After uneven first half, BYU showed up in time to cool off motivated Aggies
Jaren Hall’s poise and leadership were on display in the Cougars’ second-half rally over Utah State, but BYU will need to be sharper in the coming weeks
A calm, collected and poised Jaren Hall threw three touchdown passes and Max Tooley had his second pick-six of the season to erase an inspired and emotional first-half performance by Utah State in the 91st edition of the BYU-Utah State rivalry game Thursday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
For a while, however, it was all USU.
Really, it was Aggie football at its finest this season.
It almost appeared like the Aggies were the only team that showed up and that BYU’s 19th-ranked team was somewhere between the team hotel and the stadium.
You have to credit Blake Anderson for hitting BYU with a spread-option run game that featured a quarterback in former Orem High star Cooper Legas running the ball 19 times. It worked and sent BYU reeling for the entire first half as USU hogged the ball, dominated in time of possession, and plays run, 52 to 19.
At the same time, BYU suffered what is becoming a chronic hurdle — another slow start.
“They came out with a great game plan, something we didn’t expect,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “It was kind of like Coastal Carolina, and they ran the ball well.”
But the BYU coach was not happy with what he said was a failure to play clean. There were too many penalties, one for pushing an Aggie lineman’s helmet to the ground, another for throwing a shoe, a targeting foul, illegal procedures, a fumbled handoff and personal fouls.”
Also, his defense struggled to hold the edge early, failed to bring up run support on time and fill gaps, and the Cougars struggled early with USU’s offensive set that put four receivers out wide, two sets on both sidelines, essentially taking four defensive backs out of tackling position.
“We made adjustments and played better in the second half,” said Sitake. “The slow starts we’ve had have been a lot on the offenses we have played and adjusted to.”
Against the Aggies, Sitake said USU came out and played to win and his team came out not to make mistakes — and then made a lot of them. “We need to come out and play to have fun out there.”
Anderson said USU played its “best game of the season” against the Cougars and he hopes his squad got the feel of what it takes as the team gets deeper into conference play.
For all BYU’s lack of focus in the first half, the Cougars took it to the Aggies in the second half.
“Their physical size and strength just took over in the second half,” said Anderson.
For the fourth straight game BYU did not turn the ball over. Hall was machine-like in delivering passes to Brayden Cosper to set up one scoring drive and then repeating that rhythm on consecutive passes to freshman Kody Epps.
Hall completed 17 of 27 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns for a 184 pass efficiency rating. His TD passes went to Epps, Keanu Hill and freshman tight end Ethan Erickson, his first catch of his career.
“We just kept grinding,” said Epps.
With at least 15 NFL scouts in the press box, many to see Hall, the BYU QB’s poise and control of the offense in BYU’s 21-point second half after a 17-17 tie was impressive.
Sitake elected to run the ball and play a lot of reserves with a 38-20 lead late and he said he’d take the points for the experience all the time.
But he did not like the slow start or the mistakes — which marred this game for the Cougars. It was an ugly first half and in saying that you cannot take away from the brilliance of what the Aggies brought to the energized atmosphere. For the first two quarters, USU was the better football team with the better plan and coaching.
BYU cannot afford to come out slow next week in Las Vegas against Notre Dame and certainly can’t play sloppy against the Fighting Irish or Arkansas the following week.
What time is the wake-up call at the team hotel in Las Vegas next Saturday?
Somebody make it an hour earlier, so the makeup application and mirror looking can get over with much faster.