PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – The BYU defense did its job in the Cougars’ first game as a member of the Big-12 Conference.
But the offense was far from Big-12 worthy.
Kedon Slovis threw for 145 yards and rushed for two touchdowns, while the BYU defense recorded its first shutout since 2014 in a 14-0 victory over Sam Houston Saturday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The Bearkats were making its FBS debut after spending the last 34 years as an FCS school.
“Obviously, we’ve seen our offense perform better than that, so expect them to be better,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. “There are some issues that we need to fix, and a lot of them are fixable. For some reason, it was flat and not good enough. They know that, but I want them to be proud of taking care of the football.”
Slovis led the Cougars on a 50-yard drive to open the game, capped by a 5-yard TD run by the transfer quarterback. That was Slovis’ first touchdown run of his collegiate career, which is now in its fifth season.
But after that, the BYU offense was sluggish at best. The Cougars could only muster 66 more yards in the first half, and went into the break with a 7-0 lead.
After a failed fake punt by BYU’s Ryan Rehkow that gave the Bearkats the ball at BYU’s 20-yard line at the start of the third quarter, Jakob Robinson came up with a diving interception in the end zone to thwart the drive.
BYU didn’t find the end zone again until the fourth quarter when Slovis punched it in from a yard out to give the Cougars a two-touchdown lead.
The drive started after Robinson’s second interception of the game at the 45-yard line. The Cougars first attempted a field goal, which was blocked and returned for a touchdown by Dakerric Hobbs. But Da’Veawn Armstead, who blocked kick, was offside. BYU running back LJ Martin then ran for seven yards on 4th and 1 to keep the drive alive.
Martin was the sole spark of the BYU offense in the second half. The true freshman from El Paso carried the ball 16 times, all in the second half, for 91 yards.
Slovis finished his BYU debut completing 20 of 33 passes for 145 yards. He did surpass the 10,000 yard mark for his career.
“You’ve got to stay positive,” Slovis said. “You’ve got to appreciate a win. A win’s a win. We got 14 points but we didn’t have any turnovers, and as an offense we had higher expectations
than it happened tonight. We know we are better than that, and we’ll play a lot better
than that in the future.”
Darius Lassiter led the Cougars in receiving with four catches for 43 yards. Chae Roberts added five catches for 42 yards.
The BYU defense was suffocating all night long, picking off Sam Houston quarterback Keegan Shoemaker three times, twice by Robinson and once by Eddie Heckard in the final minutes of the game.
“Just glad that we were able to make more plays and get the win and the shutout,” Sitake said. “I am really happy with what our defense did. I thought they tackled well. A couple of mistakes gave them some plays, but it is stuff that we can fix. More than anything, I was really happy with the aggression and how they tackled.”
The Cougars held the Bearkats to just 187 yards of total offense and 11 first downs. Sam Houston had just 38 yards rushing.
BYU could only manage 257 total yards and 12 first downs. The Cougars continuously hurt themselves with eight penalties for 66 yards. Starting running back Aidan Robbins had 23 yards on seven carries.
Max Tooley and Ben Bywater each had nine tackles to lead the BYU defense. Tyler Batty had the Cougars’ lone sack of the game.
“The preparation level was off the charts,” Robinson said. “I think this is the most prepared we’ve ever been. Formation-wise, we just knew what was coming. We called it out before it even happened.”
The fewest points BYU gave up all of last year was 20. Under the direction of new defensive coordinator Jay Hill, the Cougars defense looks to be vastly improved.
This marks BYU’s first shutout since a 64-0 victory over Savannah State in 2014, and the first time it held an FBS opponent without any points since 2012 when the Cougars shut out Hawaii, 47-0.
The 14 points is the fewest BYU has scored in a victory since a 6-3 win over Utah State in 2012.
The Cougars will try to get the offense rolling next Saturday when BYU hosts Southern Utah at 1:00 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium.