PROVO — Few realistically expected the Idaho Vandals, who came into LaVell Edwards Stadium with only two wins in nine tries, to give the BYU Cougars much of a game Saturday night. But it wasn’t necessarily a given that the Cougars would roll past Idaho as easy as they did.
Here are five key reasons the Cougars blew the Vandals away 42-7.
No stopping Cody
Cody Hoffman made a statement early that he was going to play a significant role when he returned the opening kickoff 38 yards. It only got better from there for the 6-foot-4 sophomore wide receiver.
He put the Cougars on top with a great 32-yard TD reception over the middle on BYU’s second drive. He set up BYU’s second score with another impressive catch and run for a 29-yard gain. He capped off a great first half with a tightrope-walking 21-yard TD catch right before the break to send the Cougars into halftime leading 28-0.
Hoffman was simply too much for Idaho’s shorter defensive backs to handle. The Cougars took advantage of Hoffman’s height advantage, and Hoffman showed that he isn’t just tall and fast, he also has great hands. When BYU needed a big play, Hoffman was the one the Cougars turned to finish off drives.
Hoffman had six catches for 114 yards and two TDs in the first half alone, and wasn’t really needed in the second half with the damage already done.
Heaps is a pretty good backup QB
When a starting quarterback leaves the field and heads to the locker room with the assistance of a trainer, that’s normally a pretty big hit to any team’s offense. Before heading to the hospital for chest X-rays, starter Riley Nelson looked sharp in guiding the Cougars to a 7-0 lead.
But with sophomore Jake Heaps, after surrendering his starting gig to Nelson four games ago, anxious and ready to get another shot to lead the Cougars, BYU didn’t seem to miss a beat. Heaps obviously wanted to prove that he can lead the Cougars as well and be the quarterback he’s shown promise to be.
Heaps, who will very likely regain his starting job depending on the significance of Nelson’s rib injury, looked more confident and more comfortable than he did prior to being replaced by Nelson late in the Utah State game back on Sept. 30. He played with poise and made good decisions. He threw the ball accurately, other than when he overthrew Zed Mendenhall and was picked off in the third quarter. He also showed confidence in throwing the ball down field, something he didn’t do in BYU’s first five games. Minutes after being intercepted, Heaps responded with a pinpoint pass over the middle to Ross Apo for an 18-yard score.
Heaps, in leading the Cougars to three first-half TDs after Nelson departed, finished the opening half 11 of 15 for 143 yards and one TD. The Cougars scored 35 points with Heaps at QB, more than BYU has scored in any other game this season with Heaps taking snaps. With a six-touchdown cushion, Heaps did not play the final 18 minutes. He finished 15 of 20 for 185 yards and two TDS and one pick.
Dominating first half
The Cougars owned this game early. Even though their first two drives resulted in only one score, the Cougars found little resistance in moving the football from the get-go. The Vandals, on the other hand, were treading in place right out of the gate and never did find traction.
The 28-0 halftime score was a good indicator that Idaho was no match for BYU, but the rest of the first-half statistics really show how dominant the Cougars were. At one point the Cougars had 15 first downs to two for Idaho, and both of the Vandals’ first two first downs came via BYU penalties. Idaho didn’t gain a first down with an offensive gain until there were only five minutes left in the half.
At the break, BYU had outgained Idaho 298 yards to 63, had 19 first downs to Idaho’s four and had run 40 offensive plays to 24 for the Vandals. Idaho punted four times in the first half, BYU made good use of all five of its first-half drives.
Winning the battle in the trenches
So often you’ll hear a coach talk about the importance of winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. In this game the Cougars didn’t just win it, they ruled up front on both sides of the football. The Vandals, frankly, were outmatched in the battle of big guys.
The reason BYU amassed 243 rushing yards wasn’t entirely because of the fine footwork from Michael Alisa, JJ Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya, the holes up front were huge. Idaho’s defenders were pushed back play after play. The Vandals’ linebackers and d-backs were called on to make tackle after tackle — too many to ever give Idaho any chance of being in this game.
The reason Heaps had his best game of the season was largely because of the time he had to throw. Give Heaps time to have a good look down field, and his arm will do the rest. Without a big game from the guys up front, the Cougars don’t score 42 points and gain 505 yards.
A huge statistic in the game was Idaho’s first- and second-down effectiveness. The Vandals never did gain a first down on a first- or second-down play. Idaho averaged less than three yards on first-down plays.
Shutting down the sky
Give partial credit to pressure from BYU’s defensive front, but the Cougars pass defense has never looked better. At halftime Idaho had minus three yards passing. And when you’re behind two touchdowns early and the hole is getting deeper, you’re only chance of catching up is to throw the football. The Vandals just couldn’t. The Cougars wouldn’t let them.
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Through three quarters it was looking like Idaho might finish the game with negative passing yards. And it wasn’t as if the Vandals didn’t want to pass. They attempted 15 passes through three quarters, but completed only seven of those and averaged less than a yard per completion. Idaho quarterback Taylor Davis was continually pressured and his receivers were consistently smothered.
When BYU gives up only 50 yards through the air, and most of that coming with second- and third-stringers on the field, and has two interceptions to add, it’s not going to lose with those numbers very often.