Heading into Saturday night's in-state battle at Utah State, the BYU football team had played in three types of games:
- Nail-biting wins (Tennessee, USC, Boise State)
- Heartbreaking losses (Toledo, USF)
- Double-digit defeats (Washington, Utah)
What the Cougars hadn't found a way to do was get a comfortable win where they played well in all three phases of the game.
BYU fans might have had trouble believing it but the Cougars dominated the second half in Logan on their way to the 42-14 victory over the Aggies.
"We've kept a lot of our wins close, so it was nice to show that we can put it away," BYU sophomore running back Lopini Katoa said.
It might have been a different story if the Cougar defense hadn't come up with three critical plays in the first half.
With BYU leading 7-0 in the opening quarter, the Aggies drove to the Cougar 26-yard line before BYU senior defensive lineman JJ Nwigwe stripped the ball from USU running back Gerold Bright and Cougar sophomore linebacker Devin Kaufusi recovered.
Early in the second quarter the home team had the ball with a chance to take the lead when BYU junior linebacker Kavika Fonua snagged a pass from Aggie quarterback Jordan Love and returned the pick to the USU 16-yard line, setting up a Cougar touchdown.
Two possessions later, the Aggies had the ball at the Cougar 24-yard line with a chance to tie the game -- only to have BYU freshman linebacker Payton Wilgar pull down another interception. The Cougars turned that turnover into a third touchdown and the Aggies never had the ball with it being a one-score game again.
"We've won the turnover margin in almost every game and to do that gives us a fighting chance," Cougar junior linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi said. "To get them in the first half was a big boost for us. Credit to all those guys who made plays."
The BYU offense loved getting such a lift from the defense with the turnovers.
"Those are huge," Katoa said. "The momentum shift and the short field it creates a lot of the time is huge. It was good that we were able to capitalize on a lot of those, so they made a big difference in the game."
BYU ended up forcing a season-high five turnovers, a huge factor in a game where the Cougar defense surrendered 521 total yards but only gave up two touchdowns.
"We played a unique defense tonight," BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. "I don't know if it caught Utah State off-guard but I liked the fact that we made them earn it. Points is all I care about. I'll take all those yards if they only get 14 points."
The ball-hawking defense helped the BYU offense build its momentum as the Cougars finally executed the way they feel like they are capable of executing.
"It feels good," Katoa said. "Those are our true colors really. We know we could do that week-in and week-out but the fact that we came and put it together today was huge for us."
BYU finished with 639 yards of total offense, the most yards by a Cougar offense since putting up 741 against Wagner in 2015. BYU also had 418 passing yards, the most since 441 against Southern Utah in 2016. The 221 rushing yards were the most since rushing for 317 against New Mexico State last season. All three were season highs, along with the 42 points the Cougars scored.
One chunk at a time
The Cougar offense didn't just eek out small gains against Utah State. It was very successful at getting the big chunk plays.
BYU had 11 plays of 15 yards or more in the game, including nine passing plays of 15 or more and two runs of 15 or more. The Cougars had six additional runs of 10 yards or more. BYU had three pass plays of 30 yards or more, including a 77-yarder.
Everyone get involved
There is no doubt that Saturday's win was a team effort for the Cougars.
Three different BYU players completed passes, seven players had at least one rushing attempt and eight players had a reception in the game. On defense, three different players had interceptions, four more combined for forcing and recovering two fumbles and two had their first career sacks.
Special tribute to George Curtis
Long-time BYU head trainer George Curtis died on Oct. 30. To honor Curtis, BYU a special tribute flag carried out before the game by current head trainer Steve Pincock before the game.
Curtis came to BYU in 1985 after serving as the head trainer for the Los Angeles Express of the USFL. He graduated from Southern Utah in 1971 and was named the Outstanding Football Athletic Trainer of the Year by the All-American Football Foundation in 1999.
Curtis retired from BYU in 2005 and was inducted into the BYU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009. Curtis is survived by his wife, Jan, and their seven children. He was preceded in death by a daughter.
BYU won the coin toss, so the Cougars are now 5-5 on coin tosses this year. BYU deferred and Utah State got the ball first. The Aggies were forced to punt on their first possession ... BYU captains for Saturday’s game were Micah Simon (Sr. WR), Matt Bushman (Jr. TE), Dayan Ghanwoloku (Sr. DB) and Khyiris Tonga (Jr. DL) ... Carrying the BYU alumni flags for the game were Harvey Unga, Gavin Fowler and Tanner Jacobson. The U.S. flag was carried out by defensive back Hayden Livingston, while long snapper Britton Hogan carried the flag of the State of Utah and the ROC flag was carried by defensive lineman Gabe Summers... the announced attendance at the game was 25,472 ... game-time temperature was 34 degrees with light winds.