Sep 29, 2022; Provo, Utah, USA; Brigham Young Cougars running back Christopher Brooks (2) reacts in the fourth quarter against the Utah State Aggies at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Fading Stanford takes on bowl-bound BYU

BYU will try to upgrade its expected bowl bid while host Stanford looks to avoid adding to a season-ending losing streak when the teams end the regular season with a nonconference game Saturday night.

BYU (6-5) became bowl-eligible with a 52-26 shellacking of Utah Tech last Saturday, riding Jaren Hall’s 456-yard, five-touchdown passing day to a second consecutive win.

Meanwhile, Stanford (3-8) came up short in its Pacific-12 Conference finale last weekend, giving squandering an 11-point lead by giving up three fourth-quarter touchdowns at rival California 27-20. After entering the fourth quarter leading 17-6, the Cardinal was reduced to sending in Joshua Karty to kick a Big Game-record, 61-yard field goal on the final play of the game … while trailing by 10 points.

The Cougars and Cardinal are meeting for the third time, with Stanford sweeping a two-game series in 2003-04.

While Stanford — after opening the David Shaw era with eight straight bowl bids — will be sitting home for the fourth consecutive holiday season, BYU clinched its fifth consecutive bowl appearance and 16th in the last 17 years.

One bowl projection has the Cougars facing Kansas in the Armed Forces Bowl, a matchup that could be a preview of a Big 12 Conference game next fall after BYU, currently an independent, begins its new conference affiliation.

The Cougars are led offensively by Hall (3,078 yards and 29 passing touchdowns), and Cal transfer Christopher Brooks (565 yards and five scores).

Brooks, who rushed for 131 yards for Cal in the 2021 Big Game against Stanford, is looking forward to getting one more shot at his one-time rival.

“Very, very (high),” he noted of his excitement level to be facing Stanford. “It’s back to the Bay.”

It’s unlikely that the Cardinal, who has lost four in a row, will be able to match that enthusiasm, but Stanford coach David Shaw sees a positive in that his seniors will get one more opportunity to go out winners.

“Wanted this one really bad for them,” he said after the loss at Cal. “So many guys really gave their best effort. So many guys that were late-week (injury) decisions. Could have easily just said: ‘You know, I’m not feeling great, so coach, I can’t play.’ And they all tried. They all tried.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2022; Provo, Utah, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Jakob Robinson (1) is brought down Brigham Young University Cougars defensive lineman Tyler Batty (92) in the first quarter at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gabriel Mayberry-USA TODAY Sports

KJ Jefferson (5 TDs) leads Arkansas past BYU in shootout

KJ Jefferson threw a career-high five touchdown passes as Arkansas pulled away from BYU in the second half to post a 52-35 shootout win on Saturday afternoon in Provo, Utah, in the first-ever meeting between the programs.

Jefferson passed for 367 yards and hit 10 different receivers to help Arkansas (4-3) snap a three-game losing streak.

The game went back forth in the first half before the Razorbacks scored 17 consecutive points to go up 31-21 at the break. BYU (4-3) would never get closer than three points the rest of the way.

Raheim Sanders ran for 175 yards and two touchdowns, one of them a 64-yarder, to lead Arkansas’ stout rushing attack, which amassed 277 yards.

Jaren Hall led the Cougars with 356 yards passing and three touchdowns, with Puka Nacua hauling in eight passes for 141 yards and a TD and running for two other scores. Kody Epps had 125 yards and another TD receiving for BYU, which has dropped two straight games.

The Cougars began the scoring with Hall’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Rex with 5:39 to play in the first quarter. Arkansas answered three minutes later and tied the game when Sanders reeled off a 15-yard scoring run.

BYU used back-to-back pass interference penalties on the Razorbacks to set the stage for a 21-yard TD pass from Hall to Epps with 1:11 left in the first quarter.

Arkansas grabbed the lead on a 6-yard scoring pass from Jefferson to Trey Knox early in the second quarter. But the lead was short-lived as Nacua’s 5-yard TD run pushed BYU to a 21-14 advantage with 9:48 to play in the second.

The rest of the half belonged to the Razorbacks.

Cam Little booted a 34-yard FG with 6:46 to play before halftime to cut the BYU lead to 21-17. Jefferson hit Matt Landers with a 4-yard TD pass with at the 3:39 mark and then found Rashod Dubinion from 15 yards out to grant Arkansas a 31-21 advantage at the break.

BYU got back to within three points on Nacua’s 3-yard scoring sweep on the Cougars’ first drive of the third quarter. Arkansas immediately responded with a 39-yard Jefferson TD pass to Landers.

