Finally, No. 8 BYU got a chance to prove itself.
It had some challenges earlier in the season, but the chance to prove the College Football Playoff committee wrong and move up in the rankings all came down to Saturday’s game at Coastal Carolina, which was put on the schedule just two days prior.
With three seconds left, BYU’s Zach Wilson completed a pass to Dax Milne to win the game, but the wide receiver was stopped a yard short of the goal line. And just like that, BYU’s hopes for an undefeated season came to an end.
The Chanticleers upset the Cougars 22-17.
“I’m proud of our boys and their fight, the effort,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “Things just didn’t go our way tonight.”
The Cougars dropped to 9-1 on the season, while the No. 14 Chanticleers moved up to 10-0. Mix the win in with the national exposure of having ESPN’s College GameDay in Conway, and it was a huge night for Coastal.
BYU entered the game at No. 13 in the College Football Playoff rankings, while Coastal Carolina was at No. 18.
“It was an unreal experience,” Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell said. “... I’m very fortunate; at our level we don’t get this experience often, or hardly ever.”
BYU’s biggest trouble came on a front the Cougars were expected to dominate. The Cougars’ defensive line, which features players all over 6-foot-3 and averaging more than 280 pounds, should have been able to manage Coastal’s offensive line, which is very much undersized.
Instead, the “Mighty Mights,” as the Coastal O-line calls itself, pushed the Cougars’ D-line around. Prior to Saturday, BYU had kept opponents to fewer than 90 rushing yards. Coastal put up 281 yards on the ground.
“I give credit to those guys up front, they took it personal and we were able to make plays,” Chadwell said.
The Chanticleers’ spread option, along with the fact that BYU barely had time to prepare before traveling, proved to be too much. Senior linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi believes the Cougars were able to adjust to play an improved second half, but it was too late.
“I wish we could have had some time, I think we could have come at it with a great game plan,” Kaufusi said. “They just dominated up front — it’s a lot of confusing and different moving parts, different plays that just look different. ... It was confusing us backwards or getting us out of position. That was the biggest reason [Coastal’s offense gave us trouble].”
The game was also expected to be a high-scoring contest as the matchup featured two of the nation’s most efficient quarterbacks; Wilson came into the game ranked third with a passing efficiency rating of 205.32, while Coastal’s Grayson McCall was ranked seventh (188.36).
Wilson finished the night having thrown for 240 yards, one touchdown and one interception on 19-of-30 passing. McCall didn’t fare any better through the air. The true freshman threw for 85 yards on 10 of 15 passing.
While Sitake said he couldn’t quite place why his offense wasn’t able to put up those high numbers, the second-year coach knew the Chanticleers would take advantage of their own possessions and limit the Cougars’ drives.
After Coastal regained the lead at the start of the fourth quarter, BYU had time to score its own game-winning touchdown. Instead, the drive fell flat when receiver Chris Jackson tried to avoid a tackle and ended up running back up the field to go around the Chanticleers’ defense; it resulted in a loss of 16 yards.
In their last two drives of the game, Coastal used up 12:35 of the clock on nine plays that totaled 37 yards. It didn’t allow much time for the Cougars to put much together, even though they tried.
“I don’t know whether it’s rhythm or whatever it was, but it just didn’t look like what our normal offense can do,” Sitake said. “As a team, we need to play complimentary football on all three phases. They just made more plays tonight and obviously they made one more and we were a few inches short of winning the game.”