BYU football: Are Cougars that good, or was Navy not prepared for the season-opener Monday in Annapolis? – Deseret News

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — BYU football players and coaches showed up at fanless Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Monday night wearing T-shirts with messages of hope and love for a national television audience hungry for live sports after a summer of protests over racial inequality and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then the Cougars sent a different kind of message. They played almost flawlessly in a 55-3 dismantling of a Navy team that, simply put, was not physically prepared for the contact of a live football game.

Coach Ken Niumatalolo admitted as much in his postgame news conference, saying he erred on the side of caution in fall camp due to concern over spreading the novel coronavirus. While BYU was having at least three live, full-contact scrimmages in August, Navy was having zero. No tackling, no blocking.

“That game was 1,000 percent my fault,” Niumatalolo said. “Obviously, we weren’t prepared. One team was prepared very well. BYU played great. … One team was playing football. We looked like it was our first live game. There is no one to blame but myself.”

The coach with plenty of ties to BYU — his son, Va’a, played for the Cougars — said he tried to keep his players safe with contract tracing and other precautions and protocols.

“This was the worst Navy football game we’ve ever played,” he said. “… I have been coaching a long time and I’ve never seen a Navy team play like that,” Niumatalolo said.

As praise pours in nationally for one of BYU’s most dominant performances in school history, coming as it did against a team that went 11-2 last year, was nationally ranked and beat a Power Five program (Kansas State) in a bowl game, the question now becomes: Is BYU really that good, or was Navy really that bad?

“That’s a hard question to answer, because I know Navy is really good (usually),” said BYU linebacker Pepe Tanuvasa, who played in 13 games for the Midshipmen in 2018 before transferring. “It was a little bit of both.”

Navy’s lack of preparedness was evident from the first series to the last — BYU’s backups even outshined the home team — but the Cougars deserve credit for their readiness level, which was off the charts.

BYU generally starts slowly on offense — remember last year’s debacle against Utah? — in openers, commits a bunch of penalties and sputters for a couple of quarters, at least. Not so this time.

The Cougars committed just one penalty, a five-yarder for a false start by freshman tight end Isaac Rex. It was their fewest penalty yards since they also had five in a loss to Nevada (27-13) and Colin Kaepernick in 2010.

“BYU, to their credit, mature team, veteran team, man they reminded me of an NFL team, the way they came in, they weren’t worried about the (empty) stadium. It was just, ‘Put the ball down, let’s play,’” said ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit. “And I think the teams that are going to have success this year are going to be those teams.”

Other national writers speculated that BYU could run the table if its schedule stays at eight games, while acknowledging that road contests at Army (Sept. 19) and Houston (Oct. 16) won’t be nearly as easy. Army, which crushed Middle Tennessee State 42-0 on Saturday and hosts Louisiana-Monroe this weekend, will have a crowd of at least 4,000 cadets in West Point, New York, for BYU’s visit.

As he always does after a win, a victory that boosted his career record to 28-25, BYU coach Kalani Sitake credited his coaching staff for putting together a “great game plan.”

“Let’s keep this thing rolling. Let’s build off this,” Sitake said. “We got some time now to get ready for Army, and I look forward to our offense, defense and special teams performing like this at a consistent level.”

Sitake said the Cougars emerged from the game relatively injury fee. Tanuvasa, who led the Cougars with eight tackles, walked off the field on his own power after going down with some sort of lower leg injury, but was healthy enough to participate in the postgame news conference. After rushing for a game-high 132 yards, Tyler Allgeier headed to the locker room with trainers before the final gun with an undisclosed issue.

Backup quarterback Jaren Hall and promising freshman receiver Kody Epps were not available due to injuries sustained in camp.

Sitake acknowledged that former four-star quarterback Jacob Conover of Chandler, Arizona, has returned home from his mission, which was cut short by the pandemic, and joined the team. He praised the work of all three QBs who played — Zach Wilson, Baylor Romney and Sol-Jay Maiava.

“Our offense was doing this all camp long and it made our defense better,” he said.

Wilson was as crisp as expected, throwing for 232 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 206. His lone interception was not his fault.

Maybe the Cougars can shake that inconsistency label that dogged them last season when they went 7-6 and beat Tennessee, USC and Boise State but lost to South Florida and Toledo.

“I don’t know if you can define everything from one game,” Sitake said. “I don’t like to be defined by one game from the previous four years as a head coach. So I would just like to build on this. I am glad that we came out of this game mostly healthy. We have some guys who are nicked up a little bit. But these guys worked really hard and I am proud of them.”

Consider it a message sent.