Any questions regarding whether No. 13 BYU could handle a hostile crowd were answered Friday night in Logan as the Cougars weathered all kinds of injuries, setbacks, the loss of their starting quarterback and several bad breaks to overcome the Utah State Aggies 34-20 at Maverik Stadium.
The 5-0 Cougars showed on a picture-perfect night in the Cache Valley that they weren’t ready to cash in on their perfect season when backup quarterback Baylor Romney sustained a likely concussion just before halftime, and third-stringer Jacob Conover had to lead them to their seventh-straight victory.
And running back Tyler Allgeier showed he’s going to be making some big-time cash in the professional ranks soon, running for 218 yards and three TDs.
The Cougars showed that this is a resilient BYU bunch, finding the right defensive adjustments in the second half when the Aggies were playing keep-away for most of the first half. BYU held USU to 22 rushing yards on 35 carries, while unleashing Allgeier and company on a USU defense that lacked the quickness and speed that new coach Blake Anderson insisted it had as an advantage over the nationally ranked Cougars.
“I am glad we were able to grind out the win,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “It wasn’t easy. Utah State, give them a lot of credit, they made things really difficult for us to get this win.”
There were moments that looked bleak for the Cougars and rosy for the Aggies (3-2) and their sellout crowd of 25,240.
Particularly, after Deven Thompkins caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Logan Bonner to trim BYU’s lead to 27-20 with 9 minutes, 52 seconds remaining, Allgeier made another of those runs for which he will be remembered when he leaves Provo — most likely after this season.
His 67-yard run down the west sidelines — where the visiting team has set up camp in previous years, but not this one as Anderson asked for the visitors’ sidelines to be directly in front of USU’s student section, the Hurd — in front of USU’s helpless bench came a play after USU’s only second-half score and pretty much sealed the deal.
“Don’t get caught,” was Allgeier’s sentiment, remembering his second TD romp of 59 yards when he almost stumbled into the end zone.
He did get caught (after replay showed his forearm hit the ground before the football broke the plane of the end zone), but scored his third TD two plays later with 8:40 on the clock, and the Cougars could breathe easy again.
“Just really happy for him,” Sitake said. “If you ask him, he will give a lot of credit to the O line and everybody blocking downfield, but he did a great job protecting the ball, making sure we had great ball security.”
Former USU defensive back Jakob Robinson atoned for giving up the long TD to Thompkins by intercepting USU backup Andrew Peasley with just over a minute to play.
About that time, debris started to fly out of the USU student section towards the BYU bench.
“I told our players to embrace it,” Sitake said, crediting the Aggies for the “fun atmosphere” and “crazy environment” several times in his postgame remarks to the media.
As for his quarterback situation, Sitake said he didn’t know yet why Romney had to leave the game at halftime, having thrown for 187 yards and a touchdown in the first half, when the Cougars took a 24-13 lead into the break. Romney’s passer rating was 189 at the time.
“I talked to him after the game. He was on the sidelines. We will see. We will have to evaluate it in the next 24 hours and go into next week (vs. Boise State) and see what happens,” Sitake said. “But obviously he couldn’t come back into the game and we have to protect him and keep him safe.”
Conover, the highly recruited four-star QB from Chandler, Arizona, settled in after a rocky start. He finished 5 of 9 for 45 yards and engineered the field goal drive at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth that put BYU ahead 27-13.
“Thank goodness for Jacob Conover,” Sitake said.
And for Allgeier, but that probably goes without saying.
“It was pretty surreal,” Conover said. “It was a great team win. … I will never forget this experience. It was awesome. It was a moment I prepared for.”
Play-caller Aaron Roderick sent the message that the Cougars could win with Conover by calling a rollout pass play for the big-time recruit’s first collegiate play. The throw soared over Gunner Romney’s head, and Cougar Nation started to worry.
But on the FG drive, Conover was 3 for 4 for 40 yards, including a big third-and-2 throw to Allgeier for 16 yards.
After an offense-filled first half, neither team scored in the third quarter, although the Cougars were marching at the end of the period. The drive stalled, and Jake Oldroyd’s 32-yard field goal gave BYU a 27-13 lead.
The Aggies, who ran 83 plays to BYU’s 66, put together a 14-play, 90-yard drive that took 4:23 off the clock.
Maverik Stadium was at a fever pitch.
But Allgeier quieted them with a run that won’t soon be forgotten in BYU lore.
Allgeier said he couldn’t remember a particularly good sign among the dozens in the USU crowd, “but they were saying some funny stuff.”
They weren’t laughing at the end — or the beginning.
The story of the first half was BYU’s defense not being able to get off the field, and the Cougars’ continued efficiency on offense.
To wit: the Aggies ran 43 plays in the first half, BYU only 32.
But the Cougars averaged 9.1 yards per play in the first half, 7.0 for the game. BYU had the explosiveness that Anderson had said would carry USU.
BYU stopped USU on its first two possessions, with Malik Moore getting a sensational pick on the Aggies’ opening drive and the defense forcing a three-and-out the second time USU had the ball.
USU converted on third-and-8 on its third drive and got on the board with a career-high 52-yard field goal by Connor Coles.
After BYU took a 17-3 lead on Isaac Rex’s third TD grab in two weeks, the Aggies took over at their 25 and kept the ball for 18 plays and 75 yards, taking 7:34 off the clock.
Fittingly, on third-and-15, Bonner hit Justin McGriff for a 21-yard TD. The play came one play after Elelyon Noa pounced on a Bonner fumble, beating two Cougars to the loose football.
Several times in the game the Aggies jumped on fumbles that could have been disastrous. Then again, their failure to corral a Romney fumble in the first half cost them a field goal.
Leading 24-13, BYU moved into scoring position late in the first half and seemingly got the ball inside the 20 on a Neil Pau’u reception. However, officials ruled it an incomplete pass and it was not reviewed.
Oldroyd’s 45-yard field goal try was wide left, ending a school-record 16-consecutive made field goal streak.
The Cougars had 291 yards of total offense in the first half and would have gone over 300 if not for a negative-31 yard play when Romney fumbled and the ball squirted backwards when a pair of Aggies collided trying to snag it.
Romney became the sixth Cougar QB to fail to finish a game vs. USU in the past nine years, joining Taysom Hill (2012, 2014, 2016), Beau Hoge (2017) and Hall (2019).
Coincidentally, Romney relieved Hall in the second half of that 42-14 BYU win in Logan when Hall left with concussion-like symptoms.
So what happens next at the QB spot?
“Jaren is close (to returning),” Sitake said. “He practiced, but we just didn’t feel like he was good enough yet. We felt like Baylor had a better week of practice and so we will just feel it out and figure out what is best for the player, No. 1, and then what is right for our team.
“We are hoping to get him back. We are hoping to get Baylor back. We will just have to wait and see,” Sitake concluded.
His team already answered the first question that this night presented: Could they win in their first true road game of the season, even when adversity struck?
Indeed they could. And did.