Going up 14-0 for any team is a good feeling. —BYU junior defensive end Sione Takitaki
PROVO — An offensive player set the tone early for BYU’s defense and special teams as they forced five turnovers in the Cougars’ 41-20 win over San Jose State on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
After BYU scored on its opening drive of the game on a Micah Simon touchdown grab, fullback Brayden El-Bakri used a hard hit to cause Rahshead Johnson to fumble the ball on the ensuing kickoff. El-Bakri recovered the fumble at the San Jose State 10, and two plays later, the Cougars scored on a Matt Bushman touchdown catch.
That gave the Cougars (2-7), who snapped a seven-game losing streak, a rare double-digit lead and helped the BYU defense establish its demeanor for the game.
“Going up 14-0 for any team is a good feeling,” BYU junior defensive end Sione Takitaki said. “Especially going in as defensive players knowing that there are already points on the board, we’re just going out there to execute.”
The Cougars’ five forced turnovers in the game came courtesy of three on defense and a pair on special teams, and BYU turned those takeaways into 20 points.
“San Jose State made some mistakes, and we were able to capitalize on it. But our guys were in the right spot," BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. He cited a fumble recovery by Zayne Anderson in the third quarter as an example of how proper coaching and executing technique can pay off in a game.
"Our guys work hard, they give us the effort. If we can do the right things as coaches, we can get them ready to win," Sitake continued.
In addition to El-Bakri’s forced fumble, the Cougars’ other takeaways included:
— A Michael Shelton interception, which led to a three-and-out by the BYU offense.
— A fumble recovery by Austin Lee, off an Anderson forced fumble, that led to a Cougar field goal.
— A fumble recovery by Anderson on an SJSU punt return that led to a BYU touchdown.
— And a fumble recovery by Langi Tuifua that led to another Cougar field goal.
Dayan Ghanwoloku also intercepted a pass, but it was wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty.
“Our coaches really do a good job of teaching us to keep our eye on the football and to punch through,” Anderson said. “I’m just doing what they tell me to do.”
That aggressive mentality came out in other facets of the game for the BYU defense, which held San Jose State to 338 yards, 161 of which came in the fourth quarter after the Cougars built a 41-6 lead with 12:12 to play. The Spartans had just 95 passing yards heading into the final period.
The biggest negative to the Cougars' defensive day was injuries, as linebackers Fred Warner and Grant Jones both left with injuries during the game and didn't return.
BYU had three sacks in the game, upping its season total to 12. The most punishing came from Takitaki, who burst through the line on a second-and-9 just before halftime and dropped SJSU quarterback Montel Aaron for a 10-yard loss. Takitaki had seven tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry in the game.
The Cougars also showed improvement on third-down defense, allowing San Jose State to convert only 6 of 17 third downs. The Spartans were 4 of 14 on third downs heading into the fourth quarter.
“I thought that we were more aggressive in the way that we practiced and the way we approached our workdays as coaches,” Sitake said. "The focus was a lot better. I was trying to establish more confidence."