PROVO — For much of BYU’s 27-20 victory over UTSA on Saturday, the Cougars struggled to find the rhythm they displayed in their previous three wins, when they outscored their opponents by an average of 41.3 points.
The result was an uneven performance for BYU in a closer-than-expected triumph over the Roadrunners. What caused the No. 15 Cougars to suffer through periodic lapses in their third straight win at LaVell Edwards Stadium?
Quarterback Zach Wilson, who received a fair amount of national coverage throughout the week leading up to Saturday’s game, had himself another nice game. The junior threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another score, and other skill position players like receiver Dax Milne (seven receptions, 102 yards) and running back Tyler Allgeier (116 rushing yards, one touchdown) also came through with big games.
On the surface, many of the Cougars’ offensive numbers — which included 470 yards of total offense, an average of 6.9 yards per play and converting 7 of 14 third-down attempts — weren’t far off from what BYU was posting through its first three games of the season. The Cougars even had 300 yards of total offense in the first half against the Roadrunners.
On Saturday, though, UTSA did a better job than its predecessors of getting the Cougar offense off the field. BYU scored on only four of its 11 possessions and twice went three-and-out in the second half.
The Cougars’ first two possessions of the game resulted in a fumble inside the UTSA red zone and a turnover on downs in Roadrunner territory. While UTSA didn’t record a sack, the Roadrunners did have four tackles for loss and forced Wilson out of the pocket more than any another team has done this season.
Through the first two quarters of Saturday’s game, the Cougar defense displayed the type of dominance they had shown in wins over Navy, Troy and Louisiana Tech. BYU gave up just 101 yards of total offense in the first half — that included a 1.1 yards-per-play average in the second quarter — and UTSA went 0 of 5 on third-down attempts.
In the second half, though, with UTSA’s offense being led by backup quarterback Lowell Narcisse, BYU struggled to contain its opponent. The Roadrunners possessed the ball for 9:32 in the third quarter, and while UTSA scored most of its second-half points in the fourth quarter — 14 of its 17 points after halftime came in the final period — the time of possession edge set the tone for the Roadrunners keeping the game close.
Narcisse, in particular, had a standout game, completing 17 of 20 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns in just over a half of play after replacing an injured Frank Harris. Narcisse also led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, both quick scores in response to BYU touchdowns.
The Cougar defense made enough plays to keep BYU from falling at home — safety Troy Warner had an interception for a second straight game, linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi led the Cougars with nine tackles and a quarterback hurry and defensive lineman Gabe Summers came up with a critical fourth-quarter sack that short-circuited a promising UTSA drive.
Overall, though, BYU just wasn’t as crisp as it had been earlier in the season. For the defense, that included three offsides penalties.
For the most part, Saturday’s game wasn’t greatly affected by special teams play.
Kicker Jake Oldroyd wasn’t available Saturday, which placed the placekicking duties on freshman Justen Smith. On BYU’s first scoring possession, the Cougars opted to run their offense instead of kick a field goal on fourth down from the UTSA 4, resulting in a BYU touchdown. Smith successfully converted his first three point-after attempts before missing an extra point on BYU’s final touchdown, which could have been a factor if the Cougars didn’t recover the onside kick with just over a minute to play in the game.
Fellow freshman Ryan Rehkow had a busier day than normal as BYU’s punter while also serving as the team’s kickoff specialist. Rehkow’s four punts against UTSA equaled the number he had in the three previous games, and he averaged 44 yards per punt and pinned one inside the 10 that helped flip field position and set up BYU’s second touchdown.
In the return game, the Roadrunners had a 34-yard kickoff return from Brennon Dingle that helped set up UTSA’s first touchdown drive.
During the Kalani Sitake era, there have been times when the Cougars struggled with consistency, and this again was one of those times. BYU had a season-high seven penalties, four more than it had in the Cougars’ first two games combined. Give credit to UTSA for using some smart game-planning and better execution. This time, though, BYU still won.
That counts for something, and BYU is off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2014.