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What we learned about Big 12-bound BYU in dramatic victory over No. 9 Baylor

In double overtime win over the Bears, the Cougars made a lasting impression

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BYU players rush the field after beating No. 9 Baylor in double overtime at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Sept. 11, 2022.

BYU players rush the field after defeating No. 9 Baylor in double overtime 26-20 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Baylor fell into a trap door at the south end zone of LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday night.

The No. 9 Bears couldn’t get out.

A proud, talented defending Big 12 champion Baylor team saw its vaunted offense sputter and stop in the second overtime against BYU as thundering crowd noise led to a pair of false starts.

Game over.

Before kickoff, the BYU-Baylor matchup was a measuring tape for what the Cougars need to do in order to compete in the Big 12 starting next year. There were plenty of answers in a BYU win before a packed house and national TV audience.

Cougar trenchmen locked up with Baylor’s nationally ranked offensive and defensive linemen and battled like sumo stars. They didn’t blink, didn’t back down. And in the end, BYU had enough playmakers step up to snatch victory in traditional BYU fashion.

BYU’s thrilling 26-20 double-overtime win over No. 9 Baylor illustrated just how far the Cougars have come since losing in Waco a year ago. All that work on depth, the recovery from injuries, and the added strength in the weight room clearly paid off, establishing a foundation for membership in The Big 12 Club.

“We made one more play than they did and that was the difference,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake

BYU’s win signaled a confirmation of what the Big 12 is getting with its four new teams: added value.

“This is a huge win for BYU — and I think could be the beginning of legitimately entering the College Football Playoff conversation,” tweeted Shehan Jeyarajah of CBS Sports.

“Feels like a win like this over a Baylor team that I still consider the favorite to win the Big 12 could be akin to Cincinnati beating Notre Dame.”

Jaren Hall’s magical chemistry with freshman receiver Chase Roberts that included a pinpoint TD pass at the end of the first half, his 37-yard laser shot to Roberts in regulation to keep a drive alive, and his touchdown catch on a lateral pass and throw from Roberts, are instant classics.

But even all those fireworks, including Lopini Katoa’s game-winning touchdown run inside the 2-yard line in the second overtime, may be a bit overshadowed by the stout play from the Cougars’ unsung defensive front.

Deploying a myriad of fronts, utilizing twists and stunts, and bringing pressure from the middle and edges really took away Baylor’s passing game when it was desperately needed late.

Then, BYU’s crowd, specifically the student section, wrecked Baylor’s offense when it counted most in the final overtime. Crowd noise led to two Bears false starts, just like the ASU game a year ago. That decibel act and penalties, essentially took Baylor out of scoring position in four-down territory when both kickers were struggling.

“The game changer was our fans, the noise and energy,” said Sitake. “As a coach I love it and so do our players.”

Welcome to Provo, Baylor.

A team bent on playing smash-mouth run ball most of the game and almost exclusively in overtime, the Bears could really have used the pass in the fourth quarter and in OT — and it was rusty.

Baylor ran the ball a whopping 52 times, gaining 137 yards and used four backs interchangeably as offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes believed deep in his Texas heart his returning linemen could whip up on BYU’s front again. But this wasn’t the same BYU defense he saw in Waco last year, not in scheme or personnel.

Baylor’s run game averaged 2.9 yards per play. BYU kept trying to run also, hoping to wear down the Bears at altitude. While BYU rushed 33 times for 83 yards, the Cougars averaged 2.5 yards per try. That’s a .4% difference, as Cougar rushers Chris Brooks and Katoa went up against a Baylor defense that returned basically intact from a year ago.

And what about Hall?

ESPN’s David Hale put it this way, “Jaren Hall might be the most underappreciated QB in college football. Against Baylor’s barbaric defense, and without his top two receivers, Hall still delivered an electric performance, completing 23 of 39 for 269 yards, then rushing for 28 more — including some huge scrambles down the stretch — while also catching a TD pass. Over his past six games, Hall has accounted for nearly 2,000 yards of offense with 17 touchdowns and just three picks. Oh, and BYU is 6-0 in those games.”

In a weekend that saw No. 8 Notre Dame lose to Marshall at home, No. 6 Texas A&M get upset by Appalachian State, and the No. 21 Cougars knock off No. 9 Baylor, there is a trend the first two weeks of this season — rankings are an endangered credibility exercise by AP voters.

“We’re here to shake up college football,” said BYU defensive end Fisher Jackson. “We’re sick of seeing the same four teams — and I think there are more than just us.”

In BYU’s case, it has to be noted how Sitake and his staff are doing more with less. They do not have Power Five money or budget, they do not have recruiting rankings that even come close to those on their schedule, like Baylor, Arkansas, Oregon and Stanford.

Somewhere, there must be an acknowledgment of what BYU’s staff is accomplishing, going 23-4 over the past two seasons and two games.

The Sun Belt Conference registered three wins over top-10 teams on the road but last year the Pac-12 had just three out of conference P5 wins over the course of the entire season.

Consider Saturday’s Baylor-BYU matchup. Essentially, Baylor’s recruits/talent is measured by some to be more than double the ranking value than that of the Cougars.

According to 24/7Sports, Baylor’s recruiting class of 2018 was the No. 29th in the country. The Bears followed that up in 2019 with the No 36th recruiting class followed by 54th in 2020, 44th in 2021, and No. 37 in this past February’s signing. That’s a five-year average of 39th.

Comparatively, BYU’s five-year average has been 66th. Starting with 2018, the Cougars came in at 78th, followed by 81st, 78th, 72nd and then its highest under Sitake in 2022 at 55. 

Interestingly enough, two hours before kickoff, BYU received a commitment from four-star Timpview High linebacker Siale Tuiteelagi Esera, one of the best edge rushers in the region.  It is this kind of recruiting success BYU must have in order to make an impact in future Big 12 play.

As the era of independence winds down this season with a group of seniors who will never play in the Big 12, Saturday was all about proving they belong.

Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Pepe Tanuvasa (45) and Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Earl Tuioti-Mariner (91) chase Baylor Bears quarterback Blake Shapen (12) as BYU and Baylor play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.

BYU defensive linemen Pepe Tanuvasa (45) Earl Tuioti-Mariner (91) chase Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen as BYU and Baylor play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News