Finally back: BYU football gets boost from Romney’s return in win over Utah State
How much did it mean to the BYU football team for senior wide receiver Gunner Romney to finally get back on the field?
Just ask Cougar freshman wide receiver Kody Epps.
“That’s a brother right there,” Epps said. “That’s a dude that I love to death, and I’m gonna love him for the rest of my life. As a true friend, as a true brother, to have him back on the field and see him make that first catch was epic. I know he’s been waiting for a while. I’ve been wanting to for him, and the team has been waiting for him, so it was pretty sick to see that.”
Romney didn’t need to be Superman in order for BYU to get the 38-26 victory over Utah State at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Thursday night, since other receivers like Epps, Brayden Cosper and Keanu Hill came up with big plays.
That was probably just as well, according to Romney, since although he was finally cleared to play he still isn’t back to being 100%.
“I’m not even close conditioning wise,” Romney said. “I was out of breath almost the entire game but that’s just something where I haven’t practiced too often until this week. It was a short week to try and to get in as many reps as I could, but still stay fresh. But that’s just something that will come with time.”
But after having to watch the first four games, he was certainly hungry to have the pads on again.
“I’m just glad to be out playing again,” Romney said. “I felt super-rusty for sure, but first games are to see what I can improve on and shake off the rust so I can be ready to go for next week.”
Given the connection between Romney and junior quarterback Jaren Hall, it wasn’t all that surprising to see Hall look for his friend on the first play of the game.
“We talked about it before the game,” Romney said. “Something that we were going to try and set up was to be aggressive on the first play. It just ended up working out that I was in the right spot. We game-planned that we wanted to be aggressive right from the start.”
Romney finished with four catches for 51 yards, the biggest being the 34-yarder to start the game, but in addition to his statistical production he also is a veteran leader. His presence makes a difference, especially when things are going well for the Cougars.
“You can be all like the ‘rah-rah’ guy but I think really it comes down to making plays and setting a tone,” Romney said. “If you’re a guy that goes out there and makes a huge play, it automatically is going to raise the energy of the entire team. It can be something away from ball, where it’s not a big catch or not a big run. It can be a great block or something like that which can really elevate a team.”
BYU certainly needed players to make plays like that during the first half of the game against the Aggies, since Utah State came out fired up and put the Cougars on their heels.
“Give a lot of credit to Utah State,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “I thought Blake Anderson and his staff had their guys ready to play. They did some different things that we weren’t expecting, especially on the offensive side, but I thought they played really well on defense too. We could definitely play better ourselves. We just made a lot of mistakes and undisciplined play, just little things that we can fix. I didn’t like that. Last week I talked about us not playing clean, and then the same thing happened again. That’s my job, to demand better from our guys.”
BYU sophomore defensive lineman John Nelson said the Cougars definitely weren’t happy with how they struggled to get off the field against the Aggies in the early going.
“the first half was not what we liked, but at halftime we said ‘hey, we can play better than that. We can come out, play our game and we’ll be alright,'” Nelson said. “Going into the second half, it was a good a down-to-Earth moment, knowing we could do it.”
The reality was that the Cougars were able to make a lot of errors (10 penalties, missed field goals, blown assignments, etc.) and still get the win on Thursday — but against teams like Notre Dame and Arkansas that is less likely.
For BYU to have a shot in those games, it’s going to have to find a balance between what Sitake describes as playing loose and having fun, while also being disciplined and executing at a high level.
Cougar junior linebacker Max Tooley said players have to take care of the simple things.
“It is a lot of the fundamentals, just the basic things like wrapping up and tackling,” Tooley said. “That includes me. I left way too many plays out on the field and I’m not really satisfied to be honest. I just feel like we need to stay focused all week. Certainly we really need to focus on just staying locked in with our technique and our fundamentals.”
BYU now turns its attention to preparing to face the Fighting Irish at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Oct. 8.