TAMPA, Fla. — The 2022 BYU Cougars proved to be worth the wait, and not for just eight months after a tortuously long offseason — but for an additional two and a half hours on opening day.

Sure, there were some hiccups after the opening kickoff was pushed back by a two-hour, 34-minute weather delay, but for the most part, No. 25 BYU played and acted the part of a really good college football team Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 31,521 at Raymond James Stadium. 

The Cougars rolled to a 50-21 win over South Florida after scoring the game’s first 38 points in arguably their most dominant half since the 2020 opener at Navy.

BYU is now 6-1 in season openers under Kalani Sitake. Hey, these guys might be pretty good, but real barometers come the next two weeks in the form of Baylor and Oregon.

“We know how good we are, and we know how good we can be. We just gotta stay hungry.” — BYU running back Lopini Katoa

Some wondered how the Cougars would handle the famed Florida humidity, the heat, the two-hour time change and all the unknowns surrounding the new-look Bulls. They passed with flying colors, proving their ranking accurate and expectations for another strong season on point.

“Just really happy,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “We are 1-0 and looking forward to moving on and yeah, … great way to start a game.”

And a season.

In putting a fifty-burger on the Bulls, the Cougars rolled up 575 yards of offense and held USF to under 300. They took a big lead and coasted home — just what Sitake wanted to see.

In short, there was very little to nitpick about, other than the kickoff coverage team that allowed USF’s Jimmy Horn Jr. to return a kickoff 89 yards for a TD and another one to midfield that led to the Bulls’ third touchdown.

“For the most part, defense holding them to 14 points, I am really happy with that,” Sitake said. “Special teams giving them seven points, I don’t like that. … And I thought with the offense we could have scored a little more.”

Perhaps because the Cougars were still at the stadium some eight hours after they arrived — thanks to the game not kicking off until 4:36 p.m. MDT (6:36 in the East), BYU’s celebration after the victory was somewhat muted.

Running back Lopini Katoa, who had 10 carries for 55 yards, said his teammates in the postgame locker room were happy with the win, but far from satisfied.

“We know how good we are, and we know how good we can be,” Katoa said. “We just gotta stay hungry.”

Unlike last year, when BYU jumped out to a 21-0 lead over the Bulls and sputtered in the second half before eventually taking a 35-27 win, Sitake kept the pedal down most of the way, and his guys delivered.

Aside from those kickoff returns and USF’s 84-yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half — which only cut BYU’s lead to 31 — there wasn’t much for BYU fans to get upset about.

“There are places we can improve,” Sitake said. “Got sloppy in the second half. …. Too many penalties.”

Actually, they had just two penalties all game. He’s a tough guy to please, evidently.

Fifth-year junior quarterback Jaren Hall totally out-dueled Baylor transfer Gerry Bohanon, completing 25 of 32 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 161. That’s solid.

Bohanon, who guided Baylor’s 38-24 win over BYU last year in Waco, showed he’s average when playing with an average team. He was 17 of 30 for 172 yards and no TDs and gave up a pick-six to BYU’s Max Tooley.

Hall did throw a pick that cost BYU points, as Mekhi LaPointe intercepted a toss at the goal line. 

“I had an errant throw and a bad read,” Hall acknowledged.

Otherwise, he was his steady self, rushing for 17 yards and avoiding sacks.

Hall said “all the talk was going against us” leading up to the game, and the Cougars answered all the questions. 

With BYU playing without star receiver Gunner Romney — Hall let it slip that the team knew all week that Romney wouldn’t play — and Puka Nacua leaving the game with an ankle sprain before halftime, a bunch of other guys stepped up in a big way.

Hall completed passes to 12 different pass-catchers, with Kody Epps leading the way with four.

“That was one of my favorite parts of tonight,” Hall said.

The Cougars couldn’t have asked for a better start, the Bulls couldn’t have had nightmares about a worse one after the lengthy delay. Out of the locker rooms after the delay, USF looked energetic and enthused, while the Cougars looked almost lethargic. Then the game started.

On the first play of the season/game, Nacua took a fly sweep running to his left, got blocks from Masen Wake and Chris Brooks, and sprinted past the USF secondary for a 75-yard touchdown.

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Nacua also scored BYU’s second TD, punching it in from the 5 to make it 14-0 less than seven minutes into the game. The crowd was stunned.

Tooley’s pick-six of Bohanon two plays from scrimmage later made it 21-0, and the Cougars were rolling. The Bountiful High product said he returned a couple picks for touchdowns in high school, but Saturday’s felt good because against Washington a few years ago, he took a lot of ribbing for “diving” across the goal line when he was at the 5.

“We took the challenge and fought hard and came out on top,” Tooley said.

Brooks’ 40-yard run set up the Cougars’ fourth touchdown, a 21-yard throw from Hall to Keanu Hill. 

BYU’s 28 points in the first quarter tied a program record.

The Cougars kept coming, even as Nacua went out for good with a sprained ankle with about six minutes left in the first quarter. Focusing on tight ends Dallin Holker, Isaac Rex and Wake, Hall drove the Cougars 65 yards for a fifth TD midway through the second quarter.

His 12-yard TD throw to Holker made it 35-0.

BYU’s offense punted once in the first half — Sitake successfully went for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 43 on the second possession — but did have one other iffy possession in the first half after USF’s fourth-and-4 pass fell incomplete.

BYU got the ball to the USF 14, but two plays lost 7 yards and Hall had to throw the ball away on third-and-18. Jake Oldroyd’s 39-yard field goal made it 38-0.

Nacua’s 75-yard TD run was BYU’s first score on the first play of the season since Bob Jensen threw a 73-yard TD pass to Richard Zayas in 1987.

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“I think these guys were ready for anything,” Sitake said. “We were ready for the heat. We were ready for the 4 p.m. (EDT) kickoff. … To have our trainers, sports scientists, nutritionists all work together and collaborate (during the delay) was good to see.”

The Cougars’ defense played almost flawlessly until the end of the first half, when USF went on an 84-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes. A 50-yard strike from Bohanon to Xavier Weaver got the Bulls into BYU territory, and Jared Mangham’s TD dive on fourth-and-goal from the 1 finally put the Bulls on the scoreboard.

“Giving up that score in the first half, I didn’t like,” Sitake said. “We just got sloppy with our technique and had some missed assignments we need to fix.”

After Horn’s TD and a safety that was produced when a punt snap sailed out of the end zone, BYU regained the momentum when Brooks went 52 yards for a score, channeling his inner Tyler Allgeier, and the Cougars could start preparing for Saturday’s home opener against Baylor.

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