, not in five previous tries — beat the Broncos on their blue turf. In a rivalry that has games scheduled over the next century or two, that’s an important breakthrough for the future.

But what mattered most on Friday night was BYU demonstrating for anyone with eyes to see the very same capabilities that have been so obviously on display all season — it is now 8-0. All of them were displayed again against a respected opponent.

None of the Cougars are claiming they’d have the same unblemished record playing in the SEC. But, apparently, they can be what they’ve been, what they are, what they really are, against many comers, if not most of them.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.