Game Recap: Special Teams Makes Special Plays For BYU Win

The Brigham Young Cougars trailed the UCF Knights 10-3 at halftime. It was evident it would take something special for BYU to come back and win.

When you need shoes, you go to the shoe store. When you need gas, you go to the gas station. When you need something special, you go to your special teams.

The BYU special teams played a key role in scoring all 24 Cougar points. It started with Justin Sorensen booting a 37-yard field goal in the first quarter. That kick tied the game at 3-3, matching the field goal the Knights scored on the first series of the game.

The only other score of the first half came after a Jake Heaps interception. UCF drove 17-yards in three plays to build a 10-3 lead they would take into the locker room.

The BYU special teams impact started very early in the second half. BYU received the opening kickoff and drove to the UCF 40-yard line. The drive stalled with three straight incomplete passes. Punter Riley Stephenson came on to the field and pinned UCF back at their own 5-yard line. BYU special teams had given the Cougars a huge advantage in field position that would quickly pay dividends.

The BYU defense held UCF to -1 yard on three plays. The Knights punted back to BYU, and JD Falslev returned it to the UCF 38-yard line. With this very excellent field position, the Cougar O tied the game in five plays. Running back J.J. Di Luigi took a pitch to the right and squirted down the far sideline for a touchdown that was reminiscent of Luke Staley’s epic jaunt 10 years ago to beat the University of Utah.

Although Sorensen booted the kickoff well into the end zone, the UCF return man was frustrated (all five of Sorensen’s kickoffs were in the end zone) and returned the kick. He was dropped at the 16-yard line, and he learned his lesson. No other BYU kickoffs were returned.

Largely due to a blown coverage in the BYU secondary that resulted in a 54-yard completion, UCF quickly drove down field and regained the lead, 17-10. That lead was erased on the ensuing kickoff as Cody Hoffman ended a 13 year drought by returning the kick 93-yards for a touchdown. BYU had not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since Mike Rigell did it on October 17, 1998.

Even with their starting quarterback out of the game, UCF drove downfield and threatened to retake the lead early in the fourth quarter. When the Cougar defense finally stopped the Knights at the 18, the ensuing field goal kick missed.

The Cougar offense was unable to do anything, and Riley Stephenson lined up for his fourth punt of the night. Stephenson drilled the kick 61 yards. After it bounced, the UCF return man mishandled the kick and Michael Alisa recovered at the 8-yard line. A celebration penalty moved the ball back to the 23.

This time, the Cougar offense capitalized. Three straight runs by Bryan Kariya put six points on the board. Sorensen’s extra point made it 24-17 with 10:29 to play.

As BYU tried to run the clock out and preserve the victory, BYU needed Stephenson to keep field position in BYU’s favor. First, Stephenson pinned UCF inside its own 20 with a punt to the 13-yard line and 6:05 to play. After Joe Sampson intercepted a UCF pass inside the Cougar 5 with 2:55 to play, the UCF defense forced another punt with 1:20 to play.

A bad punt would put UCF in prime scoring position to force overtime. Stephenson had one more special kick. He launched a 53-yarder that went out of bounds at the UCF 34-yard line. With 1:10 to play and no timeouts, that was too much ground for the Knights to cover.

Despite being out gained 399 yards to 260, special special teams gave BYU a 24-17 win.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Cody Hoffman’s 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Joe Sampson, 3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception; and Riley Stephenson, 6 punts, 45.3 yard average, 2 inside the 20, 3 punts 50+ yards.

Things to watch for:
  1. Rebound. You can’t say BYU didn’t rebound, since the game ended as a victory. How high the Cougars rebounded is another issue. I didn’t like what I saw early. The defense was getting gashed, and the offense stalled again. Maybe that was just a sign of how good UCF was, but I expected more emotion and better results in the first quarter. Hopefully, the win will lift the team to where they need to be for next week's rivalry game.
  2. Revamped Offense. The offense didn’t do much different. There was a clear focus on the run. I also noticed the use of the no huddle, hurry up offense early in the game, which was something I mentioned in the game preview under number 5.
  3. Improved pass defense. The pass defense was bad. Daniel Sorensen was burned twice for plays over 50 yards. The corners were playing very soft, which gave UCF several easy throws and made it easy to move the chains. When the redshirt freshman back up QB came into the game, he scorched the secondary. UCF had 318 yards passing on the night. Secondary play needs to be improved immediately.
  4. Containing a mobile quarterback. BYU was much improved in this category. The UCF QB did score two rushing touchdowns, but he had just seven yards on 11 carries. The presence of his running ability was still a factor. It was largely the reason Sorensen gave up those big passes.
  5. Home Field Advantage. I noticed the UCF defense sucking air in the second quarter, but that didn’t seem to last long. I have concluded that the altitude and the travel issues only come into play if the opponent is losing. Even then, it isn’t a guarantee. UCF was stopping the BYU offense and forcing punts very late in the game when they needed to get their offense the ball back.
Next: Utah State
Date: Friday, September 30

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