With BYU’s 35-31 win over USC in the Coliseum Saturday night, the Cougars have officially swept their Pac-12 opponents in the 2021 season. That’s something few people would have predicted before the start of the season, especially given the multitude of talent BYU lost after 2020.
Now, Cougar fans get to bask in the glory of being the unofficial conference champions and triggering angry Utah fans each time that 5-0 record against the Pac-12 is brought up.
Just how badly has BYU owned the Pac-12 in 2021?
Let’s count the ways …
Okay, not exactly a shocking statistic, but it still bears repeating. None of the teams within the Pac-12 managed to go undefeated in conference play. Utah finished the regular season with one in-conference loss. Oregon finished with two.
Heck, even outside the Pac-12, only four teams in FBS finished undefeated during regular season conference play (Georgia, Louisiana, Cincinnati and Houston). 5-0 is shocking in and of itself.
The Cougar defense has seen its share of ups and downs over the course of the season, in large part due to injuries. The loss of players like Keenan Ellis, Keenan Pili, Lorenzo Fauatea and Payton Wilgar definitely took its toll on the defense’s efficiency.
Case in point: in the regular season finale against USC, 25 different players recorded a defensive statistic. BYU’s defense was so banged up that it wasn’t just sending out second-string players. Third-stringers and walk-ons were going up against the four and five-star talent of USC, and still managed to pull off crucial stops to get the win.
Tyler Allgeier has posted a historic season for the Cougars, notching 1,414 total rushing yards. What’s even more impressive, though, are his results against the Pac-12.
In those five games, Tyler rushed for 567 yards, good for an average of 113.4 yards per game. He was also good for 6 rushing touchdowns in those games. That’s the kind of dominant performance that helps you win time and time again.
BYU quarterback Jaren Hall was sacked only six times in games against the Pac-12. The offensive line didn’t give up a single sack against Utah, leading Kye Whittingham to remark, “We were pushed around in the second half. I can’t remember the last time, if ever, that’s happened …On defense … We were assignment-sound but we got physically moved around.”
Utah recorded 37 sacks on the season — an average of 3.36 per game when you take out the BYU game. That’s pretty telling about just how much BYU’s offensive line dominated.
Jaren Hall recorded an average QBR of 73.7 in Pac-12 play, with a high of 93.1 against Utah. That’s actually a bit below his total season average of 77.6, which currently gives him the 18th-best QBR in the nation. He’d be 27th-best if you only counted Pac-12 games.
The thing is, a 73.7 QBR is nothing to sneeze at. This actually gives Hall a better average QBR than every Pac-12 quarterback that BYU played against. His consistency and low turnover rates were an impressive part of BYU’s Pac-12 dominance.
BYU fans have accrued plenty of horror stories about Pac-12 refs over the years — and the USC game certainly had its share of interesting moments with strange spots and enough missed fouls by the Trojans to get Kalani Sitake worked up. But the Cougs played clean football against the Pac-12, averaging only 4.4 penalties per game in Pac-12 play.
That average is skewed significantly by 8 penalties against Utah; BYU only recorded 3 penalties against Arizona and Arizona State, and just two against Washington State. Disciplined play is often what separates the great teams from the rest.
BYU was plus four in the turnover margin against Pac-12 opponents, and didn’t have a single turnover themselves against Arizona, Utah, or Washington State. As we’ve seen in so many games this season, a single turnover is enough to make the difference between a win or a loss.
By playing clean on offense and getting a few key takeaways on defense, the Cougars were able to take care of business.
No, I’m not talking passing percentages here. Jaren Hall’s running ability has been talked about all season, but he’s clearly a pass-first quarterback, totaling 307 rushing yards on the season.
The thing is, 209 of those rushing yards — roughly 68 percent — came against Pac-12 opponents. It makes it even more sweet that 92 of Jaren’s rushing yards came against Utah. Hall had no trouble hurting Pac-12 opponents with his feet when it mattered.
BYU also saw its receiver depth tested this season, with players like Puka Nacua, Gunner Romney, and Neil Pau’u all unavailable against Pac-12 foes at various points this season.
Only Neil Pau’u repeated as the leading receiver in a game against a Pac-12 opponent, showing that there was never any problem if someone else needed to step up. Gunner Romney, Puka Nacua, and Keanu Hill were also top receivers in games against the Pac-12. It didn’t matter who was or wasn’t available — the Cougars were going to win.
14 minutes, 34 seconds. That’s the total amount of time that BYU found itself behind a Pac-12 opponent this season. That’s across 5 total games. BYU NEVER trailed against Arizona, Utah or Arizona State.
They trailed for a mere 3:32 after Washington State scored a first-quarter touchdown, and never gave up the lead after that. The most peril the Cougars ever found themselves in was when they fell behind for over 7 minutes in the fourth quarter against USC (they trailed for a total of 11:02 in that game).
If that’s not dominance, I don’t know what is.
No matter how BYU’s bowl situation ultimately shakes out, there is no denying that 2021 has been an incredibly successful season. This year’s team has proven that 2020 was no fluke, and that they have the talent and depth to compete with a P5 schedule.