BYU football: Cougars can finally breathe again with SJSU win

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

 After weeks of toil and trial, BYU football has finally earned itself a FBS win. To players, coaches, and fans alike, it’s the first fresh air in far too long.

BYU football has been underwater.

Sometime after the Portland State game, the ice got thin for the Cougars. Losing week after week sent them crashing down, plunging them into the freezing depths.

They’ve just been swimming beneath the surface. arms and legs and lungs burning, but also slowly going numb. The team has been fighting like crazy to find an opening somewhere.

At long last, they found it.

The Cougars’ 41-20 handling of the SJSU Spartans was like finally breaking through to the surface, gulping in that desperately needed air. Another loss, particularly to another 1-7 team at home, might have drowned them.

A hit for the ages

When Tanner Mangum led BYU football down the field on a bold opening drive, complete with a 45 yard bomb to Jonah Trinnaman and a dime right inside the front pylon to Micah Simon, Cougar nation rejoiced. But there was a cautious edge to it.

Nice opening drives followed by absolutely nothing else had been the BYU offense’s MO for several weeks. It’s understandable no one was penciling in a victory yet.

And then this happened.

FB Brayden El-Bakri’s hit on the kickoff returner would be considered aggravated assault anywhere outside of football. It will live on in BYU football lore, bright and true, when this season’s sorry results have faded from memory.

As the rushing hulk of El-Bakri’s body collided with the kickoff returner (whose name I’ve withheld for the sake of his family), subjecting him to a whole lot of physics, his last concern was the ball he’d been carrying just a moment before. It popped out, El-Bakri fell on it, and the Cougars had possession on the SJSU 11-yard line.

A couple plays later, Mangum found TE Matt Bushman for his second career touchdown catch. 14-0.

Cougs good in all phases

It wasn’t all magic all the time after that. But taken in sum, the Cougar offense looked like what we expected them to all season.

The first two BYU scores were followed a 75 yard scamper for a TD by KJ Hall, who totaled 112 yards rushing and 45 yards receiving (and another injury, sheesh). Basically all those receiveing yards were from check-down passes, hallelujah.

Tanner Mangum had his best day since 2015. It certainly felt at times that the old gunslinger was back. His 41 yard thunderbolt on 4th and 5 to Micah Simon (who was atoning for a dropped TD pass just before half time) for BYU’s final score was vintage work. A single tear was wiped from the eye of Cougar nation.

The defense and special teams in total caused 5 turnovers that the offense turned into 20 points, mostly fumbles. Neither were perfect (those third and longs still need work for defense, and Rhett Almond missed a 33-yard field goal) but they played well enough to secure the game.

And since El-Bakri’s hit was a specially teams play, that by itself bumps them up a letter grade on performance.

The upshot

Now, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves and say the Cougars are Back, Baby. Because the Spartans might just be one of the very worst teams in all of college football this year. Fresno State, the next opponent, will be much more capable.

Although, the Bulldogs just dropped a game to a now 3-5 UNLV squad (who the Cougars play in two weeks), so there’s that.

But on that day, at this point in BYU football’s season, it didn’t matter who the opponent was. The Cougars just needed to be 2-7 instead of 1-8. They needed that sweet, life-sustaining oxygen of victory, and the confidence it brings.

Will the Cougars win out? Well, it isn’t likely. But it’s a whole lot more possible now that they can breath again.