COUGAR TRACKS

BYU Football Proves They Are The Best Out West Once Again In 2021

Nov 28, 2021, 2:55 AM | Updated: 5:35 am
BYU Football - USC...
BYU Football team walking through the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tunnel prior to their win over USC. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
(Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

LOS ANGELES – Saturday night’s BYU football win over USC wasn’t the wide margin of victory that many believed was possible. But the 35-31 win was a fitting way to cap off a regular season that has been nothing but gutty from Kalani Sitake’s squad.

After losing Zach Wilson, Brady Christensen, and three other NFL draft picks, BYU football reloaded in 2021. Like last season, they can lay claim to being the best out west in 2021.

What makes this year’s success more validating is that it came against Pac-12 teams. Last year, Washington put out a PR hit to sabotage BYU’s success with a “they are afraid to play us” campaign. Fast forward to now, the only ones afraid are the Pac-12 of what BYU can potentially become in their Big 12 future.

The 35-31 win against USC gives BYU a perfect 5-0 record against Pac-12 teams this year, with one of those victories coming against Pac-12 South Champion and rival Utah.

5-0 against the Pac-12

Social media and the large contingent of BYU football fans in the Coliseum are having a field day calling the 10-2 Cougars “Pac-12 South Champs.” It’s funny banter, but Sitake wants the results to speak for themselves. He had nothing but high praise for the Pac-12 Conference teams that were even willing to play independent BYU.

“We’re just happy to play the game; we’re not going to get into that stuff,” said Sitake on Saturday night. “We have too much respect for football and for this conference to make statements like that. We’re going to always try to be classy in the way we handle things. It was an honor playing those teams. It’s not easy making a schedule, so we appreciate all of those teams that put us on their schedule and worked with our administration and athletic director to get us on the schedule. So we’re not going to talk down to anything other than respect for the Pac-12 and every team that played us.”

Wins over Arizona in Las Vegas, home victories against Utah and Arizona State, a hard-fought win over Washington State amidst losing their head coach, and then a gritty victory over USC with nearly half of the crowd being made of BYU fans. The 2021 season was a massive success for BYU and puts them as one of the top programs in the future out west.

Oregon might lay a claim to being the top team out west, same with San Diego State, or even Utah. But what makes BYU’s story so unique is that they are operating at fewer resources than these teams, and they are putting out greater results. Also, it doesn’t help Oregon’s cause to be tops out west when they were handled against a team that struggled in the trenches against BYU.

How BYU Football became one of the top teams out west 

The decision by Sitake to instantly promote Aaron Roderick as the clear-cut offensive coordinator has proven to be a masterful move. Once micromanaged at Utah, Roderick has been given the autonomy to flourish alongside Sitake at BYU. They’ve put together an offensive scheme that incorporates a lot of the principles used in BYU offenses of old under the direction of their mentor, LaVell Edwards. In addition, they’ve revived BYU’s quarterback factory, with Jaren Hall succeeding Zach Wilson as QB1.

Tyler Allgeier has been a workhouse running back put together a 20-touchdown season and the most yards by a BYU running back since Luke Staley 20 years ago. But, on Saturday night, he was “spent,” according to Sitake, as the Cougars opted to go with Jackson McChesney at the end of the ballgame after he took some punishment with hard hits from an athletic USC defense.

The offensive line had questions coming into the season with the depth, but that questionable depth has turned into resounding answers of success. Connor Pay has become an anchor of the offensive line, replacing an injured James Empey at center. Former tight end walk-on Brayden Keim converted to offensive tackle and started the last two games and has shown flashes of a promising career ahead along with Campbell Barrington, who Roderick has a bright future at BYU.

At wide receiver, it’s as complete of a group as BYU has ever had. But they haven’t had their entire collection as of late. Neil Pau’u is injured, Gunner Romney suffered a pregame “tweak” that left him sidelined against USC, Puka Nacua leaves everyone holding their breath every time he’s on the turf, but he keeps coming back up. Then guys like Keanu Hill, Samson Nacua, and Chris Jackson round out the depth.

Defensively, BYU has given up their long, sustained drives to opponents, but when they needed a stop, they’ve always delivered (except a loss at Top 10 Baylor). Saturday was further proof when BYU stopped USC on a 4th down with the game hanging in the balance.

This BYU team goes into the postseason, likely an Independence Bowl bid, knowing they are truly one of the best teams in the nation this year. But they are the top team out west. After the success against the Pac-12 and the quality of their schedule, there’s nothing to nit-pick about the validity of BYU’s success in 2021.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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