Big time rush: Run game pushes BYU past Stanford 35-26 in regular season finale

BYU’s rushing attack couldn’t be stopped Saturday against Stanford, as the Cougars tallied a season-high 358 yards on the ground in a convincing 35-26 win over the Cardinal in Palo Alto, Calif.

Running the football a whopping 50 times out of 62 total plays, the Cougars sprinted out the gate to score on each of their first four drives to leave Stanford in the dust in BYU’s final Pac-12 challenge as an Independent program.

“We had a chip on our shoulder tonight because we weren’t running the ball as effectively earlier this year,” tight end Isaac Rex said.

Chris Brooks — a Cal transfer with plenty of prior experience facing the Cardinal — led the offensive charge with 164 yards on 23 carries for his most productive performance as a Cougar. Hinckley Ropati added 85 yards and his first career rushing touchdown, with Jaren Hall running for 69 yards at a 7.1 yard clip along with a 19-yard score on the game’s opening drive.

“I’m just really grateful for the opportunity to run the rock as much as we did and as well as we did,” offensive lineman Blake Freeland said.

BYU finished with less than 100 passing yards for the first time since 2016, but Hall made the most of the 93 yards he did achieve by finding Rex twice for a pair of touchdown grabs, giving the talented tight end 21 career touchdown receptions and bringing Hall’s season total to 31 passing scores.

Hall — who also joined Steve Young and Brandon Doman as the only BYU quarterbacks to throw for 3,000 yards and run for at least 300 more in the same season — would end up leaving the game early with an ankle injury, a move which head coach Kalani Sitake called “precautionary” in hoping to keep the veteran quarterback intact and capable for a bowl game in December.

Backup Jacob Conover was thrust into his first meaningful action of the season, failing to complete his lone pass attempt but still leading a fifth BYU scoring drive amid a heavy dosage of hand-offs. Puka Nacua was the final Cougar to find the end zone, hauling for a 25-yard fourth quarter score to headline a six touch, 71-yard outing.

BYU’s pass rush awoke from its longtime slumber for three sacks on Stanford quarterback, returned missionary and former BYU recruiting target Tanner McKee, who added to his impressive draft resume with a 31-40 passing line for 313 yards. Ben Bywater and Micah Harper led the Cougars with nine and eight tackles each, while Gabe Jeudy-Lally chipped in with the sack effort and broke up two McKee passes in the secondary.

The win over Stanford ends BYU’s regular season at 7-5, with its Independent era holding a 98-56 mark as well. The Cougars now await their December bowl destination for 60 more minutes of football before the highly anticipated offseason jump to the Big 12.

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