Being a BYU football fan these days is a real investment.
I don’t necessarily mean it the way former Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall meant it when he would talk about being “fully invested.”
Times have changed.
The name, image and likeness era of college sports means fans can actually open their wallets and invest in their favorite players. A large number of BYU fans who invested in traveling to Florida for Saturday’s game in Tampa were stranded in Tulsa when their Allegiant flight was canceled mid-flight on Friday, although they eventually made it.
Cougar faithful who had things to do on Saturday either before or after the game with South Florida — yard work, wedding receptions, kids’ soccer games — found out they had to invest more than just four hours for game time. They had to carve out an additional two-and-a-half hours due to a lengthy weather delay in Tampa before the 2022 BYU team could take the field.
Then there is the emotional investment, the angst of being a BYU football fan that pretty much runs year round now and causes so much anxiety some people can’t bear to watch the game live.
Turned out any hand-wringing over a trap game against an improved opponent, a cross country road trip, the famous Florida humidity or a slow start due to the delay wasn’t warranted: The Cougars opened Saturday’s 50-21 victory against South Florida with Puka Nacua going 75 yards for a touchdown on a jet sweep on the first play from scrimmage.
BYU got out to a 38-0 lead in the first half and were never challenged by a South Florida team that felt it was vastly improved from last year’s 2-10 campaign. The Cougars totaled 575 yards, 314 on the ground, and made a pretty loud statement that it is likely better than their No. 25 ranking.
Nacua was electrifying in the first quarter, scoring a pair of touchdowns and accounting for 98 yards before injuring his ankle. He was seen sitting on the bench in a walking boot and left the field after the game on crutches. BYU coach Kalani Sitake said the boot was precautionary and Nacua could have re-entered the game if he was needed.
Here are a few other observations to think about.
Despite the 314 rushing yards, the run game was a bit inconsistent. The Cougars busted some big plays but South Florida’s run blitzes did cause some issues. Once Chris Brooks broke the line of scrimmage he proved a load to bring down and ran for 135 yards on 13 carries, including a 52-yard burst for a score in the second half.
There was at least one series where the lauded BYU offensive line had a hard time keeping pressure off of Jaren Hall, and that will need some scrutiny this week.
Hall was super efficient and seems to have mastered the offense. Even without two of his top targets (Nacua for three quarters, Gunner Romney for the game) Hall knew where the open receivers were and got them the ball. Twelve different players caught passes and coaches had to be pleased with extended opportunities for youngsters such as Cody Epps, Chase Roberts, Brayden Cosper and Terrance Fall.
As Hall put it after the game, “I don’t think anyone didn’t get thrown to.”
The defense seemed to go conservative after BYU got the big lead, which can be expected. Max Tooley’s pick six was impressive and the defense started very strong. The good news is that Cougar coaches got a look at more than 30 players on defense in the blowout which will allow for good teaching moments this week.
Kickoff coverage was dreadful, surrendering a 90-yard touchdown and 239 yards on eight returns (nearly 30 yards per). The tactic seemed to be to have Jake Oldroyd kick the ball to about the 10-yard line and try to gain a few yards of field position instead of putting the ball into the end zone. Why the Cougars wanted to do that against one of the best kick returners in the country is a mystery.
BYU’s experience was also key when both teams were cooling their heels due to the lightning delays. While South Florida brought a DJ into the locker room and blasted music, the Cougars took things easy. Senior running back Lopini Katoa said Nacua actually took a nap. Hall said he watched some other college football games. Tooley said the Cougars stayed focused and that was obvious from the quick start.
Sitake said after the game he talked to the team’s sports scientists and trainers to find out what they should do during the long wait and thought his team “handled themselves really well.”
He added that while he is proud of his team’s effort, the Cougars have plenty of things to sharpen up and work on in practice.
Attention now turns to No. 10 Baylor, which had no trouble rolling past Albany 69-10 on Saturday. The Bears come to Provo for the first time since 1984 and the Cougars have revenge on their mind after losing in Waco last season.
After Saturday’s performance, more Cougar fans may just be ready to invest in the promise of a special season.