Second half surge pushes No. 19 BYU football past Wyoming 38-24

Finally finding success in both establishing and defending against the run, No. 19 BYU football shook off a slow start to earn a bruising 38-24 victory over Wyoming Saturday night in Provo.

It seemed as if the Cougars were headed for disaster early, with their rushing woes continuing as Wyoming slashed for 69 ground yards in the first quarter on 5.8 yards per carry. The Cowboys pushed BYU’s shorthanded defense all over the field to extend drives, melt the clock and make the four-point Cougar halftime lead appear completely unsafe.

After halftime, however, everything changed.

BYU’s run defense turned from hunted into hunter, strangling Wyoming to the tune of 27 second half rushing yards as the Cowboys choked on five fruitless third down chances and essentially punted the game away for the Cougars to strike for 24 additional points.

Payton Wilgar, Hayden Livingston and Keenan Pili tackle a Wyoming ball carrier. (Robby Gordon)

“It felt good to get hit in the mouth and respond better,” head coach Kalani Sitake said of the defensive effort. “The guys answered the call.”

Despite being without starters Max Tooley, Gabe Summers and others while also losing Malik Moore and Payton Wilgar during the contest, the Cougars still racked up seven tackles for loss and allowed just 278 total yards — their third sub-300 yard showing of the season. Safety Micah Harper led the team in tackles with six, while defensive linemen Tyler Batty and John Nelson set the tone in stopping the run and each recorded sacks as well.

BYU’s defense prepares for the snap. The Cougars allowed just 278 total yards against the Cowboys. (Robby Gordon)

“We have a ton of talent, and more importantly, a ton of hard workers,” Batty said. “To see those guys get on the field is exciting, and when they make plays like that, it’s a lot of fun.”

On the other side of the ball, BYU’s offense looked sloppily out of sync on its opening drives, with veteran running backs Chris Brooks and Lopini Katoa unable to generate steam for the run game and man coverage causing headaches for the receiving corps.

Enter Miles Davis.

In the redshirt freshman’s most extensive game action at BYU, Davis exploded immediately for 131 yards on 13 carries, breathing life into a rushing attack that had been dormant for weeks.

MIles Davis plows ahead against Wyoming. (Robby Gordon)

“The coaches just told me to go in and have fun,” Davis said. “Our (offensive) line did it all.. I was just following their butts. We’ve got to give all the glory to the line and to our quarterback.”

Davis wasn’t the only unlikely hero for the Cougars. With Gunner Romney still absent and Chase Roberts exiting early with an undisclosed injury, Keanu Hill picked up the slack at receiver by grabbing five catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns while Brayden Cosper added four receptions for 58 yards and his first career score.

“We’ve been getting everybody involved, and everybody stepped up today,” quarterback Jaren Hall said. “Some guys had bigger roles than others.. but they all seized the moment and did a great job.”

Hall enjoyed perhaps the finest night of his tenure under center, completing 81% of his passes for 337 yards, four touchdowns and a personal best 211.0 rating while also becoming the 20th quarterback in school history to eclipse 4,000 career passing yards.

Jaren Hall fires a pass against Wyoming. (Robby Gordon)

“(Jaren) knows how to make everyone look good,” Sitake said.

Hall connected with eight different receivers against the Cowboys, including Puka Nacua, who made his first appearance since the season opener at USF. Nacua posted 40 scrimmage yards on four touches in limited action before being helped off the field in the fourth quarter with an apparent knee injury. Sitake was unable to provide any immediate specifics regarding Nacua’s health but believed that he would not be lost for the season.

When it wasn’t injuries plaguing the Cougars, it was penalties. The typically disciplined BYU squad was flagged 11 times at the cost of 109 yards, including an unsportsmanlike conduct called on Hill after hitting the griddy following his first touchdown.

“We’ve got to find ways to play more disciplined football,” Sitake said. “We just need to keep plugging away and eliminate the mistakes.”

The win over Wyoming was a much-needed sigh of relief for Sitake and company following last week’s blowout loss to Oregon, Dallin Holker’s surprising departure from the program and the continued bite of the injury bug, with the Cougars crediting their culture of “love and learn” in helping to overcome the recent adversity.

Kalani Sitake instructs his team during a timeout. (Robby Gordon)

“It was a lot of emotion from the loss (to Oregon) to losing to Dallin,” Hall said. “It took us a couple days to figure out how to move forward, but luckily we have Kalani leading the way to teach us to love and learn. Our love for each other is what got us back to being ready to play.”

BYU — now 3-1 on the season — will face another challenge in playing on short rest as Utah State comes to town on Thursday. The Cougars and Aggies will kick off at 6:15 p.m.

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