BYU football back in AP Top 25 after close win over Washington State

Although not perfect, the BYU Cougars regained their ground game and physicality against the WSU Cougars.

BYU running back Tyler Allgeier carries the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Washington State, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

It wasn’t a perfect game, but BYU got back to doing what it was doing earlier this season — it found a way to win. The BYU Cougars cut it close, but were able to get a road win at Washington State, 21-19.

This time around, the game didn’t rely on a defensive stop. Instead, it came down to the offense.

BYU’s final drive started with 4:14 left on the clock. The Cougars didn’t need another score to secure the win, they just needed to protect the ball and move the ball enough to run out the clock.

And they did just that.

The tight win not only improved BYU to 6-2 on the season, but got the Cougars back into the AP Poll, coming in at No. 25 on Sunday.

“We’re coming off a slump, so it’s good to have this be something we can build off for next week,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said.

BYU got a bit stalled midway through the final drive when it drew a false start penalty. But, on 3rd-and-7, Cougar Tyler Allgeier was able to punch through with a nine-yard rush to get a much-needed first down.

After that, the Cougars were able to take a knee and run out the clock.

“I like that our offense took care of the football,” Sitake said. “Ball security is something that’s really important to us. When you have tight games like this, it’s important that we don’t turn the ball over — and we were able to gain one. I thought we played smart football.”

Had BYU been forced to punt, Washington State would have had about a minute or so to move the ball enough to try for a field goal, which would have been enough to get the win. With the way WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura was throwing (26 for 37 for 257 yards), it could have been possible.

Luckily for BYU, it didn’t come down to that and the Cougars were able to end the game on their terms.

“In these tight games, it just comes down to guys just making one play more and everybody depending on each other,” Sitake said. “It’s easy to get down when Washington State scored that last touchdown, but we had to rally and try to find to make a play on that 2-point conversion. Just glad we were able to make that play. I think that was the difference. … I’m just glad they didn’t put me in position to go for it on fourth down or to punt.”

BYU got back to the running game

A week ago, the Cougars put up a season-low rushing yard performance (67 yards), but on Saturday put up a season-high 238 rushing yards at Washington State.

A huge part of that was due to Allgeier, but also due to the offensive line playing more physical.

Allgeier ran for 191 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries — the best rushing performance against a Power Five team by any Cougar. The redshirt sophomore also broke a new milestone, now with more than 2,000 career rushing yards.

“I thought [Allgeier] played really physical,” Sitake said. “I thought he was punishing some people at the end of runs. I know he got banged up a little bit, but sometimes you just have to gut through those things. He’s really sore right now and that’s how he should be every week. He’s a big-time player for us and we have to utilize him that way.”

Although Allgeier took a beating, he said he could handle it.

“Just a normal Sunday sore,” Allgeier said. “... I’m a little banged up, but should be good.”

Cougars continue to struggle with injuries

While there were a couple of injuries sustained throughout Saturday’s game, the biggest one was to center James Empey, who was carted off the field at halftime with a lower leg or ankle injury.

Connor Pay stepped up to fill the void, although the freshman didn’t have as much experience with that specific spot on the offensive line.

“Connor Pay was big-time for us,” Sitake said. “To have him fill in and play on the road and snapping the ball, and he’s got most of his reps at guard, but to go to center and do that, I think he’s one of our top players of the game. Guy made a lot of plays and made a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage and led that O-line. The O-line was really physical, played hard, and it shows in the stats and the run game.”

Although BYU lost one of its team leaders, and one of the offense’s biggest leaders, Allgeier said the group had confidence in Pay and the offensive line to continue to lead a dominating front.

“It just shows the heart and grit that our O-line and our offense has,” Allgeier said.

Playing with more physicality

After last week’s struggles, coaches had really emphasized the importance of physicality. And the Cougars delivered.

BYU had nine more plays than WSU and had slightly more total yards. On the defensive end, the BYU Cougars got a takeaway and had more tackles for loss (three for 22 yards) than the WSU Cougars (two for 14 yards).

While overall it turned out to be a fairly balanced game, the WSU Cougars have been known for an explosive offense and went into Saturday’s game with all of the momentum, riding a three-game win streak. Just by stopping the WSU Cougars from dictating the game, BYU saw success.

“It brings the confidence really back up, but we’re 0-0 now,” Allgeier said. “We’ve just got to keep that momentum going forward.”