Gordon Monson: Great promise cuts through a dark cloud hanging over BYU football

When the Cougars needed him, Baylor Romney delivered another memorable performance

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Baylor Romney (16) checks the play at the line of scrimmage, as BYU and the South Florida Bulls face off at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

Everybody talks about that one game.

But there’s more. A lot more.

The one, though, from two years ago, came when Baylor Romney got his first college start at BYU and beat highly-ranked Boise State, completing 15 of 26 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. (A side note from that night was that a young linebacker, name of Tyler Allgeier, led the defense in tackles with nine solo stops.)

It was like the alpha and omega of the quarterback’s existence, the only thing anyone remembered about him, the only thing that mattered, the solitary frame of reference for Romney, other than the fact that he was Gunner’s brother, and maybe distantly related to Mitt.

There were other things to know — he did beat Liberty that same season, and threw, in all appearances, for 747 yards and seven touchdowns. He also got scrub minutes through 2020, playing behind You-Know-Who. But he never was quite good enough to beat out Zach Wilson, nothing of which to be ashamed.

Here’s the truth: Baylor Romney was a useful, serviceable QB to have around, a kind of plumber behind center to call when the pipes got clogged, a nice backup, but …


He didn’t like big buts, and he cannot lie.

His other brother — Gunner — could not deny.

(Sincere apologies to Sir Mix-a-Lot.)

The quarterback wanted to play, wanted to be known for more than beating Boise.

Now, he will be.

After getting a subsequent crack at it in the final plays of last week’s win over Arizona State, one more ranked team, coming in cold on an emergency call to throw a game-clinching touchdown pass — another game in which Allgeier played a significant role — Romney got one more shot at adding to his story on Saturday night at LaVell’s Place against South Florida.

Subbing in for the dinged starter, Jaren Hall, who not only had shoved him back to the bench before this season, but whose wind apparently was still “knocked out” of him from the previous week, Romney won another game for the Cougars, this one by the count of 35-27. Those numbers would have been considerably more lopsided had BYU’s defense showed up.

It did not.

Instead, that resistance looked slow and weak and tired, throwing what Kalani Sitake called a “dark cloud” over the victory.

“We need to find ways to get off the field,” he said. “… We’d like to get the ball more to our offense.”

On the occasions when that actually happened, the offense, especially early on, pounded low and flew high, thanks in large measure to Romney. The quarterback had almost nothing substantive to say after the game, filling a brief postgame interview with a bunch of boring coachspeak, but his play was anything but boring.

He described what occurred on Saturday night thusly: “Overall, [it was] a pretty good night on offense.”

In a lesson more and more backup quarterbacks are learning, or should learn, that in a sport as violent as football, doors swung shut often swing back open again, Romney, the plumber, repaired BYU’s pipes as well as the first guy would have, throwing for 305 yards, hitting 20 of 25 passes, and getting three touchdowns.

He made it look easy, especially on numerous deep balls.

“It worked out for us tonight,” he said.

Romney most certainly is not the athlete Hall is, but he’s a quarterback who has a specific feel for the game, for winning the game, having figured out, mostly in practice, how to get the ball to the right place at the right time to the right receiver for the right reason.

The small matter that the Bulls were 23-point dogs, with a mess of a defense, to the Cougars coming in hurt him not one bit.

And he took advantage of his own abilities and the lack thereof of an overmatched USF D that simply could not get its mind, arms, thumbs and fingers around most of what BYU was doing, what it wanted to do, on attack.

Romney had plenty of company in loading up numbers, aided by an offensive line that graded the road for whoever was passing or running the ball. Allgeier, now a tailback, romped for 81 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. And the dudes carving the routes, catching the ball — Puka Nacua (102 yards), Gunner Romney (119 yards and a TD), Neil Pau’u (four catches, one TD), Masen Wake (five catches, one TD), all helped. Everybody was in the pool.

Regardless of who takes snaps for the Cougars, it’s more than worth noting that in the seasons where BYU excels, they have stellar receivers, savvy pass-catchers who a quarterback, any quarterback, can count on to get open, to secure the ball, to advance it. That’s as true this year, a season that looks promising, as it’s ever been.

Not a soul has to underscore the necessity of killer protection, and, as mentioned, that appears to be what BYU has this time around. There were worries about replacing the spots vacated up front by guys now playing in the NFL, but those concerns have been extinguished — unless health issues reignite the fire.

The Cougars weren’t — and haven’t been — perfect on offense, but they’ve been efficient. All told on Saturday night, they rolled for 443 yards, scoring 28 points in the first half, and just seven in the second.

That was all that was needed, but by a slimmer margin than most had expected.

The major thing that slowed them down was their own defense, resistance that, as Sitake put it, struggled getting the Bulls’ offense off the field. All told, USF possessed the ball 11 minutes more than BYU. Quarterback Timmy McClain, a mobile freshman, used his athleticism to prolong drives, at times almost comically — woob, woob, woob — dodging and blowing past tacklers.

“We couldn’t keep him contained,” Sitake said,

South Florida exposed that BYU defensive weakness — a lack of speed, and, surprisingly, of power — using its quickness and fortitude to hold the ball over long stretches in the second half, stretches that turned into touchdowns. But because BYU had piled up its own scoring strikes, those extended possessions dented the Cougars’ ego more than the ultimate outcome.

Whether such problems will matter against better teams in the future is yet to be determined. But they certainly could. Weaknesses like those are what opponents will circle and target moving forward, especially teams with athletic QBs. Another concern is that continued trend of injuries, a fistful of Cougars hobbling off the field, after BYU already lost leading tackler Keenan Pili for the season last week. Did we mention that football is a violent game? Yes, we did.

“There are a bunch of guys who are banged up,” Sitake said, “but I think they’ll be OK.”

Still, the coach said he was “disappointed” by what he saw on the defensive end, adding, too, that he is impatient. “I know we can play better.”

But will they?

The offense, conversely, was “good.”

“It’s a tale of two sides,” he said.

Promise and a dark cloud.

Nonetheless, BYU turns away from this grinding victory now with a glistening 4-0 record, three of those wins coming over P5 teams, and a ranking in the polls that might jump (if voters missed this ugly second half), and a chance to prepare to play an in-state rival on Friday in Logan. And also a rather uncommon luxury, the best news of the night — the sure knowledge that whatever happens with or to Hall this season, however proficient and durable the starter turns out to be or not be, they’ve got in reserve a quarterback who not only beat Boise State two years ago, but … but … who has more marked moments to jam into everyone’s memory banks.

Yeah, another but.

Baby Got Back.

Big buts or no, no lying or denying, turns out, the plumber really can play.

When needed, just give him a call.

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