The Monday after his team defeated the Toledo Rockets, 55-53, BYU coach Kalani Sitake stressed that he wanted his team to play a complete game for the first time this season.
Through the first five games this year, the BYU Cougars had been either an offensive team or a defensive team — never both.
During the first three games, BYU was a defensive team. The highest point total the Cougars allowed was 20, while the highest score they recorded was 19. In games four and five, the BYU offense scored 32 and 55 points while the defense disappeared, allowing 35 and 53 points.
Against the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday afternoon, the Cougars finally became a two-sided team after a sluggish first half from their offense.
Before the offense found its footing in the third quarter, the defense kept the team in the game. BYU was gutted for a 15-play, 72-yard touchdown drive on Michigan State’s first offensive series, but after that, the Cougars forced a three-and-out, a punt after five plays, and another three-and-out.
After the first half: BYU’s defense allowed only 105 yards.
Then came the second half.
Quarterback Taysom Hill led a 13-play, 7:29 touchdown march on his second possession of the third quarter. BYU gained its first lead of the day, 10-7, but it also gained a more specific benefit: The leader of its offense became supremely confident.
“The guy [Hill] does everything you ask him to,” Sitake said. “He’s an ideal as a player, a great leader, humble and he’s all about the team. I love having him here.”
Hill, a senior from Pocatello, Idaho, finished the day completing 18 of 27 passes for 138 yards and that lone touchdown pass.
Hill had help.
BYU’s rushing offense–primarily running back Jamaal Williams–enabled the Cougars to create a nearly flawless second half.
BYU established a 24-14 lead, but whereas some teams would have sat on that lead, the Cougars — on the road against a brand-name opponent — needed to continue to attack. On a third and three, Hill handed the ball off to Williams, who carried the rock for 62 yards, all the way to the Michigan State 2.
Williams punched the ball in two plays later to give BYU a 31-14 lead with 1:59 left in the game. A week after blitzing the Toledo Rockets for 286 yards on the ground, Williams torched the Spartans–who previously allowed 106 rushing yards per game–for 163 yards and two touchdowns.
The BYU defense made good use of the rest it received in the second half. The offense didn’t merely score; it kept the ball away from Michigan State. The Cougars were fresh, the product of the offense and defense working in perfect harmony with each other as part of the intended game plan.
When the clock read triple zeroes, BYU’s offense tallied 398 yards while its defense allowed only 206.
Sitake got what he wanted: a complete game. His team gave Michigan State its third straight loss.
“Now we need a perfect game,” Sitake said.
BYU’s next game is against a struggling Mississippi State team. After that is its last de facto “hard” game, Boise State. Then the Cougars finish the season against Southern Utah, Cincinnati, UMass and Utah State.
If BYU is able to build upon this outing, the Cougars could finish the second half of the season undefeated after suffering several heartbroken losses during the first six games. If that happens, Sitake’s first year as the head man of the Cougars would acquire largely satisfying dimensions.
As for right now, Sitake and the BYU faithful should feel good about the Cougars having their first complete game against the defending Big Ten champions on the road.