WACO, Texas — Before Saturday’s encounter deep in the heart of Texas, Baylor rolled out the red carpet to future conference foe BYU, complete with welcome signs on the big screen at McLane Stadium, the removal of caffeinated drinks from the athletic directors’ suite in the press box and the gifting of a commemorative football to school president Kevin Worthen.
Then the unranked Bears handed the No. 19 Cougars a good ol’ fashioned Big 12 butt-whupping, dominating the visitors in the trenches where so often Power Five football games are won.
As Baylor students chanted “overrated” — a silly putdown that actually takes away from what their heroes just did — the Bears improved to 6-1 with a resounding 38-24 win in front of ESPN cameras and a sellout crowd of 48,016.
“Tough loss. We were out-physicaled today. That was a difficult (result) to accept.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake
“Tough loss,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “We were out-physicaled today. That was a difficult (result) to accept.”
You might say it was shoved down their throats.
Just like last week’s 26-17 loss to Boise State was easy to analyze as to why the turnover-prone Cougars (5-2) lost, this one was just as simple.
BYU was manhandled on the line of scrimmage to the tune of 303 rushing yards for the Bears and only 67 for the Cougars, and 56 of those came on a fourth-down touchdown run by quarterback Jaren Hall.
Remember that Utah State game when the Cougars held the Aggies to less than a yard a carry and big back Tyler Allgeier ran wild? The Bears did that to BYU on a picture-perfect autumn afternoon on the banks of the Brazos River, showing them what Big 12 football is all about.
“I really apologize (to BYU fans) for us not performing better,” Sitake said. “You look at their rushing yards and the inability for us to run the ball. That’s not our style.”
Whereas last week’s loss was mostly pinned on the offense, which turned the ball over four times, this one was mostly on the defense, with an epic blunder by the special teams — failing to even come close to covering a surprise onside kick — thrown in for good measure.
“We have to get some things fixed, obviously,” Sitake said. “High level of frustration. I really believe a lot of our issues are fixable, though.”
Baylor running back Abram Smith, a 221-pound battering ram with speed, carried the ball 27 times for 188 yards and three TDs. Starting linebacker Dillon Doyle moved over to offense in red zone situations and ran for one TD and caught a 2-yard pass for another.
He also made four tackles, including a sack.
All the while, former BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes must have been busting a gut inside, facing the team he helped go 11-1 last year. Grimes’ RVO — reliably violent offense — was just that, and BYU had no answers for it. Baylor finished with 534 yards on 75 plays.
BYU’s Hall, who threw for 342 yards and a touchdown but was sacked five times, said it is a “cop-out” to think that Grimes used some insider knowledge to attack BYU’s porous defense, but clearly he called some plays that exploited the Cougars’ biggest weaknesses.
For instance, BYU sorely misses lost-for-the-season linebacker Keenan Pili (ACL), because its run defense hasn’t been the same since he was ruled out, the shutdown against USU notwithstanding. How were Arizona State and Utah not able to run the ball on these guys?
Boise State and Baylor sure did.
“It showed a little bit of our inexperience and a little bit of our youth up front,” Sitake said, when asked if the loss was a lesson in Big 12 brutality. “But with that being said, it was little things like not tackling well enough. We dripped off some tackles.”
After seven tough, physical games — even the 35-27 win over 2-4 South Florida didn’t come easily — are the Cougars simply wearing out?
“There are some guys that got banged up,” Sitake said, “and going into the game, it sucks when you don’t have all your guys at 100%. But that’s the game of football. … Baylor has the same issues. They have guys that are banged up, too.”
Sitake said he’s been in positions before when his team, including this one, or most of it, got “physically handled.” He said they will bounce back.
“This was a really good lesson for us to come out here and play a physical Baylor team,” he said “I am going to make sure we learn from it.”
After getting mostly out-classed in the first half, when Baylor probably should have led by more than 17-7, the Cougars showed some grit on their first possession of the third quarter.
Hall’s 56-yard scamper on fourth-and-1 after a questionable spot denied BYU a first down gave the Cougars some momentum. But it was short-lived.
“Too much of a roller-coaster ride for us today,” Hall said. “A lot of ups, and unfortunately a lot of downs. We made a lot of great plays throughout the game, but in the end too many times we would just follow up with another bad play to kill ourselves, shoot ourselves in the foot.
“So we got to be more consistent. We have to stick to the basics of executing our plays and minimize our mistakes.”
After that TD run by Hall, and faced with arguably their most important defensive series of the game, if not the season, the Cougars got the ball stuffed down their throats by a relentless Baylor rushing attack, mixed with some nice throws by quarterback Gerry Bohanon.
“The quarterback did a good job in their RPO scheme and kept us on our heels,” Sitake said. “We will go back to the drawing board and figure out ways to have our players have more success. A lot of that goes to credit Baylor. They did some good things. … They made some good adjustments. I thought the quarterback made some good decisions.”
On BYU’s second possession of the third quarter, after Dillon’s second TD, the Cougars opened the drive with a 47-yard throw to Puka Nacua, who had a sensational day with five catches for 168 yards and a TD.
But Hall lost the ball on a sack near midfield and the Bears quickly capitalized on the turnover to take the 31-14 lead. That was pretty much it for the Cougars.
“It was just a quick protection (call),” Hall said. “I didn’t get the ball out. I haven’t seen the play yet. That’s football, you get sacked and you fumble the ball every now and then. But yeah, that definitely played a role in the game and the momentum of it. We were cruising down, hoping to at least get a field goal. You turn the ball over any time and the result is a momentum shift.”
Baylor scored its final touchdown with 3:55 remaining on a fourth-and-inches run by Smith, bypassing a field goal try that would have made it a three-score game.
It was a message-sending play, basically telling the Cougars that the Bears believed they could run at will on them.
“We didn’t do enough to stress them,” Sitake said.
Indeed, the Bears did not commit a penalty. BYU committed just two.
There were some defensive highlights for BYU: Payton Wilgar came up with an interception in the end zone — the first time Bohanon has thrown a pick all season — and Malik Moore and Hayden Livingston knocked down passes.
But it wasn’t nearly enough.
“Today we did not play our game,” said defensive end Tyler Batty. “We did not show up today as much as would have liked to.”
Showing up wasn’t the Cougars’ problem. Baylor was as gracious a host as the Cougars have had in years.
Then the game started. And BYU got rolled.