Explosive first quarter powers BYU football past USF 50-21

Good things happen when you score on the first play of the game. Better things happen when you lead 21-0 after seven minutes and 38-7 at the half.

No. 25 BYU testified to both Saturday in Tampa, making a loud, declarative statement in a 50-21 victory over USF to open the season.

“That was one thing we wanted to improve on from last year, just having a quick start,” quarterback Jaren Hall said. “I feel like we kept that edge for the rest of the game.”

If the Florida humidity or 2.5 hour pregame weather delay affected the Cougars, it was impossible to notice. Puka Nacua took a fly sweep 75 yards to the house on the game’s first play to seemingly bury the Bulls on the spot.

“We were fortunate to jump ahead and get an early lead,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “What a great way to start the game.”

“There’s no better way to start a season than that,” running back Lopini Katoa added.

Just a few ticks of the clock later, Nacua had already turned a second sweep into another score, and linebacker Max Tooley grabbed a pick six off an errant Gerry Bohanon throw to continue the early slaughter.

“Momentum is a huge thing in college football, and we had a ton of it in the first half,” Katoa said. “We made them pay for all their mistakes.”

Aside from an end zone interception, Hall was near flawless, completing 78% of his passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns. Hall flexed BYU’s deep arsenal of offensive weapons by connecting with 12 different receivers on the night, with Dallin Holker and Keanu Hill each hauling in touchdowns and Chase Roberts’ 41 yards leading the team.

“That was one of my favorite parts of tonight, just seeing our young receivers step in and make plays,” Hall said. “I was proud of those guys but I knew they were able to do that and was confident in them.”

Chris Brooks shook off a slow start to flash in his BYU debut, logging 13 carries for 135 yards and a touchdown while Katoa added 12 touches for 76 yards out of the backfield as well. BYU’s gargantuan offensive line paved the way for a ridiculous 314 team rushing yards, averaging more than eight yards per carry to force misery upon the USF defense.

Cornerback Jacob Boren led the Cougars with six tackles along with a sack, and linebackers Ben Bywater, Payton Wilgar and Tooley each added five tackles as well. BYU’s defense forced seven total punts or turnovers, surrendered just 295 yards and held the Bulls to 4-12 on third down tries.

Special teams were BYU’s lone blemish, surrendering 239 total kick return yards and an 89-yard return score from Jimmy Horn, Jr. Nevertheless, punting wizard Ryan Rehkow pinned the Bulls inside their own 20 both times he was called upon.

“They have a great return team and we tried to test it too many times,” Sitake said. “That’s on the coaches, so we’ve got to find a way to improve the kickoff team.”

The Cougars — who will likely receive a generous bump in the AP polls this next week — will return to Provo to face their first truly formidable opponent of the season in No. 10 Baylor on Sept. 10.

“We know how good we are and how good we can be, so we’ve got to just stay hungry,” Katoa said. “When you’re hungry after you win big like that, it’s a good sign.”

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