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 center Connor Pay was named to the 2023 Rimington Trophy preseason watchlist for the second season in row.