Instant Takeaways From BYU Football’s Big Win Over Arkansas

Sep 16, 2023, 9:58 PM | Updated: 11:30 pm

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The BYU Cougars came back in the second half to take down the Arkansas Razorbacks for a rare victory over an SEC opponent.

The Razorbacks hosted the Cougars at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas on Saturday, September 16.

RELATED: BYU Overcomes Early Adversity, Battles Back To Beat Arkansas Razorbacks

Here are my takeaways from BYU’s 38-31 win over Arkansas:

Jay Hill continues to do wonders with the BYU defense

After the first drive of the game, the near-capacity crowd at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium probably thought, this BYU defense is the same as last year.

BYU fans were fearing the same.

Then they settled in.

After one half of play, BYU’s defense only gave up one touchdown. The physicality that BYU played with in containing KJ Jefferson was quite impressive.

It was another testament to the work that Jay Hill is putting in with this BYU defense.

In nine short months, BYU’s defense looks nothing like the one that Arkansas ran all over last October in Provo.

During the second half, when it looked like BYU was ready to give in to Arkansas, they always had an answer.

Whether it was Tyler Batty or Blake Mangelson. Then it was AJ Vongphachanh on a fourth down stop. And Max Tooley coming up with an interception, the first of KJ Jefferson’s season.

BYU showed on Saturday night they are more equipped than they’ve been in years for a Power Five schedule.

LJ Martin has a bright future at BYU

The former Canutillo High product from El Paso, Texas is a household name among BYU fans. That became clear after the 45-yard touchdown run that he had after Arkansas shanked a 10-yard punt.

Martin immediately capitalized on the momentum and pounced giving BYU a 21-14 lead after burying themselves with a 14-0 hole before they can smell the SEC atmosphere around them.

He might be only a freshman, but Martin runs with patience and vision that gives him a chance to be an all-timer at BYU.

Early on in the game, Arkansas’s defense had zero respect for BYU’s ground game, by only bringing a four-man rush. After a few carries from Martin, Arkansas put more personnel in the box. A sign of the respect they had for Martin and BYU’s renewed ground attack.

Keelan Marion making an impact

The presence of former UConn transfer Keelan Marion wasn’t felt much in the first two weeks of the season. But he had an impact on Saturday.

Kedon Slovis connected with Marion on a 37-yard bomb down the sideline to set up a Chase Roberts touchdown one play later.

Marion is a home run threat in the passing game for BYU. That was one of the big reasons BYU made him a priority to pry him away from East Carolina, a place he was committed to initially out of the portal.

BYU moving on at safety?

Jay Hill rolled with Crew Wakley as the starting free safety to open the game. After one snap, Wakley suffered what appeared to be a head injury.

What was notable was that the former Jordan High product started over Malik Moore.

Moore immediately came in after Wakley but then exited after no apparent injury in favor of Tanner Wall. Wall played the rest of the night at free safety.

It appears BYU’s safety tandem going forward into the Big 12 schedule is Tanner Wall and Ethan Slade.

AJ Vongphachanh plays with violence 

BYU linebacker AJ Vongphachanh transferred to the Cougars from Utah State. He picked BYU over South Carolina and Minnesota because he loved the fit in BYU’s defensive scheme.

Smart move.

Vongphachanh has fit seamlessly in Jay Hill’s scheme. He put together a double-digit tackle performance and a few of those could be heard up in the open-air press box.

Vongphachanh adds violence to BYU’s defense that the Cougars were lacking last season against the Hogs.

Illegal Touching Penalties

Third consecutive week, BYU had an “illegal touching” penalty. Saturday’s penalty negated Isaac Rex’s big catch in the fourth quarter that crossed midfield.

It resulted in a loss of down, setting up a 3rd & 14 on BYU’s own 20.

The following play, Slovis was sacked after Arkansas brought an all-out blitz.

Kalani Sitake said last week that the illegal touching penalty formation would be fixed. It reared its ugly head again. Has to be fixed going forward.

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 and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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Instant Takeaways From BYU Football’s Big Win Over Arkansas