They’ve worked hard for it. It gets really difficult when you’re trying to come back from a slump that we’ve had. —Kalani Sitake
PROVO — Typically, a win over a 1-7 opponent isn’t anything to get too excited about.
But at BYU, there’s nothing typical about this season.
For the Cougars, who entered the game against San Jose State anchored down by a seven-game losing streak, their dominating 41-20 victory Saturday was, well, a big deal.
“It was different getting a win,” said Cougar wide receiver Micah Simon, who caught two touchdown passes. “A lot of happy faces right now.”
Never mind that it happened in front of an announced attendance of 46,451, one of the smallest crowds since the expansion of LaVell Edwards Stadium 35 years ago.
It marked BYU’s first victory over an FBS opponent this season and it was the Cougars’ first win — period — since the season-opener Aug. 26 against FCS foe Portland State.
And BYU snapped its longest losing streak since 1968.
“I’m just pleased that we got the win. It’s been something we’ve been needing,” said coach Kalani Sitake, who added that his players deserved a victory. “They’ve worked hard for it. It gets really difficult when you’re trying to come back from a slump that we’ve had.”
Entering the week, Sitake vowed that the Cougars would be aggressive, and they delivered on that promise, taking an early 14-0 lead and extending that advantage to 41-6 early in the fourth quarter.
So, was this victory a result of BYU (2-7) being more aggressive? Or was it because the Cougars finally played a team that’s worse than they are?
BYU handed SJSU (1-8) its seventh consecutive loss.
The Cougars posted season-highs in points scored (41 — the previous high was 24), total offense (598 yards), passing yards (332) and rushing yards (266). BYU recorded its longest drive of the season, a 95-yarder in the third quarter and a 75-yard touchdown run by KJ Hall — the longest by BYU since an 87-yarder by Mike Hague in 2006 against UNLV.
Heck, BYU entered the game having scored 97 points all season and it put more than a third of that total on the scoreboard Saturday.
Still, Sitake pointed out that the performance wasn’t flawless.
“We’ve got to keep it going and be consistently aggressive. I still feel like there’s a lot of points we left on the field. A lot of mistakes still,” he said. “Our goal is to try to get some confidence and establish that identity and keep working on it and trying to sustain it throughout the game.”
The Cougars benefited from a quick start.
On BYU’s first play from scrimmage, quarterback Tanner Mangum connected on a 45-yard pass play to Jonah Trinnaman. A few plays later, Mangum threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Simon.
Brayden El-Bakri forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and BYU capitalized on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Mangum to Bushman to seize a 14-0 lead with 9:34 left in the first quarter.
“Right off the bat, we took some shots and that’s what we wanted to do — play with an aggressive mindset,” Mangum said. “We had a lot of guys making plays out there. It makes my job easy. It was fun to get some momentum, especially in front of the home crowd.”
“It was just nice to get a lead and not have to come from behind,” Sitake said. “We’ve got ourselves in a hole way too many times in a lot of games.”
It helped, too, that the Cougar defense forced five Spartan turnovers on the day. BYU scored 20 points off those miscues.
“A lot of credit to our defense, giving us short fields,” Mangum said. “When you get off to a good start, you can play more loose and free. I give a lot of credit to our defense and making things easier for us.”
San Jose State kept coughing up the ball. “Obviously, it was an ugly day for us,” said SJSU coach Brent Brennan. “Those turnovers were an absolute disaster.”
San Jose State coughed up the ball three times in the first half. It could have been four, but Dayan Ghanwoloku’s interception was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty.
BYU drove deep into SJSU territory at end of the first half, but Simon couldn’t hang on to Mangum’s pass in the end zone as time expired.
Yes, the score could have been much more lopsided.
“There is a lot more we could have done,” Mangum said.
The Spartans scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter against BYU’s reserves that made the final score more respectable.
Sitake was simply happy to see a different outcome for a change.
“It’s good to get a win,” he said. “Still a lot of things that we need to fix, but it’s good to be able to approach Sunday with a notch in the win column.”
BYU visits Fresno State next Saturday.