Instant Takeaways From BYU Football’s Shutout Of Sam Houston

Sep 3, 2023, 12:00 AM | Updated: 11:47 am

PROVO, Utah – The BYU football team opened their 2023 schedule with a shutout victory over the Sam Houston State Bearkats.

The Cougars hosted the Bearkats at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah on Saturday, September 2.

BYU beat Sam Houston State, 14-0.

RELATED: BYU Shuts Out Sam Houston State, Struggles On Offense In Season Opener

The Cougars struggled to move the ball and put up points. However, the BYU defense looked improved from its play in 2022.

Here are my takeaways from BYU’s Week 1 victory.

BYU offense sputtered through three quarters

BYU jumped out to a strong start in the opening drive capped off by Kedon Slovis’ first career rushing touchdown to get the scoring started. In that moment, BYU looked poised to stay on the attack against Sam Houston.

The Bearkats had other plans by forcing BYU to punt on five of their next six drives in the first half. BYU’s lone drive that didn’t end in a punt was a turnover on downs.

BYU combined for 66 yards in those six drives. On the opening possession, they had 50 yards.

Part of the issue was the playcalling. BYU didn’t utilize Aidan Robbins enough in the first half, only rushing the ball five times for 21 yards.

There were a lot of dink and dunk passes, and then in third and short situations, the dink and dunks were tossed to the side for a deep shot. There was no punch in the trenches from BYU’s offensive front early on.

The penalties were costly as well. BYU committed two illegal block penalties and a delay of game penalty that drew some boos from the crowd inside LaVell Edwards Stadium.

BYU offensive lineman Connor Pay was waving at the fans to keep quiet when the boos occurred.

Staying at the offensive line, there were instances where Sam Houston’s defensive line was getting to Slovis with only a three-man rush. “Meatball” Smith had a one-armed bull rush that nearly caused a sack on his own.

It wasn’t a great start to the Big 12 for the BYU offense.

The struggles continued in a magnified way to begin the third quarter. Before BYU ran a play to open the quarter, they burned a timeout.

Then there was a personal foul penalty.

The fortunes of BYU’s offense changed when they brought in a freshman ball carrier.

LJ Martin is ready to produce as a true freshman

During the third quarter, BYU turned to LJ Martin to provide a spark. That spark was ignited by the El Paso, Texas native.

Martin, who received high praise from BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick during fall camp gave BYU the jolt of energy they desperately needed on offense.

On BYU’s second scoring drive of the game, he had six carries for 36 yards that set up a quarterback-keeper TD from Kedon Slovis to open the fourth quarter.

Then on the following drive popped off a big 21-yard run to bring BYU near midfield.

Martin’s performance should, at a minimum, put him as BYU’s number two running back behind Aidan Robbins. He’s ready for the big stage of Power Five football, one of the few players on offense who appeared ready for this opener.

Jakob Robinson showed why he’s emerging as a lockdown cornerback 

Robinson has played a lot for BYU over the past two seasons. But there hasn’t been much respect put on how he has performed. That changes after Saturday night.

Robinson had two interceptions. The most noteworthy one was early in the third quarter. Sam Houston took over in the red zone after BYU opened the second half with a fake punt attempt. Robinson rose up and snared a big catch to bring some life to a BYU crowd that was starting to get restless.

An excellent debut for Jay Hill and the BYU defense

Let me say this, Sam Houston clearly has issues on offense. The Bearkats are a flawed group on that side of the ball. But part of that was due to how BYU attacked them.

There’s clearly a big upgrade for BYU on defense. Last year, BYU made an inept Stanford offense look explosive. Utah Tech dropped 26 points on them.

So to come up with the performance they did on Saturday night was a sign that times have changed. Watching Jay Hill operate and call plays on the sideline, the high energy that he brings was on display throughout the evening and it has an impact on his players.

BYU’s front seven was getting a push and completely shut down Sam Houston’s ground attack. An area that was a weakness last season.

In the moments when Sam Houston would be in an obvious passing down, Hill was dialing up some heat. Things that BYU fans were craving were on display from BYU’s revamped defense.

There are some long-term concerns with the safety position depending on how long Talan Alfrey is out at strong safety. However, the front seven was able to cover up the shortage of personnel in that position group.

Smaller crowd than expected

Look, I get it, late-night games are tough for families. I’m sure there will be a bigger crowd for the Southern Utah game next week. But for the first game in the Big 12 era to only produce 59,006 fans, that seemed underwhelming. Especially for how big the build-up was to kick off this new power conference era.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X (Twitter) and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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Instant Takeaways From BYU Football’s Shutout Of Sam Houston