Getting an education: How a pair of BYU teammates helped prepare Chase Roberts for his big moment
The freshman receiver was an unlikely hero in the Cougars’ victory over No. 9 Baylor, but was ready when coaches called his name thanks to teammates Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua
When fall camp opened in early August, BYU redshirt freshman receiver Chase Roberts wasn’t sure where he would fit into Jaren Hall’s offense. The Cougars were returning both star receivers, a pair of lofty tight ends and they picked up Cal running back Chris Brooks from the transfer portal.
All the 6-foot-4, 195-pound former superstar from American Fork High could do was stay the course, work his tail off and wait for just the right moment to prove himself.
That moment came at the end of the second quarter last Saturday night against No. 9 Baylor, the reigning Big 12 Conference and Sugar Bowl champions.
With Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney injured and watching from the sideline, the new kid in town became the big man on campus.
“I knew we needed a spark going into halftime,” Roberts said. “When we called that go-ball to the end zone I knew that this was my time and I was going to make that play.”
Trailing 10-6, Hall threw a pass that only Roberts could get. He pulled away from the defender, reached up for the ball and somehow got a foot down in the end zone to give BYU a 13-10 halftime lead.
The touchdown was the first for Roberts since suiting up for the Cavemen four years earlier in the 2018 state championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
“The days go by slow, but these past four years have flown by,” Roberts said. In between those two touchdown grabs is a high school graduation, a two-year church mission to Calgary, Alberta, where he spoke Tagalog, and an injury that sidelined him last season at BYU. “It was definitely long, but worth the wait, for sure.”
The Nacua/Romney factor
With Nacua and Romney both questionable for Saturday at No. 25 Oregon, Roberts and his fellow group of youngsters, including Keanu Hill (redshirt sophomore), Kody Epps (redshirt freshman), Brayden Cosper (redshirt junior), and Terrance Fall (redshirt freshman), will again have to carry the receivers load — only this time they will be in hostile territory inside Autzen Stadium (54,000).
The Ducks look to extend the nation’s third-longest home winning streak to 21 games. Oregon hasn’t dropped a home game to a nonconference opponent over the last 29 games.
Even if BYU’s pair of top guns can’t go, it doesn’t mean they won’t have an impact in the outcome.
“Those two (Nacua and Romney) are NFL-caliber players who know the game so well. They know the different coverages — every single detail about football and to be around them is such a blessing,” Roberts said. “Just their insights they give, especially before this last game against Baylor. Something Gunner said to me right before was, ‘It’s just football. You have played this all your life. Have fun. Go play your game. I know you can do it.’ That’s probably the biggest thing that helped me that game.”
Roberts caught eight passes for 122 yards and a touchdown, becoming the first BYU freshman receiver to log over 100 yards in a game since Cody Hoffman did it in 2010 against UTEP.
Roberts’ big night also included throwing a touchdown pass. With the scored tied 13-13 and two minutes remaining in the third quarter, BYU faced a second-and-eight at the Baylor 22-yard line.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick reached into his bag of tricks.
“We repped the play a couple of times in practice and knew it would work,” Roberts said. “Baylor was an aggressive defense and we knew they would bite on that play.”
Hall took the shotgun snap and threw to his left where Roberts was waiting several yards behind the line of scrimmage.
“I saw a lot of guys rushing at me so I knew I had to get it out really quick,” Roberts said. “It was a lighter toss back to him. I should have zipped it a little more, but I knew with all those blockers that I could just throw it up and Jaren would make the play.”
Hall caught the pass and ran down the right sideline for a touchdown.
“Jaren has really good hands,” Roberts said with a laugh. “I think he could be our eighth or ninth receiver if we needed him to.”
For Roberts, not only was it his first touchdown pass, but it was also the first time he had thrown a pass in a game in his life — not in youth football, high school, college, anywhere.
Follow the leader
As BYU celebrated a valiant defensive stand to secure the 26-20 double-overtime victory, Hall threw his arms around kicker Jake Oldroyd, who had missed game-winning field goal attempts at the end of regulation and in the first overtime period, and Hall held him long enough for Oldroyd to understand that on this night, the team had his back.
The veteran move by a mature quarterback left an impression on the young receiver who just had his very best day.
“He is the leader of our team,” Roberts said of Hall. “He showed that. He showed that he’s going to pick up our guys no matter what, win or lose. He loves us and that’s huge. It all starts with our head coach, Kalani Sitake — his leadership has bled down to our starting quarterback and it gives us confidence going into every game, with or without Gunner or Puka, our best players, that we can take on the best teams and go win.”Hall is 11-3 as a starter, 7-1 against Power Five opponents, 5-0 against the Pac-12 and 3-0 against teams ranked in the top 20.
Here and now
When camp opened in August, Roberts probably was considered the fifth or sixth option in Hall’s offense. But with injuries and the wear and tear of the game, Hall’s arsenal has changed. Roberts took the field last week as his No. 1 option and he is likely to do it again on Saturday.
With help from Nacua and Romney as advisers, cheerleaders and friends, he figures to be just fine.
“They get into my life and really care about me, and I love that.”
You can see Dave McCann’s interview with Chase Roberts Saturday at 11:30 a.m. on “BYU Sports Nation GameDay” on BYUtv.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.