PROVO — Kalani Sitake slipped a sly one on Bronco Mendenhall on Saturday night in LaVell Edwards Stadium.
All week long, Mendenhall caught a much-deserved spotlight for his return to BYU, his first head coaching job where he’d won 99 games.
Sitake just slipped back into the shadows. His team even lost a 21-point first quarter lead.
Then his guys came screaming back in a primetime display of firepower on offense and huge defensive plays.
Sitake did his part in delivering a historic 600th win for the BYU football program with a dramatic shootout victory over the Virginia Cavaliers.
BYU scored 62 points in their previous 3 games. They got 66 tonight.— CougarStats (@CougarStats) October 31, 2021
At the Deseret News, we ran a dozen stories that totaled out more than 13,000 words that featured, significantly mentioned, or included in-depth analysis of Mendenhall. This is aside from what other print and broadcast outlets produced in and out of the state.
Meekly, humbly, Sitake just went to work behind the scene and gave Mendenhall a respective hug and genuine welcome to Provo.
Then Sitake had his offense out-shoot Virginia in a real tennis match, and in a game that featured little defense, got his defense to get three turnovers, the eventual key to the win.
This game was amazing. BYU had 734 total yards to Virginia’s 588. After Virginia scored a first-ever 35-point second quarter and came back after BYU led 21-0, BYU outscored Mendenhall’s team 28-7 in the second half.
Sitake saw his star running back Tyler Allgeier tally 29 carries for 266 yards and five touchdowns — both career highs. His quarterback Jaren Hall had 349 passing yards and three touchdown passes — both career highs.
The 66 points laid on Virginia is the most ever by a BYU team on a Power 5 team — that it came against the ACC’s No. 2 Coastal Division team made it even sweeter.
Mendenhall brought in the nation’s No. 1 passer in Brennan Armstrong who lived up to his billing, but BYU had Hall and Allgeier, and ultimately that is the combo that could not be stopped.
BYU’s defense forced two interceptions (Drew Jensen, Payton Wilgar), and a fumble caused and recovered by defensive lineman Uriah Leiataua.
Those three defensive gems lifted Sitake’s Cougars past Virginia.
Take a bow, coach. You deserve it.
After going 11-1 last year in a makeshift COVID-19 season, folks questioned Sitake’s schedule that did not feature one Power 5 opponent. They said it was a fluke and a Top 10 ranking didn’t fit the bill.
But after losing the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft (Zach Wilson) and four other key players to the pros, here you have Sitake’s Cougars with five wins over P5 teams, a perfect 4-0 record over the Pac 12, and an appearance in the Top 10. Again.
On Saturday night, Sitake fielded a depleted football team with a makeshift offensive line that did not include his captain and most experienced lineman, center James Empey; also out was top receiver Gunner Romney and Sitake was missing three of his top safeties and best linebacker.
This game was a track race — a scoring 100-yard dash — and Sitake’s team crossed the tape at the finish line going away with energy, momentum and a clear superior victory.
The Nacua brothers — Puka and Samson — put on a dazzling display of playmaking. Both had 107 yards receiving. Samson got his on three catches, Puka delivered his on eight. Neil Pau’u also delivered big time with 3 catches for 39 and a touchdown.
On a night BYU needed all its offense to answer the bell to keep up with Virginia, one of the nation’s top four offenses, the Cougars did just that.
The 734 total yards was sixth all-time in school history. Allgeier’s 266 was third all-time. His five TDs tied for best all-time.
Yes, Virginia’s defense was bad.
Yes, BYU’s defense really struggled against Armstrong.
But in the end, BYU held Virginia to seven second-half points after trailing by four early in the third quarter. In the end, Armstrong, who ran almost at will against the Cougars, paid a great price, leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a rib injury, telling his sideline coaches he broke his rib right after throwing a pick to Jensen.
BYU now takes a 7-2 record into a home game against Idaho State before its first week off. Sitake’s squad has played nine straight weeks without a break.
Somewhere this weekend, after the tremendous welcome to Mendenhall all week and every day, you’ve got to give it to Sitake.
He’s the leader of a pretty gutty football team on stage Saturday night. Against Virginia he needed some octane. His team outscored its season average of 26 a game by 40.
He’s defeated some pretty high salaried peers. USA Today says Utah’s Kyle Whittingham ranks 16th nationally with $5.2 million a year, Mendenhall is No. 29 at $4.2 million, ASU’s Herm Edwards is 38th with $3.8 million.
We don’t know what Sitake makes, but it isn’t as much as those guys. Dollar for dollar, you have to love the Sitake scene he’s creating. He’s got to be one of the biggest bargains in the game.
He deserves a ton of praise as this crazy one finished.
And a raise.