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BYU had the luxury of playing vanilla in blowout win over USF

With Baylor coming to town, No. 25 BYU has plenty to clean up in USF win, but Cougar coordinators were able to hold some strategy back

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BYU running back Chris Brooks runs in for a touchdown during BYU’s season opener against USF.

BYU running back Chris Brooks (2) runs in for a touchdown during BYU’s season opener against USF on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

Robert W. Grover, for the Deseret News

BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick toyed with South Florida’s defense during most of the Cougars’ 50-21 win in Tampa on Saturday.

He had the luxury of size, experience, weaponry and quarterback Jaren Hall. He could afford to keep it vanilla, just deploy his smash-nose zone run game with an occasional flip pass to a deep stable of receivers. 

Roderick lived a play caller’s dream of establishing the run and then embarrassing the Bulls’ defense with the pass. Hall found tight end Dallin Holker and receiver Keanu Hill for touchdowns. He completed passes to 12 different receivers as the Cougars amassed 575 total yards to the Bulls’ 293.

Three BYU running backs gained more than 50 yards.

BYU led 38-0 and then tried hard to keep interested.

It was cat nip.

But BYU will have to be better in all phases next Saturday when defending Big 12 champion Baylor comes to Provo.

BYU’s defense gave up just 14 points. The Cougar cover-return team gave up the other TD on a kick return by Jimmy Horn Jr.

Special teams breakdowns, missed assignments on a few USF third-and-long plays, and an occasional loss of focus will all be on the whiteboard Monday when the 1-0 and No. 25 Cougars get to respective position rooms.

Head coach Kalani Sitake will definitely enjoy his season opener, but he’ll also deploy his “love and learn” philosophy to improve the next few days.

Puka Nacua scored a pair of rushing touchdowns on jet sweeps and Max Tooley registered a pick six to rocket the Cougars to a blowout 28-0 lead in the first quarter.

It was as sweet a start as Sitake could have asked for after a two-hour storm delay. At that time, the Cougars were somber and reflective as the Bulls held a rock concert in their locker room.

The somber team set the tone early, and it was enough.

BYU’s offensive line dominated USF for half the game, and that was enough for Cal transfer Chris Brooks to find his rhythm. 

In the second half, after Lopini Katoa softened up the USF defensive front, Brooks ripped off a 50-yard touchdown, looking every bit the guy who is expected to pick up the slack for the departed Tyler Allgeier.

That line play set the tone of the game early when Blake Freeland, Masen Wake and Brooks created a perfect crease for Nacua to take the first play of the game to the house. It was a 76-yard racehorse sprint to pay dirt to start the game. 

On BYU’s next possession, Nacua ran the jet sweep to the other side, where Wake and tight end Holker led a blocking wall for another TD run.

Sitake got Brooks and freshmen receivers Kody Epps, Terence Fall and Chase Roberts their first touches. They passed the look test.

He got tight end Isaac Rex on the field from last year’s season-ending injury. The big thing now is how will Rex feel Sunday and Monday after playing a lot of downs?

Then there’s Nacua.

He’s BYU’s Cadillac go-to star.

The Washington transfer put on an electric show in the first quarter before leaving the game with an ankle sprain.

With the other starter Gunner Romney unable to start, the injury to Nacua now looms big as the Cougars head home. Preliminary reports say trainers were being cautious with Nacua, putting him in a protective boot and sending him to the bench in this contest that was over early. 

The status of these guys is a priority checked box item for this team heading into the home game against No. 10-ranked Baylor.

BYU was supposed to look polished with a nation-leading number of returning starters on the field. Hall came out firing and looked every bit the confident veteran, completing 25 of 32 passes for 261 yards and a pair of TDs. His first pick of the season came on a forced pass into the end zone to Hill when he had Roberts open near the sideline in the end zone.

This was a solid opener road win for BYU with a strange kickoff delay. Predicted and delivered was this victory.

Now the hard stuff comes with Baylor and a trip to a hurting Oregon team that was ranked No. 11 before losing to Georgia on Saturday.

They’re in the weeds now.