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Shootouts aren’t Kalani Sitake’s style, but 66-49 win over Bronco Mendenhall and Virginia was satisfying just the same

Cougars took down the high-flying Cavaliers in the so-called Bronco Bowl by racking up 734 yards and 66 points at LaVell Edwards Stadium

SHARE Shootouts aren’t Kalani Sitake’s style, but 66-49 win over Bronco Mendenhall and Virginia was satisfying just the same
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall. wearing blue, stiff-arms Virginia Cavaliers cornerback Darrius Bratton

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) stiff-arms Virginia Cavaliers cornerback Darrius Bratton (8) as BYU and Virginia play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. BYU won 66-49.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Before his much-publicized and ballyhooed return to BYU, Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday that he would prefer a score in the teens to something in the 40s.

Mendenhall could never quite get what he wanted in Provo — which is partly why he left after going 99-48 in 11 seasons — but Saturday’s result in the so-called Bronco Bowl hammered home that point to almost ridiculous lengths in front of 57,685 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

In a game pitting two of the best defensive coaches ever produced by the Beehive State — Mendenhall and his successor at BYU, Kalani Sitake — Edwards’ style of offense naturally won the day. 

After 1,322 yards were gained and 115 points scored, Sitake’s Cougars were left standing with a 66-49 win that almost certainly will vault AP No. 25 BYU into the College Football Playoff rankings when they are released for the first time in 2021 on Tuesday.

“It felt like an old-school BYU type of game,” Sitake said, later adding, “but two defensive coaches don’t really like shootouts.”

In this season when every BYU game has been a bare-knuckles brawl, it was actually refreshing, although Sitake won’t forget that second quarter in which Virginia scored 35 points for a long, long time.

It was the most points scored against BYU in a single quarter since the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl against Utah, which, ironically, was Mendenhall’s last game coaching the Cougars.

“It felt like an old-school BYU type of game. But two defensive coaches don’t really like shootouts.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake on beating Virginia 66-49 Saturday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium

Remember all those pregame prognosticators who said BYU couldn’t afford to get into a shootout with the high-scoring Cavaliers? Well, they — and we — were wrong.

After jumping out to a 21-0 lead and then suddenly becoming defenseless against former BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s attack and lefty quarterback Brennan Armstrong, the Cougars matched Virginia’s explosiveness in the second half to win going away.

They racked up 734 yards, the sixth-most in BYU history, as one of the best running backs ever in Provo ran for 266 yards and five touchdowns on 29 carries. Tyler Allgeier again carried the Cougars on his ample shoulders.

“The offense just had to be ready to have a shootout no matter what,” Sitake said. “I am glad we did.”

The five TDs Allgeier scored ties a school record, and the 266 yards is the third-most for a BYU rusher.

“He’s tough, man,” Sitake said. “He has a lot of speed. He’s a big body, but he can run. He can fly.”

It was the 600th win in BYU history, and few have been as memorable, what with Mendenhall returning and both teams entering with 6-2 records and on upward trajectories.

“Bronco was awesome before and after the game,” Sitake said, thanking BYU fans for giving the former coach “a warm welcome. I know he appreciated it, and I did, too.”

But Mendenhall’s defense, coordinated by former BYU coaches Kelly Poppinga and Nick Howell, didn’t travel. BYU’s offense saw to that, producing the kind of game Sitake has been promising was on deck.

Quarterback Jaren Hall and company didn’t flinch when Virginia came storming back. Hall matched the more-hyped Armstrong throw for throw, finishing with a career-high 349 passing yards and three TD tosses. His passer rating was 165.4.

“It was a track race,” Hall said. “Virginia’s comeback didn’t deflate us at all.”

With top-four receiver Gunner Romney still recovering from a knee injury, Hall found the Nacua brothers — Puka and Samson — for 107 receiving yards and a TD apiece. Hall praised Armstrong’s toughness and accuracy, but on this night, Hall proved to be the more clutch player.

“Hey, man, we bet on ourselves,” Hall said. “At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, that’s what we have our belief and trust in, each other.”

Hall, Allgeier, the Nacua brothers and Neil Pau’u deserve accolades, but so, too, does offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and a revamped offensive line that didn’t let Hall get touched. 

Freshmen Connor Pay and Campbell Barrington combined with mainstays Joe Tukuafu, Blake Freeland and Clark Barrington to protect Hall and open all those holes for Allgeier.

“This one for sure will go down in the record books for us,” Puka Nacua said.

The shootout that wasn’t supposed to be favorable for BYU turned out to be. The 1,297 yards is the most by two teams at LES, passing the 1,278 that Toledo and BYU combined for in 2016.

“A Rod is an absolute genius, when it comes to calling plays,” Hall said.

Anae also had it going — in the first half.

Virginia finished with 588 yards, but 448 of those came in the first 30 minutes. Credit Sitake and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki for making some fantastic defensive adjustments at halftime.

“Drop eight (defenders) won the game for us, and that was Ilaisa Tuiaki’s idea,” Sitake said. “I think people should respect him more.”

But game balls should also go to defensive tackle Uriah Leiataua, who caused and recovered a fumble, and defensive back Drew Jensen, who picked off Uber-talented but ailing Armstrong to pretty much seal the deal.

Payton Wilgar’s first-quarter interception also gave the Cougars a short field.

“Our defense played lights-out in the second half,” Hall said, calling the big play by Leiataua — who chastised BYU fans and even some in the media earlier in the week for questioning some of Tuiaki’s schemes — “a game-changer.”

Indeed, after the fifth-year senior they call “Lopa” caused one-time BYU commit Wayne Taulapapa to fumble, then pounced on the pigskin himself, Allgeier put the game away with a 31-yard touchdown run to make it 59-49 with 14:22 left.

At that point, Allgeier had 22 carries for 222 yards. He passed the 1,000-yard rushing milestone for the second-straight season. The big back has earned a break, Sitake said.

Last week, the coach said he would have taken holding Wazzu to 19 points, and this week he said if a shootout was what it would take to beat Virginia, then so be it.

“I think A Rod is an amazing coach,” Sitake said. “I mean, 66 points isn’t too bad.”

And neither is a win over the person you replaced. Even if it came in a shootout.