Explosive first quarter helps No. 15 BYU survive frustrating game against USF

Backup QB Baylor Romney starts for injured starter Jaren Hall, throws for 305 yards and 3 touchdowns in Cougars’ 35-27 victory.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Baylor Romney (16) runs in ball in game action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the South Florida Bulls at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

Provo • For the first time this season, No. 15 BYU didn’t struggle to get things started. But it did struggle to shut down its opponent.

However, the Cougars were able to use an explosive 21-point first quarter to lead them to a 35-27 win over South Florida at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday night.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake gets the fans excited as they enter LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, for their game against South Florida.

The victory is the 250th win in LaVell Edwards Stadium since it was built in 1964. It was previously named Cougar Stadium but was renamed in 2000. It also served as the first time BYU opened consecutive seasons with 4-0 records in program history.

But instead of the usual dances and celebrations, the BYU locker room was instead filled with “long faces,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said.

“Disappointed, but thankful we got the win,” Sitake said. “Told our guys no long faces in the locker room. We want to play our best — I don’t think we played our best as a complete team, but I think there’s some really promising things, considering [we were with] our backup quarterback.”

Prior to kickoff, as BYU players warmed up, one athlete was visibly missing from the group.

Baylor Romney, Jacob Conover and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters were all seen making passes, but Jaren Hall was nowhere to be seen.

Even without Hall, the No. 15 Cougars were quick to pounce and went into halftime with a 28-6 lead against South Florida.

Hall would later make an appearance, sitting on the sidelines in street clothes. The season starter took a hard hit late in the game against Arizona State a week prior.

During the last week’s postgame news conference, Hall said he was fine. He just had the wind knocked out of him.

Throughout the week, the coaching staff said Hall was at practices, but it seems the injury was more severe than initially believed.

Romney, who stepped in for an injured Hall last week, instead got the start.

“Starting on Monday, I was practicing as if I was going to start this game,” Romney said.

Unlike all three previous games this season, the BYU offense started off quickly against the Bulls. Helped by a 49-yard pass from Baylor Romney to Gunner Romney, the Cougars needed just four plays to get on the board.

BYU would go on to score on its first three consecutive drives for its biggest first-quarter performance this season.

South Florida was able to score twice on field goals in the second quarter, but the Cougars added to their lead with a fourth touchdown at the end of the first half.

“Definitely came out real fast, had a couple of big plays and really carried some momentum for us,” Romney said. “It’s easy to do when you’ve got guys like we do up front and the backs that we do. The run game got started really early for us. Overall, pretty solid day on offense, but obviously we got some things to work on.”

The Bulls made a late-game push, outscoring the Cougars 21-7 in the second half (BYU was scoreless in the fourth quarter), but it wasn’t enough to overtake BYU.

In total, the Cougars only had three possessions in the second half. While BYU was successful on the first one, the second drive ended in a blocked punt and only moved the ball 19 yards in the final possession of the game to run out the clock.

While BYU scored a season-high 35 points, it also allowed the most points this season with 27. Heading into Saturday’s game, the Cougar defense allowed an average of 16.67 points per game.

Romney finished the night having thrown for 305 yards and three touchdowns while completing 20 of 25 attempts. He is now the 31st quarterback at BYU to throw for more than 300 yards in a game.

The Cougars had two 100-yard receivers in Gunner Romney, who caught five passes for 119 yards and one touchdown, and Puka Nacua, who finished with four receptions for 102 yards.

“We found a way to grind it out and win the game,” Sitake said. “Wins are really hard in college football. Although I’m disappointed in some of the things that happened tonight, I think we have to be thankful that we were able to get the win. And we have to give credit to South Florida for some of the things that they did.”