Even Chase Roberts wasn’t sure if he would play vs. Baylor. Then the BYU freshman helped topple the No. 9 Bears

The backstory of Roberts’ week of practice and the trick play that helped beat Baylor.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young wide receiver Chase Roberts (27) catches a pass in the end zone for the Cougars, as Baylor Bears cornerback Lorando Johnson (11) defends, in football action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Baylor Bears at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.

Provo • All week, Chase Roberts was kept in the dark about the biggest question on his mind. Would wide receivers Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney play against Baylor come Saturday?

Depending on the answer, Roberts’ first career home game would take on a much different tenor. If the answer was yes, it would likely mean that BYU’s freshman receiver would spend the majority of his night on the sideline.

If the answer was no, then Roberts had the potential to be the difference in one of the biggest games of the Independence era at BYU.

“They kept it very low key of whether they were going to play this week,” Roberts said. “[Once I knew they weren’t] yeah I had confidence that any guy could step up, especially myself. If a ball came my way, I am going to make a play. With Gunner and Puka out, there needs to be a spark.

“Somebody needs to step up and go.”

Roberts was that spark for BYU, catalyzing a 26-20 upset victory over the reigning Big 12 champions. Roberts had 122 yards receiving on eight catches and 15 targets. He had one receiving touchdown and added a 22-yard touchdown pass to Jaren Hall on a trick play. That play gave BYU a 20-13 lead and jolted the momentum back in the third quarter.

“This stuff happens,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said of Roberts stepping in. “It happens when everybody is questioning what we are going to do. Chase Roberts is a great player, he just hasn’t had all his opportunities.”

Without Nacua and Romney, it was a major concern as to who would be Hall’s main deep threat to stretch Baylor’s defense. Roberts had the obvious skillset to fill the void. With his speed and ability to make contested catches in the air, he was BYU’s best option. But nobody knew how much trust there was in Roberts to actually do it during a game.

From the onset, though, it was apparent the Cougars would go down fighting with the freshman.

Hall aired it out to him on the first drive of the game with a deep shot to the end zone. The ball was overthrown, but it was a sign that Roberts would be the target.

Before the half, Roberts hauled in a 20-yard touchdown from Hall to give BYU a 10-6 lead. It was back-shoulder grab with one foot inbounds — a statement that BYU’s passing attack was in good hands without its top two players.

“We love Puka and Gunner, but we talked about our depth quite often,” Sitake said. “I thought Chase Roberts did a great job. I thought Kody Epps did a great job, Brayden Cosper did a great job and Keanu Hill. Those guys played really well.”

The most complete defensive performance?

Was this the most complete defensive performance BYU has had in years?

Linebacker Max Tooley said it would be hard to argue with that statement.

With BYU’s offense struggling for large portions of the night — with seven drives under four minutes — the defense largely won the Cougars the game. Baylor seemed intent on running it down BYU’s throat, betting that it would break like it did in 2021 when Baylor ran for 303 yards on BYU.

But this time, the defense didn’t budge. Baylor ran the ball 52 times for just 2.9 yards per carry. No Baylor rusher had over 70 yards. And whenever BYU needed to get off the field, it did.

Tooley headlined the effort with 13 tackles and seven solos. He was followed by linebackers Ben Bywater and Keenan Pili. The defensive effort was a flex of BYU’s depth at linebacker when everyone is healthy. Perhaps, this linebacking room is even deeper this year than last year, and Tooley and Bywater compliment Pili and Payton Wilgar.

“It has been 32 years since we beat a top-10 team here at home,” Tooley said of whether this is the best defensive performance he’s been a part of. “So that alone, that is history. Only so many teams come through BYU football and wins these games.”

There were moments when BYU looked vulnerable, like late in the third quarter when Baylor put together back-to-back 70-yard drives. The defense was on the field for over 30 minutes and saw 80 plays.

But, unlike in Tampa when the defense cracked late, it rallied and came up with stops. BYU needed it to overcome two missed field goals that would have won the game far before the second overtime period.

“Our defense kept us in there for a little bit when things were struggling,” Sitake said. “I’m really proud of our defense and Tuiaki.”

The trick play story

Things were starting to look shaky at the start of the second half. Baylor marched down the field for a touchdown on its opening drive to take a 13-10 lead.

After an exchange of field goals, BYU tied the score at 13. But everything had been stalling out for BYU outside of two drives. It felt like it needed a spark on offense.

So, BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick dialed up a double pass. Jaren Hall threw it to Roberts. Then Roberts threw an easy touchdown to Hall for a 22-yard score. From there, it felt the Cougars really established themselves in the second half and for the rest of the night.

There is a story behind that play, though. In practice, each receiver had one chance to throw a spiral to see which one of them would be a part of the trick play. Roberts threw the best ball and Roderick elected to go with him.

“A couple days into practice, they were like, ‘Who is the receiver that can throw the ball?’” Roberts recalled. “I’m glad we did and we executed it.”

Coming down to the hash on the Oldroyd kicks?

Jake Oldroyd was in the discussion for the best kickers in the country coming into the night. After, well that is a different story.

Oldroyd missed two field goals — one in regulation and one in overtime — that could have won the game for BYU. The first was 35-yard attempt and the second was a 37-yard attempt. He pushed them both left.

Now, the first missed kick could be partly attributed to the hash mark it was kicked from. Oldroyd likes to kick it from the right hash if possible. But BYU was out of timeouts with 18 seconds and could not run the ball to the right hash to get the spot.

So, the ball remained on the left hash and he missed it. Should a Lou Garza finalist still make it from that distance, whatever the hash is? Probably, and he will tell you that.

As for the second kick, the ball was placed in the center of the field. He just pushed it left again. It could have been a carry-over from the first miss. It could have been the similar sight line, since it was at the same end zone as the one in regulation.

Oldroyd was not made available after the game to answer those questions.

“We believe in Jake and we love him and support him,” Sitake said. “We wouldn’t be the program we are today without him. So, tough stuff for him. But you know it is OK. He will get better.”