LaVell Edwards Stadium
1700 North Canyon Road Provo UT 84604
BYU loses defensive battle 7-6 to NIU
PROVO, Utah – BYU held Northern Illinois to just 204 total yards but it wasn't enough as the Cougars fell to the Huskies, 7-6, at LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday.
“I was pleased with a lot of guys, but we didn’t make enough plays to win,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “We have to get more production from our offense and be more aggressive in establishing our identity.”
BYU possessed the ball for nearly 35 of the 60 total minutes in the game, and put in 301 total yards, but were unable to score a touchdown for the first time since last year’s game against Wisconsin. Freshman kicker Skyler Southam converted two of his three field goal attempts as BYU’s only scorer on the day.
Quarterback Zach Wilson accounted for 215 of the Cougars 301 yards, with 208 in the air and seven on the ground, including a highlight hurdle over a Huskie defender. Sophomore tight end Matt Bushman led all receivers with 63 yards, averaging 21 yards per catch on three catches. Talon Shumway was the only other Cougar to go for over 50 receiving yards with 52, including a game-long 42-yard catch.
On the defensive side, Sione Takitaki led the way with 11 total tackles, eight of which were solo, with one sack. Isaiah Kaufusi and Dayan Ghankwoloku each had two tackles for loss, and Corbin Kaufusi and Khyiris Tonga shared the Cougars’ other sack in the game.
BYU started the game with a 36-yard kickoff return by Tyler Allgeier, but then went three-and-out on the opening drive. The Cougar defense forced the Huskies to punt on their first drive, putting the ball back in BYU’s hands with 9:36 remaining in the quarter. Two penalties on NIU brought BYU across the 50-yard line, but an incompletion to Gunner Romney brought up fourth down for the Cougars. BYU went for it and Wilson completed a pass to Micah Simon for a first down. Skyler Southam then converted a 35-yard field goal attempt to open the scoring and put the Cougars up 3-0 late in the first quarter.
Four different ball carriers propelled BYU’s first scoring drive. Four running backs – Squally Canada, Lopini Katoa, Matt Hadley, and Riley Burt – along with receiver Aleva Hifo and quarterback Zach Wilson, all ran the ball in the first quarter.
Skyler Southam’s 35-yard field goal was the first made field goal by BYU since Sept. 22 against McNeese State.
Wilson threw a 28-yard pass to Bushman to start the BYU drive. The Cougars then went for it on fourth down and were unable to convert. NIU went for its own fourth down on its following drive as well, but were flagged for a false start and forced to punt with 9:26 left in the half. The teams were a combined 0 for 9 on third down conversions to that point.
BYU opened the following drive with two passes to Bushman and Holker for 16 and 12 yards, respectively. Wilson was sacked on the following play and the Cougars once again punted after failing to convert on a third-down pass to Gunner Romney. The Huskies had a chance to score on their following drive, but missed a 41-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game.
Tight end Matt Bushman’s 28-yard reception gave him at least one reception of 20-plus yards in four games this season.
In the first half, tight ends Bushman and Holker combined to catch all four passes targeted to them and accounted for 67 of BYU’s 88 receiving yards.
NIU marched the ball 65 yards down the field in the opening minutes of the second half to score the first touchdown of the game and go up 7-3 on the Cougars. Wilson got sacked for the second time in the Cougars’ opening drive of the half, but a 54-yard punt by Rhett Almond put NIU’s offense in a tough position on its own one-yard line. BYU’s defense held NIU to a three-and-out, putting the ball back in the offense’s hands.
Wilson completed his longest pass of the game to Talon Shumway for a 42-yard gain, putting the Cougars on the 17-yard line, the closest they had been to the end-zone all game. Wilson then got the highlight play of the game with a hurdle over a Huskie defender for a first down on the five-yard line. Southam hit his second field goal of the game to pull BYU within one, 7-6, with 3:31 left in the third quarter.
Talon Shumway’s 42-yard reception was the longest play of the game for either team and the second-longest reception of his career.
After just two total receptions through the first five games of 2018, Shumway’s catches on back-to-back plays in the third quarter gave him multiple receptions for the third-straight game.
Wilson opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back passes to Micah Simon and Akile Davis, for 14 and 13 yards. Matt Hadley broke away for 13 yards to convert the third down and put the Cougars on the NIU 29-yard line. Southam’s longest field goal attempt of the year from 51 yards out went just right of the uprights, keeping the score at 7-6 in favor of the Huskies.