Nacua hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Hall with 5:11 to play in the third. The Razorbacks pulled away with 5-yard TD toss from Jefferson to Landers and Sanders’ long touchdown run.

–Field Level Media

Sep 24, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Drew Pyne (10) looks to pass in the second quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Improved Notre Dame meets No. 16 BYU at Las Vegas

Notre Dame is riding a two-game winning streak into Saturday’s clash with No. 16 BYU at Las Vegas for one simple reason: The Fighting Irish have been focused on playing more complete games.

The commitment has helped Notre Dame rebound from a 0-2 start where it lost leads against Ohio State and Marshall in back-to-back weeks and sent the Irish tumbling out of the AP Top 25 poll after starting the season as a top-10 squad.

The Irish (2-2) put together their most complete game offensively two weeks ago in a 45-32 win over North Carolina. They racked up 576 yards and averaged 6.8 yards per play against the Tar Heels after being held under 400 total yards in each of their first three contests. Defensively, Notre Dame held North Carolina to just 66 rushing yards.

“I wanted to make sure our focus is on every play of the game and not just finishing in the fourth,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said.

Playing a more complete game is also a concern for BYU.

The Cougars (4-1) needed third-quarter surges to overcome sluggish starts in back-to-back wins over Wyoming and Utah State. Against Utah State in particular, BYU ran only 19 plays in the first half compared to 52 for the Aggies.

Once the Cougars started sustaining drives, they were able to pull away. In the third quarter of an eventual 38-26 victory over Utah State, BYU ran 22 plays and averaged 9 yards per play.

Starting strong has become a greater emphasis going into the game at the home of the Las Vegas Raiders.

“That’s the whole focus is us playing at our best and that’s my job as head coach is to make sure we get there,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said.

Saturday’s game is the 11th edition of Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series, which started with a 2009 contest against Washington State. Notre Dame has never lost a Shamrock Series game, which functions as a de facto home game designed to bring Irish football games to alumni and fans in other parts of the country.

“The Shamrock Series is what makes Notre Dame unique,” Freeman said. “It’s one of our distinctions.”

BYU and Notre Dame are meeting for the ninth time. The Irish hold a 6-2 lead in the series. The contest also culminates a six-game contract between the schools, originally signed when the Cougars became an FBS independent in 2011. Two games were played at South Bend, Ind., in 2012 and 2013 – both Notre Dame victories. The Irish bought out three of the final four games after forming a scheduling alliance with the ACC.

The Cougars enter the game as a slight underdog by oddsmakers despite facing an unranked Notre Dame squad.

“I like the underdog mentality all the time, so no matter what the situation is, we know we are going against a great team,” Sitake said. “Notre Dame hasn’t played its best football yet, but you can see the talent and the flashes of great players. But we haven’t played our best football either.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 16, 2022; Laramie, Wyoming, USA; Wyoming Cowboys quarterback Andrew Peasley (6) runs against the Air Force  during the fourth quarter at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Confident Wyoming ready for challenge against No. 19 BYU

Wyoming coach Craig Bohl described his squad as an “emerging football team” after the Cowboys upset Air Force 17-14 on Sept. 16 in their Mountain West Conference opener.

Beating old rival BYU on Saturday night in Provo, Utah, would not only lend credence to Bohl’s thoughts but also give the 19th-ranked Cougars consecutive losses.

It will be the second time the programs have met since BYU left the Mountain West 11 years ago to go the independent route.

The Cougars (2-1) were ranked No. 12 after an overtime win against then-No. 9 Baylor on Sept. 10, but they had no answer for Oregon last week in a 41-20 rout that wasn’t too close. The Ducks established a 38-7 third-quarter lead in Eugene, Ore., and never looked back.

“I didn’t have this team ready, so that’s on me,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “We’ve got to figure out how to start better and faster. It seemed like we just dug ourselves too much of a hole to climb out.”

The same Oregon team that got manhandled 49-3 to start the year against then-No. 3 Georgia rattled off scores on its first six possessions against BYU, bagging five touchdowns and mixing in a field goal.

The Ducks gained 439 yards, splitting them almost equally between running (212) and passing (227). Meanwhile, BYU rushed for 61 yards, abandoning the running game as the margin grew larger.

Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns, although most of those totals came with the game long decided. Hall was more concerned with the inability to convert a fourth down on the Cougars’ initial possession, leading to Oregon’s first score.

“You hate to give up opportunities on fourth down. It’s a turnover,” Hall said. “It’s just as devastating as throwing an interception or fumbling the ball to us. We rely a lot on converting fourth downs to give our defense a break.”

