With Saturday’s BYU football’s 29-26 2OT win at Tennessee still fresh in the memory banks, Cougar fans can likely recall every emotion during the titanic plays that were made by quarterback Zach Wilson, wide receiver Micah Simon, kicker Jake Oldroyd and running back Ty’Son Williams.
Those athletes came up huge in crunch time for BYU and without their successes, the Cougars would’ve likely ended up losing the game.
While their contributions were certainly some of the most dramatic, the reality is that there were numerous other plays made by other players during the game that were just as vital for BYU since they kept the Cougars in position to be close at the end.
Here are a few examples:
- Early in the second quarter with BYU already trailing 7-3, the Cougars ran a third-and-10 play from their own 19-yard line. The Volunteer crowd noise disrupted the snap and the ball ricocheted off of BYU wide receiver Aleva Hifo, who had gone in motion across the formation. The ball bounced wildly toward the Cougar goal line, but Hifo was able to corral it and prevent what could’ve been a devastating turnover.
- Later in the first half, Tennessee running back Ty Chandler broke through the BYU defensive front and raced down the sideline. The only man between him and the end zone was Cougar cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku but Ghanwoloku pursued Chandler relentlessly and drove him out of bounds.
- On the next play, Tennessee again appeared to have a golden opportunity to get back in the end zone as quarterback Jarrett Guarantano found star receiver Jauan Jennings open in the end zone. Just as the ball got there, however, BYU safety Austin Lee arrived from behind and raked Jennings’ arms, dislodging the ball and preventing the TD.
- On at least two occasions, Wilson fired passes that defenders appeared to have excellent chances to intercept. On the first, Cougar wide receiver Talon Shumway was able to prevent the pick while it was tight end Matt Bushman’s turn to do the same on the second. Bushman’s defensive effort was on BYU’s final drive in regulation, where an interception would’ve handed Tennessee the victory.
These are just a few of the unsung heroes who make critical plays when BYU had to have them.
“There were a lot of those things in that game,” Cougar offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said Wednesday after practice. “You never know which one of those is going to make the difference in a game. Any one of them could have. But if you play with effort, then you have a lot of those at the end of the game.”
Hifo said that the players see those in film and know just how valuable they are.
“They can be overlooked,” Hifo said. “Plays like the fumble I recovered, they could’ve gone the other way. Situations like that, we are very grateful that we did what we had to — but we can’t let those happen. We don’t want to put ourselves in those positions.
Players have to be ready to do what is necessary in the situation, which often isn’t what they are initially anticipating doing.
Hifo talked about how as a receiver the mindset is to catch the ball — but sometimes they have to switch to being a defender like Shumway and Bushman did.
“When we are in bad positions like that, we become the defensive back,” Hifo said. “That’s especially the case if we are walled off. If we have a route where we are coming back to the quarterback and defensive back cuts us off and we have no other option, we have to become like a DB with the left hand on the hip and the right hand over to swipe the ball. That’s what Talon and Matt did. In this game we had no turnovers and that could’ve been the difference in the game.”
Those efforts that sometimes get overlooked by the public often make all the difference to the team.
BYU offensive line coach Eric Mateos said that defensive backs and offensive linemen often only get noticed when they make mistakes. His boys, however, understand that they have to embrace being unsung heroes.
“Unsung plays are what we do,” Mateos said. “When we screw up, people notice. When we are doing well, others get noticed. That’s the offensive line persona and it comes with the territory of the position. I expect those plays to be made.”
That was one of the reasons both he and Grimes were thrilled to see their linemen get to be in the spotlight at the end of the game when they helped push Cougar running back Ty’Son Williams across the goal line for the final points.
“I thought it was a great moment,” Grimes said. “As I watched the tape, there were a lot of runs throughout the game where we didn’t make a lot of yards that I think were like body blows in a boxing match. They took their cumulative toll on the Tennessee defense. We kept pounding, kept chopping wood and eventually the tree fell.”