BYU’s dream season and NY6 hopes buried by Coastal Carolina’s brilliant game of keep-away
In one of the most important football games in BYU program history, the Cougars’ defense couldn’t get off the field enough and lost 22-17 at upset-minded Coastal Carolina
CONWAY, South Carolina — A cemetery sits across the street from the home of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, which is somehow fitting because Brooks Stadium is where the BYU Cougars’ dream season came to die on Saturday night.
In a hastily arranged matchup of unbeatens played 2,200 miles away from Provo, the Cougars came up a yard short — literally. BYU receiver Dax Milne was tackled at the 1-yard line, and the home team and a couple hundred of its fans stormed the field to celebrate the big upset as an 11-point underdog.
Gone is BYU’s undefeated season, quarterback Zach Wilson’s Heisman hopes, and the Cougars’ long-held desire of making it into a New Year’s Six bowl game, buried by a relentless and clock-eating Coastal rushing attack.
There were no excuses postgame from the Cougars — nor should have there been. They got smacked in the mouth physically, a downer for coach Kalani Sitake considering it is in the trenches where he prides his teams the most.
Dominating time of possession to keep the ball out of Wilson’s usually lethal hands — and arm — No. 18 Coastal (10-0) remained undefeated with a 22-17 win in front of a pandemic-reduced crowd of 5,000 delirious Coastal fans, a few of the BYU faithful, and a national television audience.
“You look at the line of scrimmage,” Sitake said. “We gave up too many yards. First down was the biggest issue — whether it was missed assignments, or scheme, or whatever. We made some adjustments, it felt like we were getting into the right positions, the right schemes. We just ran out of time.”
Actually, a lot of time was taken away from them. Coastal Carolina picked up 22 first downs, ran for 281 yards against a team that was giving up only 88 yards a game, and held the ball for a whopping 37 minutes and 51 seconds. The Chants had 89 rushing yards in the first quarter alone, setting the physical tone that lasted the entire game.
“You look at the line of scrimmage. We gave up too many yards. First down was the biggest issue — whether it was missed assignments, or scheme, or whatever. We made some adjustments, it felt like we were getting into the right positions, the right schemes. We just ran out of time.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake
“After this game was announced, basically it was a coronation for them to go to the New Year’s Six (bowls) and solidify their chance to overtake Cincinnati, and we’re not good enough, etc., etc.,” said Coastal coach Jamey Chadwell. “One thing about our football team, if you slight us, we find that and use that as motivation.”
The Cougars like to think they are above such bulletin-board fodder, but that fanatical effort put forth by the Chants just wasn’t matched across the sidelines, for whatever reasons. Coastal simply wouldn’t back down.
Rarely has a Sitake-coached team been pushed around as much as this one was, and it is a program that has faced the likes of Tennessee, USC, Utah and Wisconsin the past few years.
It was a brilliant and well-executed strategy that will set the Chants up for a possible NY6 bowl appearance in just their fourth season as a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Coastal Carolina,” Sitake said. “They made plays. They had an offensive system and it worked, and we didn’t do enough to stop them.”
So this will go down as one of the most devastating losses in BYU football history. But the Cougars can’t really wonder what might have been if a few calls had gone their way, including a holding penalty on tight end Isaac Rex that erased Neil Pau’u’s brilliant game-opening 90-yard catch and run for a touchdown.
BYU was manhandled in the trenches, the very area where they were supposed to have a sizable advantage over a Sun Belt Conference team.
“We didn’t do enough to stop the run, so there are things I need to do better as a coach to get them ready,” Sitake said.
Still, despite looking nothing like one of the best offenses in the country with one of the best quarterbacks around through nine games, BYU and Wilson had a chance at the end. Taking over at their 18 with 55 seconds remaining and no timeouts, the Cougars overcame a holding penalty — the second absolute killer holding penalty of the game against the visitors — and drove to the Coastal 18.
With just 3 seconds on the clock, Wilson hit his roommate, Milne, inside the 5. But he went low and was mobbed by Coastal defenders a couple feet short of the stripe, as replay later confirmed.
Coastal Carolina stops BYU to stay undefeated at 10-0 ‼️— ESPN (@espn) December 6, 2020
THIS is how close it was. pic.twitter.com/H7K4dFc4WI
Thanks to that last-gasp final drive, BYU outgained Coastal 405-366, a good 150 yards below the Cougars’ average. They ran just 58 plays, and though they averaged a healthy 7.0 yards per play, they just didn’t get enough of them to control the game.
“The challenge with stopping their offense is there are so many things you have to account for,” said BYU linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi, who recovered a fumble but whiffed on a chance to bring down shifty CC quarterback Grayson McCall late in the game when the Cougars were desperately trying to get the ball back.
There were also some questionable coaching decisions and head-scratching play calls.
For instance, after Kaufusi recovered the fumble at midfield, the Cougars blew a chance to take control. On fourth-and-1, they called a weird double-pass and it looked like it was going to work — until usually sure-handed receiver Gunner Romney dropped Wilson’s long, but low, pass.
If there was a killer possession for BYU, though, it came with 6:54 left in the game and the Cougars trailing by five. Rex fell down after a 3-yard gain when he was wide open and could have rumbled a long ways. On fourth-and-5, the usual risk-taking Sitake called for a punt.
“We thought about possibly going for it there, but we felt like we were in a good situation with our defense at that point,” Sitake said. “Getting used to the speed of their offense is just different. So we felt like we were starting to get a better grip on it. We thought our defense could get us out of the jam.”
Coastal took over with 4:52 left, and gained a couple first downs before punting with 1:03 remaining. More importantly, BYU had to burn its last timeout, a timeout it really could have used in the final, frantic minute when Wilson returned to his usual form.
Coastal Carolina 22, BYU 17
CCU, CJ Marable 6-yard run (0:10), kick failed
BYU, Tyler Allgeier 42-yard run (13:50), Jake Oldroyd kick
CCU, Reese White 1-yard run (4:00), Massimo Biscardi kick
BYU, Dax Milne 41-yard pass from Zach Wilson (1:45), Jake Oldroyd kick
BYU, Jake Oldroyd 29-yard field goal (12:28)
CCU, Massimo Biscardi 41-yard field goal (6:32)
CCU, CJ Marable 2-yard run (11:35), two-point attempt failed
The Cougars also burned a timeout when Coastal was lining up to punt on a previous possession. Sitake said they were talking about going for a block, but didn’t have the right personnel on the field, then felt like they might be caught with 12 guys on the field and “had to call timeout” on fourth-and-6.
“I know we can play better than that,” Sitake said.
Wilson was just OK and seemed to be a step slow after the takedown at the end of the first half.
Of that situation that almost provoked a brawl, Sitake said he was told by the referee that the play was “clean” and therefore not penalized.
Wilson finished 19 of 30 for 240 yards and a TD, but was mostly outplayed by the redshirt freshman McCall.
“I don’t know if it was rhythm or whatever it was, but it just didn’t look like what our normal offense can do,” Sitake said. “We didn’t play complementary football in all three phases. Obviously they made one more play and we were a few inches short of winning the game.”
At a place a long way from LaVell Edwards Stadium. Where their magical season suffered death by a whole bunch of medium-sized rushing plays.