BYU Wasn’t Perfect Against Cincinnati, But Delivers Much-Needed Big 12 Win

Sep 30, 2023, 1:52 AM | Updated: Oct 2, 2023, 1:44 pm

PROVO, Utah – It wasn’t a much-discussed storyline, but Friday night’s game had a “must-win” vibe for BYU football against Cincinnati.

Three of the following four games are away from Provo. So, to get that elusive “first Big 12 win,” they needed it to come against a fellow Big 12 newcomer.

After taking down Cincinnati 35-27, they should feel great about where they are.

It was a historic night for BYU—the first home opener in a new conference in 24 years. BYU’s last home lid-lifter in a new league was back in 1999 when they hosted Colorado State to kick off the inaugural season in the Mountain West Conference.

Firsts in conferences don’t happen often. So when they come around, you want to capitalize, especially when Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark is there to take it all in.

BYU stands at 4-1 overall and 1-1 in Big 12 Conference play.

“Being the first home game in the Big 12, we’re gonna remember this for a long time,” said BYU wide receiver Chase Roberts. “I feel like going into a bye week with being 4-1 with a big win in the Big 12 is going to be huge for us for the rest of the season.”

Now, BYU has the luxury of enjoying the next two Saturdays from home before getting back to action on October 14 against TCU.

A welcome bye week is here in October instead of the late November byes during Independence.

Friday night’s game started slow for BYU offensively. Through the first 29 minutes of action, BYU’s offense had only 38 yards.

They were starting down a 10-7 deficit at halftime. But then the offense came alive in the final possession of the second quarter.

QB Kedon Slovis generated an 82-yard drive in 30 seconds to give BYU its first offensive points of the game.

Head coach Kalani Sitake has a lot of trust in his offense when Slovis gets in a comfort zone.

“I think Kedon can throw the ball,” Sitake said when asked what the strength of his offense through five weeks. “I don’t really care how the points show up on the scoreboard, I just want them up there.”

BYU finished the game being outgained by Cincinnati in yards, 498 to 295. That was in part due to the play discrepancy as Cincinnati ran 84 plays to BYU’s 53.

“It was crazy,” Cincinnati coach Scott Satterfield said. “The first half in particular, we basically had the ball the entire way and dominated time of possession. We should have been up by 10 points, but we weren’t, and that’s the way football is. You have to make plays when they’re there, and BYU is very good at that. They made plays when they had to make them. That drive before halftime was huge momentum in getting that touchdown.”

Sitake wasn’t thrilled with that big of a gap in plays.

“I think the number one thing that stands out is they possessed the ball for such a long time and the discrepancy in the plays compared to our plays on offense. The defense had like 48 plays in the first half, which was really tough,” Sitake said, who was dealing with a lost voice from the yelling during the game. “… So the fact that we have that many points in that low of plays means that we’ve probably got some explosive plays, but we need to possess the ball and convert some first downs and get drives going.”

BYU overcame the discrepancy of plays and also pushed through being short-handed in personnel. Offensive lineman Weylin Lapuaho was out, along with star linebacker Ben Bywater.

In replace of Lapuaho was Missouri State transfer Ian Fitzgerald, who played the entire game.

On defense, former Corner Canyon standout Harrison Taggart got his first career start and finished with 10 tackles.

“Having Ben out, that hurts a lot. But you know, it’s always going to be a next man up mentality,” said BYU linebacker Max Tooley. “We knew Harrison and whoever else was going to come in, they’re going to come in and do their job. 11 tackles in your first game playing in college, that’s a big feat.”

Cincinnati quarterback Emory Jones had a lot of success in QB scrambles, rushing for 94 yards to go along with 256 passing yards through the air.

But like many games this season, BYU’s defense tightened up when they needed to and was a key cog in the win.

“I just feel like we’ve been relentless in our effort, regardless of whether things are going our way or not. We’re going to give it all we got,” said Tooley.

That relentless effort has catapulted BYU to a fast start and puts them only two wins away from being bowl-eligible. An accomplishment many prognosticators thought wasn’t possible for this BYU team.

The win over Cincinnati was significant for BYU in 2023.

“I’m glad that we’re in a position right now with our record,” Sitake said. “And even an opportunity with the bye week where we can still improve.”

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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BYU Wasn’t Perfect Against Cincinnati, But Delivers Much-Needed Big 12 Win