Big start helps No. 15 BYU football stave off late South Florida comeback
The No. 15-ranked BYU football team was loving life after the first two quarters of Saturday night’s game against South Florida at LaVell Edwards Stadiums.
And what wasn’t to love?
The Cougars had basically dominated in all phases of the game, scoring touchdowns on four of their first five offensive possessions and holding the Bulls to just a pair of field goals.
But the sunny picture dimmed significantly in the second half as USF flipped the script, controlling the ball and mounting a big comeback.
Fortunately for BYU, the fast start put USF in too deep of a hole to climb out of as the Cougars held on for the 35-27 win.
“I felt the offense came to play and the defense for the first half looked pretty good,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “We have to find ways to make plays in the second half. Give a lot of credit to South Florida. I thought they did some really good things. I can’t believe their quarterback is a young freshman. He can escape and run, and we couldn’t keep him contained. I’m disappointed but I’m thankful we got the win.”
In the tale of two very different halves, the beginning was what gave the Cougars the edge.
“We came out really fast and had a couple of big plays,” BYU sophomore quarterback Baylor Romney said. “That really carried some momentum for us. It’s easy to do when you’ve got guys like we do. Overall it was a pretty solid day on offense but we’ve got some things to to work on, especially in the red zone.”
Romney got his first start of the season, filling in for Jaren Hall who has bruised rips, and made the most of it. He finished completing 20-of-25 passes for 305 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
He got the Cougars off to a fast start on the opening drive, hitting his brother — junior wide receiver Gunner Romney — for a 49-yard pass on the second play of the game.
Two plays later he flipped the ball to fullback Masen Wake on a swing pass and Wake broke a tackle to walk into the end zone, giving BYU the 7-0 lead.
The Cougars would get a defensive stop, then march back down the field thanks in large part to a 55-yard pass from Baylor Romney to sophomore receiver Puka Nacua.
BYU nearly got stopped at the goal line but junior running back Tyler Allgeier broke a couple of tackles to pound it in from a yard out on fourth-and-1.
The Cougars recovered a Bull fumble on the next drive and tacked on a third touchdown on another short, fourth-down leap by Allgeier.
“It was super-fun,” Nacua said. “Our objective since Week 1 was to come out and start strong. We made some simple adjustments to our game plan and put a little more pressure on our receivers. We’ve been stepping up but today was definitely a heyday for us. It was super-fun to get out there and sling it around a little bit, make some plays through the air.”
USF got its offense on track with a pair of long drives in the second quarter. One took 12 plays while the other took 13, with both resulting in field goals.
The BYU offense responded with its fourth scoring drive, capped by a 9-yard TD pass from Baylor Romney to junior wide receiver Neil Pau’u.
“I liked that,” Sitake said. “I think if you can score that many points that early than you are going to be a good spot. I’m really happy with what we did in all three phases. The second half was just kind of a dark cloud over the game because it wasn’t the style of football we are used to seeing from our defense.”
The Bulls weren’t ready to give up their dream of upsetting a ranked opponent on the road.
Behind the elusive playmaking ability of freshman quarterback Timmy McClain and the running talents of Jaren Mangham, USF controlled the ball for more than 19 minutes in the second half.
The Bulls had three possessions (14 plays, six plays and 19 plays), all that resulted in touchdowns.
“We were focused on playin assignment-sound football but in the second half we really struggled to do that,” Cougar linebacker Pepe Tanuvasa said. “The USF offense did a really good job of being patient and waiting for soft spots to show up. It’s hard to hold a wall for three or four seconds. They did a good job of finding soft spots and making it count when they did. We haven’t really played a full game of our best football.”
BYU got a touchdown on its first second-half possession with Baylor Romney hitting Gunner Romney in stride for a 47-yard touchdown.
The Cougars also had a chance to virtually put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter but was unable to do so.
A pair of incompletions forced a field goal attempt but Justen Smith’s kick was low and got blocked at the line of scrimmage.
That meant when USF got its last TD, it cut BYU’s lead to a one-score game.
When the Bull onside kick failed, however, the Cougars were able to run out the clock to ice the victory.
One of the biggest concerns for BYU was injuries. The Cougars were missing five defensive starters plus a few on offense as well, then had a number of players who left the game after getting hurt.
“There are a bunch of guys who are banged up but nobody is gone for the year at this point,” Sitake said. “The guys are hurt and not 100% but I think they’ll be OK. There may be some questionable guys for this next game but we’ll have to wait and see.”
BYU moved up to No. 13 in the AP poll and stayed at No. 15 in the USA Today Sports AFCA Coaches Poll, both of which were released on Sunday.