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Getting pushed all game long is something undefeated BYU needed

USTA impressed BYU’s coaches and players in how they brought the fight Saturday night. The Cougars are lucky to be able to learn from mistakes and still win.

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Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Gunner Romney (18) loses his grip on a pass under pressure from UTSA Roadrunners cornerback Tariq Woolen (20) at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

PROVO — A Texas team gave BYU exactly what the No. 15-ranked team needed going into the state of Texas to play Houston next Friday.

The 4-0 Cougars defeated UTSA 27-20 Saturday in the exact opposite football experience BYU has consumed to date in this crazy 2020 season.

The 3-2 Roadrunners served Kalani Stake’s team a nice slice of humble pie, albeit in a UTSA loss.

“We will celebrate the win but I know we can get better.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake

“We will celebrate the win but I know we can get better,” said Sitake.

UTSA made BYU starters play in the fourth quarter.

They proved BYU offensive line coach Eric Mateos speaks the truth, that reading lofty headlines of praise and sugary coverage of blowout wins is nothing but rat poison. 

The Cougars have been served said poison for a month from 32-ounce Big Gulp cups.

His offensive line, so dominating in three games, was pressed to perform all game long to protect their star quarterback. What does UTSA’s defense have in common with American Standard and Kohler? The flush.

BYU junior Zach Wilson was flushed out of the pocket on what seemed almost half his pass attempts. With just 11 incompletions in three previous games, Wilson had, gasp, eight against UTSA, a defense that disrupted his perfect rhythm and chemistry with his targets most of the game.

Still, Wilson was not sacked for the third time in four games.

And stating that fact is, well, rat poison.

Here’s the whiteboard team room theme come Monday: Houston is far better than UTSA.

But it was an obvious fact that UTSA’s defensive linemen were by far better than the others the Cougars had faced in Navy, Troy and Louisiana Tech. You do have to praise the Roadrunners for a great effort and game plan.

With no crowd in the stadium again, BYU struggled to match UTSA’s enthusiasm, passion, energy level, and quite frankly, execution.

It comes with the territory when you are ranked and a hungry, anxious team gets the chance to pull off the upset.

Sloppy with false starts, holding penalties, three fumbles (one lost), and a very uninspiring second half, this win took us back to BYU’s loss to Toledo last season with its inconsistency, a factor head coach Kalani Sitake has sworn he wanted to fix this season.

Of course, this was a win, not a loss, but it was primarily a wake-up call for a Cougar squad that’s been winning by an average of more than 41 points a game.

There’s still a ton of work to do to become consistent and live up to that No. 15 ranking.

Ultimately, Wilson and BYU’s defense delivered. UTSA running back Sincere McCormick, the nation’s leading rusher, managed just 42 yards on 11 carries.

Wilson’s 52-yard bomb to Gunner Romney to set up a needed second-half score, the finesse plays by receiver Dax Milne (career high-tying seven catches) and the workhorse effort by Tyler Allgeier (19 carries, 116 yards) all proved key. 

On defense, Gabe Summers’ fourth-quarter sack was huge, linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi had an outstanding game with a team-high nine tackles and safety Troy Warner got his second interception of the season.

Kaufusi was very clear afterwards that BYU shouldn’t get haughty or overconfident, but could have played better. He praised UTSA for bringing the ammo to Provo.

In his postgame press conference, time and time again Sitake made the point that credit had to be given to UTSA’s preparation and play — that a defensive front that leads the nation in tackles for losses showed an aggressive game plan that no other team has thrown at the Cougars — thus the flush out of the pocket.

It caught the Cougars off guard.

“It’s a lot easier to demand more of a team coming off a win than it is off a loss, but I don’t want to take anything away from USTA, they came to play and were very prepared with a great game plan for us,” said Sitake.

“There was no panic out there,” added the coach, who said his team leaders made sure of that.

“They came to play and we hurt ourselves,” said Wilson, specifically pointing out an early turnover fumble after a catch by Neil Pau’u and his own mishandled handoff to Allgeier in the second half.

The offside penalties by BYU’s defensive line, at least three, are things Kaufusi said the defense had worked on but just blew.

“You can’t give them extra downs and plays like we did,” said Sitake.

BYU-UTSA scoring sum

Scoring summary:
BYU 27, UTSA 20

First quarter

UTSA, Hunter Duplessis 39-yard field goal (4:55)

Second quarter

BYU, Neil Pau’u 4-yard pass from Zach Wilson (13:41), Justen Smith kick

BYU, Lopini Katoa 11-yard pass from Zach Wilson (4:44), Justen Smith kick

Third quarter

UTSA, Hunter Duplessis 36-yard field goal (11:01)

BYU, Zach Wilson 4-yard run (1:04), Justen Smith kick

Fourth quarter

UTSA, Zakhari Franklin 32-yard pass from Lowell Narcisse (14:26), Hunter Duplessis kick

BYU, Tyler Allgeier 6-yard run (2:18), Justen Smith misses kick

UTSA, Brennon Dingle 34-yard pass from Lowell Narcisse (1:17), Hunter Duplessis kick

The college football world has been wondering just how good the Cougars are with this revised schedule and now a 4-0 record.

On Saturday, they were challenged.

And they really needed it because that is the science of football.

It is very rare for any football team to play at optimum level every single game. Hiccups come, almost always do. Ask LSU and Virginia.

It’s always better to have them and still win.

“I wish we could have performed a little bit better in a lot of different areas,” said Sitake. “But, I can’t disrespect this game and not celebrate the win. The fact is that we got that win, and I am proud of our team.”

For the first time since 2014, the Cougars are 4-0.

Now, does BYU stay ranked 15th when polls come out Sunday?

Should they?

Stay tuned.