Wyoming’s game plan figures to be a simple one: Turn Titus Swen loose at the BYU front seven. Swen supplied 102 rushing yards and the game-winning score in the win over Air Force, running through three defenders for a 5-yard touchdown with 6:06 left.

Equally as impressive was the Cowboys’ response after forcing a punt from the Falcons’ vaunted triple-option attack: They chewed up the game’s final five minutes, earning three first downs and improving to 3-1. Wyoming’s lone setback was a season-opening 38-6 loss at Illinois.

“We are a young football team in a lot of spots and a lot of those guys are growing up fast,” Bohl said. “I really think our coaching staff did a great job composing a game plan and the players went out and executed it.”

Swen has 316 rushing yards and four touchdowns through four games, while quarterback Andrew Peasley bounced back from a 5-of-20, 30-yard effort at Illinois to hit 57 of 83 attempts for 562 yards over the past three games.

The Cougars own a 45-30-3 lead in the series, including a 24-21 victory in the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Puka Nacua (12) runs the ball in for a touchdown against the South Florida Bulls during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Report: BYU WRs Puka Nacua, Gunner Romney to miss Baylor game

BYU receivers Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney are both expected to sit out Saturday night when the No. 21 Cougars host No. 9 Baylor at Provo, Utah.

ESPN reported Friday that Nacua (ankle) and Romney (undisclosed) will miss the nonconference showdown between future Big 12 rivals.

The losses represent a big blow for BYU as Nakua had five catches for 168 yards and one touchdown and Romney had three receptions for 81 yards in last season’s 38-24 road loss to the Bears.

Nakua caught one pass for 22 yards and rushed three times for 76 yards and two scores in BYU’s 50-21 home win over South Florida last weekend before leaving with his injury. He scored on a 75-yard run on the first play from scrimmage.

Nacua caught 43 passes for 805 yards and six touchdowns last season, his first with the Cougars after transferring from Washington.

Romney sat out the Southern Florida game due to his injury. He has 117 receptions for 1,900 yards and nine touchdowns in a career that began in 2018.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears head coach Dave Aranda and quarterback Blake Shapen (12) during the game between the Baylor Bears and the Albany Great Danes at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

No. 21 BYU out for revenge vs. No. 9 Baylor

No. 9 Baylor and No. 21 BYU are once again getting a head start on their future Big 12 rivalry when they square off Saturday night at Provo, Utah.

The Cougars will be joining the Big 12 in 2023, but their immediate order of business is trying to avenge last season’s 38-24 road loss to Baylor.

“We circle every single game of the season,” BYU defensive tackle Lorenzo Fauatea said. “Everybody looks forward to every game we play. But you could say that the Baylor game is one that players are looking forward to following the game last year.”

The Bears totaled 534 yards in that contest and dominated in the trenches while rushing for 303 yards.

But Baylor (1-0) expects the task of winning to be much tougher when it tussles with BYU (1-0) in LaVell Edwards Stadium at 4,649-feet elevation.

“Just every obstacle that is hard,” Bears coach Dave Aranda said of his program’s pre-travel research. “They are playing at a high level, so we are excited for that. I think it’s an opportunity for us again to show what we are about.”

Baylor, which won a school-record 12 games last season, wasn’t pressed in its opener as it rolled to a 69-10 home victory over FCS Albany.

Quarterback Blake Shapen made his third career start and was 17-for-20 passing for 214 yards and two touchdowns before calling it a day early in the third quarter.

“I think it was just a glimpse of what you’ll see in the future,” Shapen said. “I feel like it was good for some of the guys, and especially me, to get out there and be able to play again and take some shots down the field, stuff that you’ll definitely see in the future. We just have to keep working and get better at it.”

The Cougars also feature a solid quarterback in Jaren Hall, who completed 25 of 32 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns as BYU recorded a 50-21 opening win on the road against South Florida.

Hall passed for 20 touchdowns and five interceptions last year in his first season as a starter, topping 300 yards four times, including in the loss against Baylor when he was 22 of 31 for 342 yards and one touchdown.

“Great play-action pass thrower,” Aranda said. “I think he can move in the pocket and create things if things aren’t there. He is going to be one of the better quarterbacks we play all year. The film is impressive in terms of the decisions he makes, the throws that he is able to complete, and really the throws that he doesn’t take. He doesn’t put the team at risk.

“He was good last year. He’s better now.”

Cougars coach Kalani Sitake acknowledges that his squad struggled with Baylor’s toughness last season. He’s hoping to see a different level of intensity from his team Saturday.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to play against Baylor,” Sitake said. “We’re familiar with them, they are a really good team, obviously ranked and they’re the standard for the Big 12.

