BYU football: Cougars roll past USF Bulls in season opener

TAMPA, Fla. — The 2022 BYU Cougars proved to be worth the wait, not just eight months after a long offseason — but an additional two-and-a-half hours on Opening Day.

Sure, there were a few hiccups after kickoff was delayed by a two-hour and 34-minute weather delay, but for the most part BYU on the 25th was up front and played a very good college football team 31,521 announced at Raymond James Stadium.

The Cougars beat South Florida 50-21 after scoring the first 38 points of the game in the most dominant half since the 2020 Navy opener.

Led by Kalani Sitake, BYU went 6-1 in the season opener. Hey, these guys might be nice, but the real barometer will come in the form of Baylor and Oregon over the next two weeks.

“We know how good we are, we know how good we can be. We just have to keep hungry.” —BYU running back Lopini Katoa

Some wondered how the Cougars would deal with Florida’s famous humidity, heat, two-hour time shift and all the unknowns surrounding the new-look Bulls. They passed with flying colors, a testament to the accuracy of their rankings and expectations for another strong season.

“Really happy,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “We’re 1-0 and looking forward to moving on and yes, … a great way to start the game.”

There is one more season.

With the Bulls throwing in 50 hamburgers, the Cougars went 575 yards and kept USF under 300 yards. They took a big lead and coasted all the way home – exactly what Sitake wanted to see.

In short, there was little to fault for the kickoff reporting team other than the fact that the kickoff coverage team had USF’s Jimmy Horn Jr. return the tee shot for 89 yards to the TD and another midfielder that led to the Bulls’ third touchdown.

“For the most part, the defense kept them at 14, and I’m very happy about that,” Seatac said. “Special teams give them seven points and I don’t like that. … And I think by attacking, we could have scored more.”

Maybe it’s because the Cougars were still in the stadium about eight hours after their arrival — BYU’s post-win festivities were a bit lacklustre as the game didn’t start until 4:36 p.m. (6:36 p.m. ET).

Running back Lopini Katoa, who had 10 rushes for 55 yards, said his teammates in the locker room after the game were happy with the win, but far from happy.

“We know how good we are, we know how good we can be,” Katoa said. “We just have to stay hungry.”

Unlike last year, when BYU led the Bulls 21-0 and got out of hand in the second half to eventually win 35-27, Sitake was on the pedal most of the time and his men finished the game.

Aside from those kickoff returns and USF’s 84-yard touchdown at the end of the first half — which only narrowed BYU’s lead to 31 — BYU fans didn’t have much to upset them.

“There are areas we can improve,” Sitake said. “It was a bit sloppy in the second half. … Too many penalties.”

In fact, they only had two penalties in the entire game. Obviously, he’s a tough guy to please.

Fifth-year junior quarterback Jalen Hall completely defeated Baylor’s move to Gribo Hanon, completing 25 of 32 passes for 261 yards, two touchdowns and 161 passing points. It’s reliable.

Bohanon, who led Baylor to a 38-24 win over BYU in Waco last year, was average against the average team. He went 17-for-30 for 172 yards with no touchdowns and gave up the sixth overall pick to BYU’s Max Tooley.

Hall did throw a pick that cost BYU points when Mekhi LaPointe intercepted a pitch at the goal line.

“I had a bad throw and a bad read,” Hall admitted.

Otherwise, he’s steadying himself, rushing for 17 yards and avoiding a sack.

Hall said “all the talk was against us” before the game, and the Cougars answered all questions.

With BYU playing without star catcher Gunner Romney — Hall let it slip, the team knew all week that Romney wouldn’t play — and Puka Nacua suffered an ankle injury before halftime. Left the game with a sprain, a group of others strode forward.

Hall completed the pass to 12 different passers, with Cody Epps leading the way with four.

“It was one of my favorite parts of the evening,” Hall said.

The Cougars couldn’t have asked for a better start, and the Bulls couldn’t have had nightmares about a worse start after a lengthy delay. Stepping out of the locker room after a delay, USF looked energetic and enthusiastic, while Cougars looked almost lethargic. Then the game started.

In the first game of the season/game, Nacua swept to the left, blocked blocks from Masen Wake and Chris Brooks, then rushed past USF Secondary for a 75-yard touchdown.

Nacua also got BYU’s second TD, driving it from the 5 to make it 14-0 with less than seven minutes into the game. The crowd was stunned.

Tooley picked six games from the scrimmage in Bohanon’s two games and later led 21-0 with the Cougars rolling. The Bountiful High product said he returned several picks for touchdowns in high school, but felt good Saturday after he was mocked for “diving” at the 5 against Washington a few years ago.

“We took the challenge, worked hard, and came out on top,” Tuley said.

Brooks’ 40-yard run was the Cougars’ fourth touchdown on a 21-yard pass from Hall to Mount Keanu.

BYU tied the program record with 28 points in the first quarter.

The Cougars kept going, even though Nacua pulled out with a sprained ankle with about six minutes left in the first quarter. Focusing on tight ends Dallin Holker, Isaac Rex and Wake, Hall drove the Cougars for 65 yards midway through the second quarter for his fifth TD.

His 12-yard TD throw on Holker made it 35-0.

BYU’s offense kicked once in the first half — Sitake managed to pull off 43 runs of his own on the second possession — but passed on USF’s 4th and 4th After being incomplete, there was indeed another inconclusive possession in the first half.

BYU threw the ball to USF 14, but conceded 7 yards in two games, and Hall had to throw the ball on the 3rd and 18th. Jack Odroyd’s 39-yard field goal made it 38-0.

Nacua’s 75-yard TD run was BYU’s first score in the first game of the season since Bob Jensen’s 73-yard TD pass to Richard Zayas in 1987.

“I think these guys are ready for anything,” Sitak said. “We’re ready for the heat. We’re ready for kickoff at 4 p.m. ET.  …getting our coaches, exercise scientists, nutritionists together and working together It’s nice to see (during the delay).”

The Cougars defense was nearly flawless until the end of the first half, when USF ran for an 84-yard touchdown in the final minutes. A 50-yard field goal from Bohanon to Xavier Weaver put the Bulls into BYU territory, and Jared Mangham’s TD dive from No. 1 for the fourth goal finally put the Bulls on the scoreboard.

“I don’t like giving up that point in the first half,” Sitak said. “We’re just being sloppy with our technology and have some missed tasks that we need to fix.”

After Horn’s TD and a punt made a safety out of the end zone, BYU regained momentum when Brooks ran for 52 yards to score, channeling his inner Tyler Alger, and the Cougars could start Prep Baylor for Saturday’s home opener.

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