What lessons can BYU apply moving forward from its win over South Florida?
The Cougars were largely successful across the board in the victory, setting up a big matchup against Baylor
BYU’s first test of the 2022 season was a success, as the Cougars opened the year with a dominant 50-21 win over South Florida.
What lessons can BYU glean from the lopsided victory?
Here’s what the Cougars showed in their Week 1 win, and how it could impact them in upcoming weeks.
Cougars rode that running game
What happened: The Cougars ran for 314 rushing yards against South Florida, the most in a season opener since 2001 — when they had 437 against Tulane.
BYU was paced by Cal transfer Chris Brooks, who ran for 135 yards and a touchdown in his Cougar debut.
That included a 52-yard score up the middle in the third quarter, as well as a 40-yard scamper late in the first quarter that set up a touchdown pass.
It wasn’t just Brooks who had a nice day. Lopini Katoa finished with 10 carries for 55 yards, while wide receiver Puka Nacua also had three carries for 76 yards — largely on a 75-yard jet sweep for a touchdown on the game’s first play.
What it means moving forward: Last year, BYU largely relied on Tyler Allgeier in the rushing game, and for good reason — he finished the 2021 season with a single-season school record 1,601 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns.
At least during the first game post-Allgeier, the Cougars balanced things out a little more among the top ball carriers.
Brooks had 13 carries and averaged 10.4 yards per tote.
Katoa’s 10 carries included back-to-back 12-yard runs early in the game to help set up BYU’s second touchdown. One of those carries picked up a first down on a third-and-11 play deep in USF territory.
While Nacua left with an injury, it’s conceivable the jet sweep will be a heavy part of BYU’s plans this season, whether from him or another receiver.
The Cougars also have an experienced offensive line — one Pro Football Focus ranked sixth-best nationally heading into the season — to run behind. BYU’s next opponent, No. 10 Baylor, was ranked No. 4 on PFF’s top offensive line list.
BYU showed off the depths of its receiving group
What happened: The Cougars had 12 different players catch passes against South Florida.
That happened despite — or perhaps because — BYU’s top two wide receivers were largely absent: Nacua got hurt late in the first quarter and didn’t play again, while Gunner Romney missed the game.
That led to the Cougars testing out their young wide receiver talent: Kody Epps had four catches for 26 yards, Chase Roberts caught three passes for 41 yards and Brayden Cosper added three catches for 27 yards.
What it means going forward: Quarterback Jaren Hall completed 25 of 32 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns with a red-zone interception, the only big negative on an otherwise solid passing night for the junior.
His leadership will be tested again over the next couple of weeks, as BYU hosts Baylor, then travels to Oregon.
Will Nacua and Romney be back for the Baylor game? If not, players such as Epps, Roberts and Cosper (plus Keanu Hill, who had one catch) may be the receiver names to watch as the Cougars face one of the toughest stretches of their 2022 season.
Special teams had a kick coverage issue
What happened: South Florida made things a bit interesting in the third quarter, when Jimmy Horn Jr. returned the kickoff to open the second half 89 yards for a touchdown.
His teammate, Brian Battie, then had a 38-yard return later in the third quarter. A personal foul on BYU on the return meant the ensuing drive started at the BYU 43.
That return helped set up the Bulls’ final touchdown of the night, a 9-yard scoring run from Battie.
What it means going forward: On a night when the BYU defense allowed less than 300 yards of total offense and the Cougar offense rolled up 575 yards, those two kickoff returns stuck out as a rare sore spot in the win.
While South Florida’s lead kickoff returner, Battie, had seven returns with a manageable 21.4 per return average, what’s concerning is that on nine kickoffs, Jake Oldroyd never had a touchback.
On Saturday, Baylor had a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown in its win over Albany.
With the kind of speed the Bears will bring into LaVell Edwards Stadium next weekend, the Cougars will need to show greater discipline on special teams.