“They’re the conference champs and we get to have them here in Provo, so we’re really excited for that game and to see how we match up with them from the game last year to now. I know our guys are really excited about this opportunity.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Provo, Utah, USA;  Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) runs the ball in the first quarter against the Virginia Cavaliers at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

No. 25 BYU takes early-season prowess to South Florida

Opening a season on a winning note has become embedded in BYU’s DNA.

The No. 25 Cougars have plenty of reasons to feel optimistic when they travel to Tampa, Fla., to face South Florida in the season opener for both teams on Saturday.

BYU is 5-1 in season openers under head coach Kalani Sitake, with the loss coming against archrival Utah in 2019. The Cougars have won 13 of their last 15 season openers.

BYU quarterback Jaren Hall attributes a willingness to do homework for the program’s win-early tendencies.

“You have more time to study their scheme, plays, and watching film than for a normal game week,” Hall said. “The more you can burn all of that into your memory, then when you’re in the stadium, you can turn off your brain, stop thinking and go have fun. You can allow all your preparation to come out through your energy.”

Hall will be eager to show what he can do against the Bulls. The fifth-year junior was sidelined with a rib injury when the Cougars beat South Florida 35-27 last season to open the schedule with a 4-0 record.

Former BYU quarterback Baylor Romney filled in and threw for 305 yards with three touchdowns. Hall made his first career start when the two teams met at Tampa in 2019 – a 27-23 loss for BYU.

Figuring out how to contain Hall will be a dilemma for the Bulls. Hall had a 156.1 pass efficiency rating last season and posted four 300-yard games in 10 starts. He had 2,583 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air overall.

South Florida has defeated just one FBS opponent over the last two seasons, although the trend could change in a hurry in 2022.

The Bulls are returning 18 starters from last season’s 2-10 squad while adding key transfers. Baylor transfer Gerry Bohanon won the starting quarterback job in fall camp. South Florida top rusher Jaren Mangham and top receiver Xavier Weaver are both back to lead the offense.

The infusion of transfers with veteran contributors already has had a positive impact on team culture.

“I think my first two years, a lot of guys were trying to find a way off the field,” USF coach Jeff Scott said. “They were trying to find ways not to practice, not to take reps, and just wait until game day. That culture has shifted where guys are now out there pushing themselves and encouraging their teammates.”

BYU was preparing to face hot and humid conditions at Tampa on Saturday. Now there’s a chance the Cougars could be dealing with rain instead. The team is fully prepared to handle either scenario.

“We have had some practices already where it has been kinda wet and had a scrimmage that was kind of wet,” Sitake said. “I don’t know if we really need to flood the field or put the ball in a bucket of water. We just show up and play. They have to play in the same weather that we play in, too.”

BYU’s lone previous win in the state of Florida was a 49-23 triumph over UCF in the 2020 Boca Raton Bowl.

–Field Level Media

Nov 6, 2021; Provo, Utah, USA; Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) reacts after a first quarter interception against the Idaho State Bengals at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

No. 15 BYU gets big game from QB Jaren Hall, routs Idaho State

Jaren Hall threw for 298 yards and four touchdowns Saturday to lead No. 15 BYU to a 59-14 victory over Idaho State in Provo, Utah.

Puka Nacua had 120 yards and a touchdown on six receptions to lead the Cougars with his second straight 100-yard game.

Keanu Hill added a career-high 92 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. Hill also blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for another touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

BYU (8-2) amassed 560 yards in winning its third straight game.

Sagan Gronauer threw for 167 yards and a touchdown for Idaho State (1-8, 1-5 Big Sky), which fell to 0-7 all-time against the Cougars. The Bengals mustered 238 total yards and punted 10 times en route to their fourth straight loss.

Idaho State went 3-and-out on three of four first-quarter drives and the remaining one ended in an interception that Pepe Tanuvasa returned to the Bengal 6-yard line.

The Cougars, meantime, experienced no trouble marching down the field against the Bengals, scoring touchdowns on their first five drives, and then after a fumble ended a drive, scored the next time they got the ball to take a 42-7 halftime lead.

They racked up 397 total yards by halftime, averaging 9.0 yards a play.

Hall orchestrated one BYU drive after another with big passing plays. He accounted for five touchdowns in the first half (four passing, one rushing) while completing 80% of his passes.

The Bengals scored their only touchdown before halftime after cashing in on a BYU fumble at the Cougars’ 17-yard-line. Jared Scott reeled in a 6-yard catch to get Idaho State on the board with 1:20 left in the half.

BYU has a week off before facing Georgia Southern on Nov. 20, preceding their contest at USC.

–Field Level Media