And after facing back-to-back top-25 opponents, Saturday night’s matchup against the Wyoming Cowboys seemed like the perfect time for running backs Chris Brooks and Lopini Katoa to get going.
But BYU found itself trailing late in the first quarter at LaVell Edwards Stadium. At one point, Wyoming had run 33 plays to BYU’s 17 and had held the ball for nearly 18 minutes.
“The rhythm wasn’t right,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said.
Enter Miles Davis.
The little-used backup running back became the Cougars’ featured man, rushing 13 times for 131 yards and catching four passes, in the Cougars’ 38-24 victory.
Davis came into this year with 89 rushing yards in his career. He had played in just six college games and went into training camp as the fourth-string back behind a stable of veterans.
By the time the season hit, the understanding was clear: Davis might be the future, but this wasn’t his year. Brooks and Katoa were meant to carry the load on the ground.
But after two weeks of the rushing attack inexplicably grinding to a halt, and the once-potent offense struggling to move the ball, BYU had to try something different.
And as offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick threw combination after combination of skill players to jolt the offense alive, it ended up being the sophomore Davis and a bevy of backups that slowly changed the Cougars’ tune. It wasn’t easy. It didn’t materialize immediately. But eventually, the Cougars got there.
“We needed something,” Sitake said. “The last two weeks haven’t been good enough. You can only blame the offensive line for so long. The challenge is for all those guys to step up. ... We have to utilize all of our players. We have good talent. We just have to keep plugging away at it.”
Coming into the opening act of BYU’s first true homestand of the year, it felt like a time for the Cougars to recalibrate. It was the moment for starting running backs Brooks and Katoa to get back on track. The time when maybe the program could reintroduce receiver Puka Nacua into the mix and get a team to find its identity.
And BYU tried, in fits and starts, to have that be the storyline coming out of his fourth game of the season. Nacua came into the game early and BYU tried to get him the ball. On the opening three drives of the game, Sitake rotated the running backs to give Brooks, Katoa and Davis a chance.
But it was fruitless. Wyoming took a 10-7 lead late in the first half. It looked like a replay of a game against Oregon where BYU could not run the ball or stop the run as the Cowboys chewed the clock.
So, with no other card left to play, BYU went with the hot hand. It ended with Davis getting 17 touches. It led to Keanu Hill, a backup receiver, leading the team in receiving with 160 yards and two touchdowns. Brayden Cosper, a man who hadn’t had a receiving touchdown in his career, came in right behind him with 58 yards and a touchdown.
It was fitting that BYU’s final touchdown, the one that really sealed a comfortable win, came from Hill carrying his defender into the end zone on a 70-yard score.
Maybe it wasn’t conventional. But BYU was beyond convention.
“I talk to Miles every day, just trying to stay positive,” Hill said. “He kept me in my zone [to be ready] and I did the same for him.”
By day’s end, BYU finished with 525 yards of offense and averaged 6.3 yards per rush. Quarterback Jaren Hall finished 26-32 for 337 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating was 211.
It was a change of pace from the 2.5 yards per carry the Cougars’ had averaged the last two weeks. And numbers BYU would take regardless of who produced them.
“The coaches told me Sunday, ‘Miles just be patient,’” Davis recalled. “‘When your time comes, just do what you do. Just got out and just play and have fun.”
Because of the way BYU won it, there will be questions ahead. Where does BYU go when most of its main contributors were backups? And what about the injuries?
Nacua went out with an injury in the second half and was helped off the field. Sitake declined to say whether it was a serious injury. Wide receiver Chase Roberts was also not a full participant against Wyoming.
And what comes next is a short turnaround for Utah State on Thursday.
But for a night, BYU got back on track. It wasn’t the way anyone expected, but enough to move to 3-1 and live to see another game.
“I’m glad we got away with a win,” Sitake said. “Our guys, they are resilient. They keep playing hard... There is a lot of things to look at the film and learn and get better from.”