What about BYU’s new defense?
New defensive coordinator Jay Hill delivered BYU its first shutout in nine years and the first home opener shutout in 37 years in the Cougars’ 14-0 win over Sam Houston Saturday night.
It isn’t often when a cornerback, punter and defense steal the show in LaVell Edwards Stadium, but that’s what you got in BYU’s season-opening win over the BearKats, a team making its FBS debut.
It happened because of Jakob Robinson’s stardom, punter Ryan Rehkow’s golden power foot, and the fact new defensive coordinator Hill brilliantly put a disciplined, stingy product on the field.
And here's to you, Mr. Robinson
BYU loves you more than you will know, whoa, whoa, whoa
— Mark Durrant (@DurrantMark) September 3, 2023
Robinson’s goal-line interception in the third quarter prevented Sam Houston from tying BYU in a punchless offensive game after the Cougars failed to convert a fake punt on fourth-and-six inside their own 30.
Robinson’s acrobatic midfield one-handed sideline interception on the next Sam Houston possession after BYU’s penalty-plagued, out-of-sync offense couldn’t move the ball then kind of saved the night. Again.
Robinson’s pick set up Cougar senior transfer QB Kedon Slovis’ second touchdown run of the night, a goal-line plunge power play to put the Cougars up 14-0 early in the fourth quarter.
And that BYU drive, after getting zero points since the opening drive of the game, came on sensational runs by freshman LJ Martin.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 3, 2023
All game long, All-American and Ray Guy Award candidate Rehkow bailed out BYU’s struggling offense with booming punts; a 65-yarder in the second quarter pinned Sam Houston inside its own 5-yard line.
Rehkow punted nine times for 479 yards for an average of 53.2.
Robinson’s two picks give him six in his career. He may be the best cover corner the Cougars have had since the 1996 Cotton Bowl team featuring Omarr Morgan and Tim McTyer.
Weber State transfer corner Eddie Heckard added a third pick as time wound down and the visitors were just chucking up the ball.
BYU’s defense forced Sam Houston to punt every possession of the first half and Robinson had two picks on the next possessions of the third quarter. That’s defense.
Robinson’s vision, his ability to react to the ball in the air and make plays is impressive. Robinson earned the game ball and saved the Cougars from an embarrassing setback as a member of the Big 12. This was on a day the league suffered two embarrassing losses when Texas State upset Baylor and Wyoming beat Texas Tech in double overtime.
Hill’s defense proved adept — even if it was against a respectable but undermanned Sam Houston team in which the Cougars were three-touchdown favorites before kickoff.
Tackling was crisp. Energy levels were high. Hill’s fingerprints are noticeable in the aggression levels, albeit the Cougar defense managed just one sack, a Tyler Batty effort on BYU’s first defensive possession.
1st half notes for Brigham
-run the ball down hill more please
-Wr 5 blockin is bad bad
-stop forcing it to Rex
-defense playing man to man and blitzing 👀👀
-number 10 on defense I like
-o line playin terrible !
-slovis forcing way to much
- defense needs to go for the ball
— Kyle Van Noy (@KVN_03) September 3, 2023
It was lacking. It missed Kody Epps and Keanu Hill, veterans at what offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick wants done.
Kedon Slovis was average and a disappointment with some throws. But in his defense, there were holding, delay of game and person foul flags that killed drives. His receivers kept misaligning themselves at times. The offensive line did not impose its will against Sam Houston, something that must change in coming weeks or it will be a long season. The offense lacked a sense of urgency.
Roderick’s plan to throw on nine of 12 first half first downs backfired when most didn’t work and his offense faced second-and-10s or third-and-15s or 12s — simply bad positions for advancing. When he switched to running the ball on first down with Martin in the third quarter, his play calling had more success.
Still, it was not polished and looked haggard against the best part of Sam Houston’s team — its defense.
The offense on the field Saturday is not an offense that can win in the Big 12, a league known for putting up points.
On this Saturday, Power Five teams exploded for points against teams they were heavily favored. USC put up 56 on San Jose State; Oklahoma scored 73 on Arkansas State; Ole Miss managed 73 on Mercer, Oregon put up a whopping 81 on Portland State and Washington scored 56 on Boise State.
BYU 14 on Sam Houston?
It’s a win, but it was a lackluster offensive display that really put BYU’s defense in a spot. But Hill’s defense answered the call, thanks to Robinson.
Transfer Aidan Robbins was shown up by freshman Martin, who gained 91 yards on 19 carries, an average of 5.7 per tote.
That 2022 leading receiver Epps and veteran Hill were out with injuries after a long camp reminded everyone of Gunnar Romney a year ago. Why?
Well, maybe Epps and Hill didn’t need to be out there exposed to injury when you have Martin delivering and Robinson and Rehkow simply taking charge for an otherwise AWOL offense.
BYU’s offensive line has some growing up to do. The penalties were dumb. So was forcing Rehkow in to doing all this work.
To be fair to Roderick, and even more fair to Hill, BYU’s game plan was to keep it vanilla. The blitz packages were pretty vanilla and BYU’s passing game avoided attacking the middle of the field.
But after watching Game 1, BYU definitely has some work to do, especially in the area where the program has traditionally delivered points and big numbers.
BYU gained 257 total yards to 185 for Sam Houston.
That offense — praised by Hill in fall camp after going up against it daily — won’t cut it in the Big 12.