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BYU coaches made all the right moves to pummel Navy — before the 55-3 destruction even began

Showing they were far more ready for contact and physical play, the Cougars open the 2020 season with a near-flawless performance on both sides of the ball, especially defensively

BYU’s Zac Dawe (99) reacts after making a play during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Navy, Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in Annapolis, Md.
AP Photo/Tommy Gilligan

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki was sandbagging. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo wasn’t.

The result?

As pretty of a performance in a season-opener in BYU football history, arguably, unless you were pulling for Navy. Then it was unimaginably ugly, and downright mean.

Clicking in every way possible, BYU blasted Navy 55-3, matching a 1986 win over Utah State, 52-0, as the largest margin of victory ever in a Cougars’ lidlifter. It was the worst loss in the brilliant career of Niumatalolo, once the leading candidate to replace Bronco Mendenhall at BYU before he turned the job down.

That triple-option attack that looked impossible to stop last year — with the great Malcolm Perry of the Miami Dolphins at the controls — was made to look utterly inept by Tuiaki’s defensive plan. Obviously, he got some help from guys who have seen the attack before — Ed Lamb and head coach Kalani Sitake, specifically.

“It was an awesome sight to see as a head coach,” said Sitake, who did get that job, promising to deliver the kinds of disruptive defensive lines he had as Utah’s defensive coordinator.

Remarkably, a dominant defense that Tuiaki claimed he had “zero” experience working with when it came to stopping the triple-option offense of Navy did just that. Tuiaki’s troops held the Midshipmen to a like total — no points — on the scoreboard before the reserves took over at the end of the third quarter and gave up a shutout-avoiding 48-yard field goal.

Meanwhile, Niumatalolo’s players that he said didn’t do any tackling or blocking in fall camp showed he wasn’t bluffing. For the home team in a game that was mercifully played without fans in the stands as a nod to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was an embarrassing display of the toughness and physicality that Navy supposedly possessed.

“It was all the coaches collectively,” said BYU defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga, who anchored the middle and almost singlehandedly took away Navy’s bread-and-butter, the fullback dive. “Everybody got to chime in.”

It ended with BYU’s offense classily taking a knee in the waning moments, or it would have been worse, a sign of respect from Sitake to his fellow Laie, Hawaii, resident Niumatalolo after pupil out-coached mentor the entire night.

Actually, Sitake got a head start, choosing to “go live” early and often in fall camp, while the more pandemic-cautious Midshipmen avoided contact as much as possible. Big mistake. The Mids missed tackle after tackle, most noticeably on a short screen pass to Gunner Romney that he turned into a 45-yard touchdown reception.

Romney caught four passes for 134 yards and a touchdown in his best game as a Cougar.

Turns out, Navy’s hands-off approach extended into game day.

Doing almost everything it wanted to on both sides of the ball, BYU racked up 580 yards and held the Midshipmen to 149 at empty Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. Just as impressively, the Cougars out-rushed Navy and its NCAA-leading rushing attack from a year ago, 301-119.

BYU fans have been hard on Tuiaki lately, especially after his rush-three, drop-eight tactics a year ago were exploited by Hawaii in the bowl game. They should lavish praise on him after Monday’s performance. The Cougars were that stingy.

“I knew coach Tuiaki would have his defense ready to play,” Sitake said.

BYU’s defense came up with eight tackles for loss, including five sacks. Navy’s needed average on third down was 10.8 yards. Talk about getting behind the chains.

The dominance started from the get-go. Navy took the opening kickoff, tried two of its patented fullback dives right off the bat, and both were stuffed. Message sent — this BYU defensive line was not going to be pushed around, its linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties not fooled.

“We talked about being aggressive early to get the lead,” Sitake said.

Mission accomplished.

The Cougars went 74 yards for a touchdown, in seven plays, and got a nifty run from Tyler Allgeier for the six. Allgeier picked up 132 yards and two touchdowns on 14 attempts and showed he’s got the goods to be the next great back at BYU.

Navy’s second possession went the same way — no first downs, and a pass almost picked off due to pressure from former Navy linebacker Pepe Tanuvasa, who led BYU in tackles with eight before leaving the field on his own power after sustaining some sort of lower leg injury.

Was it a case of BYU’s awesomeness, or Navy’s wretchedness?

“That’s a hard question to answer, because I know how good Navy is,” Tanuvasa said. “We played our ‘A’ game.”

The Midshipmen managed to get their first first down nine minutes into the game on their third possession, but a false start and more BYU dominance at the line of scrimmage scuttled that minor positive moment for the home team.

After a rare BYU mistake — Zach Wilson’s throw was behind Neil Pau’u, who might have been tripped, and Evan Fochtman picked it off — the Midshipmen finally got some decent field position. It was the momentum switch Niumatalolo’s crew needed.

But the Cougars blew that up, too.

Isaiah Kaufusi caused a fumble on a would-be halfback pass, and BYU got a 16-yard sack.

Navy turned the ball over on downs — Niumatalolo gambled on fourth-and-1 — on its fifth possession and desperation reigned on the Mids’ sideline.

Credit Payton Wilgar and Bracken El-Bakri for scuttling Navy’s final possession of the first half. They combined for a sack, and BYU caught a break after a 12-yard completion for a first down was wiped away due to an illegal block while Navy QB Dalen Morris was scrambling.

Eventually, Morris was pulled in favor of Perry Olsen. Meanwhile, BYU played multiple quarterbacks, too, but out of choice rather than necessity.

Wilson finished with 232 yards and two touchdowns, with just the one pick that was not totally his fault. Navy’s blitzing linebackers never got a hand on him. With backup Jaren Hall “not 100 percent” due to an undisclosed injury, according to Sitake, Baylor Romney took over for Wilson midway through the third quarter, and didn’t miss a beat. Freshman Sol-Jay Maiava, who prepped not far from here in the Washington, D.C., area, mopped up.

BYU’s offensive line lived up to the billing as one of the best in the independence-era, and then some.

“You can’t define a team by just one game,” Sitake said. “I would just like to build on this.”

Sandbagging is no longer an option.