The Cougars began the following drive on their own one-yard line, with Squally Canada running for 14 quick yards to give them some breathing room. A 19-yard pass to Bushman gave the Cougars a first down and brought them up to their own 40-yard line. A couple of incomplete passes brought up a 4th down on the BYU 46-yard line, which BYU elected to punt on. The BYU defense held NIU to a three-and-out, but Wilson threw his first interception of the game on the first play of the next drive to give the Huskies the ball back. NIU ran the clock out, holding the Cougars to their lowest point total all season and bringing their record to 4-4.
BYU travels to Boise State for its next matchup against the Broncos on Saturday, Nov. 3. Kickoff is set for 8:15 MDT and will be televised live on ESPN2 and and broadcast on BYU Radio Sirius XM 143/89.1 FM and KSL News Radio 102.7 FM.
BYU football returns to take on Northern Illinois Saturday afternoon
PROVO, Utah – BYU football hosts Northern Illinois after a bye week at LaVell Edwards Stadium on October 27 at 1:30 p.m. MDT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
Live radio coverage can be found on the BYU Sports Network two hours prior to kickoff with Greg Wrubell, which will be broadcast on BYU Radio Sirius XM 143/89.1 FM HD2, KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYUCougars.com/LiveRadio, BYURadio.org and on the BYU Cougars app, BYU Radio app and KSL app.
Tickets are available at BYUtickets.com
BYU (4-3) vs. Northern Illinois (4-3)
Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018
Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. MDT
LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,470)
THE SERIES. BYU and Northern Illinois are playing the first of a new home-and-home series. The two schools have never met before in football. The Cougars are scheduled to make a return trip to Huskie Stadium in DeKalb on October 24, 2020.
PINK GAME. With October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Cougars will be adding some pink to their uniforms with pink athletic tape, sweatbands, socks and other accessories to show support.
MACtion. NIU plays its conference football as a member of the Mid-American Conference (MAC). The Huskies have appeared in the MAC championship game in six consecutive seasons from 2010 to 2015, winning the league title outright in 2011, 2012 and 2014. They have the most appearances in the MAC championship game with seven. Northern Illinois also broke into the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) in 2012. The Huskies went 11-1 in the regular season before beating Kent State in the MAC championship game, earning a spot in the Orange Bowl. NIU fell to No. 13 Florida State 31-10 but finished the season ranked No. 22 in the AP poll.
THE HUSKIE PROGRAM. Northern Illinois is one of the MAC's premier teams, having made a bowl game in 11 of the past 15 seasons, including a string of eight consecutive games from 2008 to 2015. The Huskies have won 12 conference titles and played in 12 total bowl games.
BYE WEEKS FOR EVERYONE. BYU is facing the Huskies after both teams are coming off of bye weeks. BYU is 9-4 coming off of a bye week over the past 10 seasons, including a few seasons with multiple byes. The Cougars have split games (1-1) following byes with Coach Sitake. BYU will face three opponents that have bye weeks prior to the game against the Cougars this year. Utah State had a bye week, NIU has had a bye week and New Mexico State will also have a bye week.
YOUNG GUNS. BYU has played 25 freshmen this season, including 15 true freshmen. 10 freshmen have started games for the Cougars, including five true freshmen. In the last game against Hawai'i, BYU started seven freshmen, including six on offense. Only Minnesota has started more freshmen on offense in a game (7). Freshmen have accounted for just over half of BYU's total scoring this year (89 of 176 total points – 50.6 percent).
The following quotes are from Monday's media availability.
Head coach Kalani Sitake
On the bye week
“It was good. We had a good mix of extra prep time for Northern Illinois and a break to give the guys their legs back, knowing that’s the only break they are going to have all season. We hit the weight room and did a lot of things to get them caught up on academics. I think the bye week came at the right time, midseason, to get some guys healthy. We’re looking forward to the game on Saturday against a really well-coached Northern Illinois team."
On facing Northern Illinois this week
“They’ve had some really good games. They play really tough defense. They have an All-American defensive end that is really active. But, I think they’re whole defense is really tough. Offensively, they run the ball and they block punts on special teams. They’re a really effective team and I know their head coach, and he gets them to play tough. They do well so I’m looking forward to that matchup."
