WACO, Texas — BYU’s venture into Big 12 territory came without Big 12 physicality, and Baylor sent the 19th-ranked Cougars home with a lot to think about in a 38-24 win.
With Baylor leading BYU 31-17 with 7:10 left in the game and threatening to score, the “overrated, overrated” chant cascaded down from the fans in a packed McLane Stadium.
It turned out to be the case. BYU came home 5-2 still looking for bowl eligibility. Baylor climbed to 6-1 and is bowl-bound.
Baylor put out the welcome mat for BYU, treated their guests like VIPs and then went out and delivered a licking on Kalani Sitake’s team, this in front of an outstanding turnout by BYU fans, sprinkled in blue throughout the stadium.
It was the same recipe as a week ago in BYU’s loss to Boise State. The Bears simply took it to BYU in the trenches. The Bear defense sacked Jaren Hall five times for losses of 42 yards. The Cougar defense, meanwhile, didn’t sack Baylor’s QB Gerry Bohanon once.
“I got downhill and tried to get what I wanted,” said Baylor running back Abram Smith, who had 27 carries for 188 yards and three touchdowns.
“In our team room, we call it Bully Ball. We played Bully Ball today,” Smith said. “Our offensive line was very physical, moved people left and right and did what we did best. I tried to get to the line of scrimmage, get to the safeties and make them feel it.”
Just like a week ago against Boise State, BYU could not consistently establish the run. Baylor had BYU’s zone-blocking defended. Tyler Allgeier, who had all those big running lanes open up in September and part of October, found too many bodies to mow through here. He gained just 33 yards on 15 carries. He had no daylight at all.
That left BYU to throwing bombs, which worked, especially from Hall to Puka Nacua (five receptions for 168 yards, one touchdown). But it wasn’t enough. Not without a run game to set up play action. Nacua’s yards were harmless, except for a late fourth-quarter TD.
Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes picked up where Boise State left off: get physical and run at the Cougars, gobble up the clock and keep Hall and his receivers on the sideline.
It was same strategy seen in BYU’s only loss to Coastal Carolina a year ago and Boise State’s win in Provo last week.
Baylor out-gained BYU 534 to 409 and had the ball for 10 minutes more (35:36 to 24:24) while running 75 plays to BYU’s 55.
BYU’s defense couldn’t get off the field and the Cougar offense couldn’t stay on it.
Baylor took a 17-7 halftime lead, out-gaining BYU at intermission 305 to 134 while hogging the ball for nine more minutes, thanks to a successful onside kick after scoring on a 1-yard run.
The worry for BYU defensive coaches as they had to defend 44 plays while BYU’s offense, even with Payton Wilgar’s interception in the end zone — Baylor QB Bohanon’s first thrown pick of the season— BYU’s offense ran just 22 plays, exactly half.
It didn’t take Big 12 football to beat BYU — just the same formula a week ago.
Baylor’s offense kept attacking with the Bear tackles and guards, getting to the second and third level routinely.
Just like Boise State.
Grimes deployed combo zone blocking on BYU’s front-line defenders, and they could not shake the technique. It was a downhill attack running all day long.
Just like Boise State.
Once again, BYU found itself fighting from behind for the second time all season, the Boise State loss the first in five games.
BYU’s defense could not penetrate, missed tackles and couldn’t pressure the QB.
“Stopping the run was fun,” said Baylor middle linebacker Dillon Doyle, who sacked Hall. “That zone-blocking game is something coach Grimes knew very well when he was at BYU, and we knew what to call against it and we’d worked against it every day all spring and in fall camp. It was preparation meets opportunity.”
Of those 22 Cougar offensive plays in the first half, two of them were monster-yard gobblers to Nacua, good for 47 and 50 yards, a total of 97. In other words, Hall to Nacua accounted for 73% of BYU’s offense at that stage of the game. That combo simply couldn’t get back on the field the first half.
“He is a great athlete and made some great plays,” said Doyle. “BYU’s entire team is total class. They are high character and their coach came up and told us good luck and it meant a lot. They have a coach who gets the bigger picture about the game.”
Baylor’s formula worked just as well in the second half when BYU scored on a sensational read-option keeper by Hall for 57 yards, but on Baylor’s ensuing possessions, the Bears kept attacking BYU’s offensive and defensive lines and winning.
When Baylor’s TJ Franklin came easily from Hall’s right side on BYU’s next possession for a jarring sack and caused fumble, the Bears struck fast and easy on four plays for 67 yards to take a 31-14 lead with 4:32 left in the third quarter.
That drive gave Baylor 450 total yards with just over a quarter to play in the game and a 17-point lead.
The Cougars were getting absolutely dominated in the trenches and Baylor could get anything it wanted.
Grimes had to be the cat with canary feathers in the mouth.
Baylor offensive line coach Eric Mateos, whom Grimes took with him from Provo, was a road grader foreman in a flat pasture.
And Baylor head coach Dave Aranda’s defense had found a way to get consistent pressure on Hall when he wasn’t throwing scoreless bombs to Nacua.
Suddenly those wins over Arizona State and Utah where the Cougars dominated the line of scrimmage were but a folded page in the memory diary.
Since then, the Cougars have been well-scouted, well-planned for and in the middle of big boy football with big guys who were getting spanked.
BYU’s linemen looked less explosive. Maybe tired.
Welcome to a P5 schedule.
It’s going to take more.
Will Sitake find any of the answers before taking on Washington State, Virginia and USC?
Well, in those teams, BYU’s defense will face the nation’s leading passer in Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong and the country’s second-best receiver in USC’s Drake London.
Now it’s on to Pullman and those pesky other Cougars.