1 of 28
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars defensive back Tanner Jacobson (25) celebrates his interception with Brigham Young Cougars tight end Gunner Romney (80) in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.

PROVO — Playing in its first game as a ranked team in three years, No. 25 BYU didn’t look like the same squad that shocked then-No. 6 Wisconsin a week earlier — at least not through the first quarter.

Well into the second quarter Saturday afternoon, the offense was sputtering and the Cougars trailed FCS foe McNeese State, 3-0.

But thanks to some game-changing special teams and defensive plays, BYU exploded for 24 second-quarter points and claimed a convincing 30-3 victory over the Cowboys in front of a crowd of 53,223 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

The Cougars improved to 3-1 on the season while McNeese State fell to 3-1.

As BYU was schlepping along early in the second period, coach Kalani Sitake delivered an impassioned message to the defense on the sideline.

“It was basically, ‘Get going. You’re not having enough fun.’ There wasn’t enough energy and we had to pick it up,” said defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi. “If you don’t make a big play, it’s hard to have energy. A lot of times, you build your energy, it’s kind of like a snowball effect. I love when (Sitake) does that because it gets the whole defense going.”

The complexion of the game shifted soon thereafter when Kaufusi blocked Gunnar Raborn’s 40-yard field goal attempt in the second period. Safety Troy Warner picked up the loose ball and ran for 22 yards to give the BYU offense the ball in Cowboy territory for the first time all day.

Eight plays later, freshman running back Lopini Katoa ran for a 4-yard touchdown — the first of his career — to give BYU a 7-3 advantage.

“That was a huge momentum-shifter,” said Katoa, who ran 10 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns, of Kaufusi’s block. “Just the fact that the special teams made a great play and we were able to capitalize on that. It was what we needed as an offense to get going.”

On McNeese State’s next series, senior backup safety Tanner Jacobson recorded his first career interception.

“It was awesome. It was one thing I’ve wanted for a long time,” Jacobson said of his pick. “I was thinking about this week that I’d have an opportunity in this game. It was great to see years of work lead to a big play like that for me personally. I was very excited to be able to help in that situation for the team.”

That set up a 7-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tanner Mangum to wide receiver Talon Shumway on a third-down play. It was Shumway’s first career TD, and the Cougars took a 14-3 lead with 6:37 left in the first half.

“We dialed it up for Talon. We felt like we had a good matchup,” said Mangum, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 118 yards. “It’s something we’ve been working on. More than anything, it was put it up and let him make a play on it. Talon ran a good route and went to the corner of the end zone. That was big, a good play to finish that drive.”

The Cowboys’ next series featured a 9-yard sack by Kaufusi and a fumbled punt by Michael Shelton. Fortunately for BYU, a defensive holding on McNeese State forced the Cowboys to punt again. Shelton made up for his miscue, gaining 21 yards on a punt return.

That led to another BYU touchdown on a 14-yard run by Katoa to make it 21-3.

The Cougars tacked on a 30-yard field goal by Skyler Southam as time expired and they were staked to a 24-3 halftime lead.

All four of BYU’s first-half scoring drives started in McNeese State territory, and the offense began to click.

“I thought we started executing better. We started to go a little more up-tempo, which kept them off-balance,” Mangum said. “That opened up our run game and set up some play-action. We kept fighting through that tough start. We were happy to get through that lull.”

Sitake was happy to see his team respond after the slow start.

49 comments on this story

“We controlled the game after that block. That’s how we need to play from the get-go,” he said. “After giving up the three points, I feel like we controlled the game. We will be ready for the next one and we have to improve on this. It feels good to win, and I told the guys to celebrate every win. It was hard to match the intensity and emotion of last week’s game. We did what we were supposed to do so we need to celebrate the win and then move on. The next one will be a tough one.”

Next Saturday, the Cougars get another shot at a highly ranked opponent on the road when they visit Washington.