On Zach Wilson facing tougher NIU defense
"I think he’ll be fine. We’ve shown him a lot of the stuff during spring ball and fall camp. We put him live in so many situations against our defense so I think he’ll be ready for it. I think he was ready for it last time against Hawai’i. His progress has gone really well from what we’ve seen from when he first got here in January to this point, so we’re excited to see him take the field again. I know the offense has made a lot of improvement in the last couple weeks so we’re really excited to see them play against a staunch defense like Northern Illinois. It’s going to be a of fun to see what happens."
On freshmen starters
"You have a chance to play every time you compete. It’s motivating knowing that if you do well during the week, even if you don’t start, your reps might go up during the game. The coaches trust the young men on the field, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams. Having a coaching staff that is willing to make those moves and get guys in the game that deserve it is a motivating factor for young men. Getting into the game as a freshman is a huge motivator for them. As a by-product we get a lot of depth. There is quality that keeps improving. A mixture of all these things and knowing that freshmen have four games to play with the redshirt rule, all that plays into us being able to make those moves."
Defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi
On his role in the defense
"My role is to do whatever is needed – not just as a defensive player, but as a football player in general. That could mean playing in the middle, as an outside backer or on the defensive line. I’ll be anywhere they need me to play and whatever is best for the team. At the beginning of the season, it was a bit nerve wracking. Your whole life, you’ve trained for one position and then they change it. But when it comes down to it, it’s all still football. I’m just happy for the opportunity to play.
On a spark in the defense in the Hawai’i game
"There definitely was a difference in our defense and that’s the way it should be. In the previous weeks, we were trying to contain them instead of trying to stop them. For the Hawai’i game we changed the mindset. It was then us giving the blows and them having to fix it."
On what they have learned about Northern Illinois
"We did have an extra week to study film so we do know a little bit more. At the same time, we want to approach this weekend with the same mindset as other games. They’re a hard-nosed running football team. If you look at their numbers, they’re going to run the ball most of the time. A lot of the teams we’ve played in last couple weeks have been more pass heavy with spread offenses. NIU is really good with sticking to the run and bulldozing through. We have to realize that this is a brand new opponent and change our mindset to address what we need to do about it."
Offensive lineman Austin Hoyt
On the bye week
“I feel a huge difference with how my body feels. By this time of the season your legs start to feel a little heavy, banged up and tired. I think the coaches did a great job of giving us a couple days to rest and get our legs back. The week of practice leading up to a game after a bye week is a better one because our bodies are feeling a lot better.”
On moving the line of scrimmage and opening up holes in the last game
“Coach Grimes brought up pad level in our week of preparation to every position group, everyone playing with lower pad level. I think that was one of the main differences in that game, everyone was playing lower causing them to play tougher and more physical as the game went on.”
On every position being up for grabs
“I think it has caused guys to really work hard during practice and I’ve noticed guys focusing on the small details and I think that is a big difference maker in who plays more. I think having that mentality that your position is never solidified and you always have to work for it has caused us to practice really hard.”
On how the offensive group has progressed
“I think they’ve all done great. Brady Christensen had a great start at the beginning of the season and he’s been great. As a freshman playing left tackle, he’s doing something no other freshman in the country is doing. James Empey is doing a great job taking control of the offense. He lets us know where we are tuning our protection and making sure we have the right calls. I think Keanu Saleapaga has done an amazing job, coming out never playing offensive line, just his physicality and his explosiveness, he has done a great job.”
Wide receiver Aleva Hifo
On Zach as a natural leader
"He’s definitely confident in what he does. It shows in how he plays. A lot of people don’t realize that the last real game Zach played was in high school. For him to go from that to a stadium and environment like ours in the middle of the season is huge. He deserves a lot of credit."
On increasing yards after catch
"A lot of it comes from the individual player’s confidence. That’s something I was happy to see in the wide receiver group. It something we struggled with earlier in the season and also last year. We’ve come a long way as receivers and we’re just going to keep playing confidently. We need to trust our quarterback and the scheme. That’s something we’ve been doing and it helps us execute in the game."
On having more space in the game
"Obviously you’re more comfortable when someone isn’t right up in your space. You have more space to work with and more time to react. That’s something we have to improve. We’re comfortable playing in zone, but we need to be more comfortable in both areas."