admin | Posted: 21 Jan 2020 | Updated: 9 Feb 2021

2019 BYU Football Season Review

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2019 Season Review Graphic

Wins over nationally ranked USC and Boise State and a road win at Tennessee helped BYU tie for No. 7 nationally for the most wins over teams with winning records.

BYU achieved the highs of victories over storied programs and nationally ranked teams in 2019 while also experiencing the lows of tough losses during a 7-6 campaign that culminated at the SoFi Hawai’i Bowl.   

The Cougars utilized valuable contributions from key senior leaders while relying on the talents of many of their younger players to navigate a strong schedule that featured four ranked teams and 10 of 12 FBS opponents that would earn bowl eligibility.

For only the second time in program history, BYU played eight opponents that achieved eight or more wins in 2019, including facing four teams with 10 or more wins, something a Cougar team had only done on two previous occasions.

See the Season Review Exposure Gallery for some of the best photos of the year. 

Challenging Schedule & Ranked Wins

The Cougars won five of their last seven games and boasted victories during the season over nationally ranked Boise State (12-2) and USC (8-5) and five wins over teams with a winning record. BYU’s five wins against teams with winning records during the regular season tied for No. 7 nationally, topped only by LSU, Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson, Boise State and Oregon. 

Overall, BYU played four ranked opponents in 2019 and nine of its 11 FBS regular-season opponents finished the season bowl eligible. The Cougars started the season as the only program to play three ranked teams and four Power 5 opponents in their first four games. Three BYU opponents finished the season ranked in the College Football Playoff final rankings—No. 11 Utah, No. 19 Boise State and No. 22 USC. BYU earned a 2-1 record in those games with wins over the Broncos and Trojans.

BYU’s victory over then No. 24 USC marked the first in program history against the storied Pac-12 program from Los Angeles. The Cougars followed later with a win over then No. 14 Boise State to ruin the Broncos’ otherwise perfect regular season on their way to the Mountain West title at 12-1. The victory over the Broncos marked the first time in BYU history a Cougar team has defeated a 12-win team.   

Season Summary & Results

After a 30-12 loss to No. 14 Utah in the opener, BYU claimed dramatic overtime wins the next two weeks against two historic college football programs. 

A 29-26 double-overtime triumph at Tennessee came against the SEC East Division’s third-place team that finished at 8-5 overall as the Gator Bowl Champions.  BYU’s successful first-ever visit to historic Neyland Stadium was followed with another big win in LaVell Edwards Stadium over the nationally ranked USC. The 30-27 overtime win over USC was BYU’s first in three meetings against the Trojans, who placed second in the Pac-12 South with a 7-2 league mark in 2019.   

Following the strong start, the Cougars endured a three-game losing streak that started at home against then No. 21 Washington before road setbacks at Toledo and South Florida. During that stretch injuries started to play a significant role as the team’s top running back senior Ty’Son Williams went down for the season with a knee injury against Washington and starting sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson followed with a thumb injury at Toledo that sidelined him the next four games.  

While freshman backup quarterback Jaren Hall performed well in Wilson’s absence, he couldn’t stay on the field for a complete game after being injured first at USF and later at Utah State. Third-stringer Baylor Romney also proved ready when his number was called. The freshman led BYU to home wins as the starter over undefeated Boise State and eventual 8-5 FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl Champion Liberty and had a strong second-half performance in place of the injured Hall in a 42-14 road win at rival Utah State to reclaim the Old Wagon Wheel after a two-year hiatus.

The victory over nationally ranked Boise State stopped the team’s three-game skid while starting a five-game winning streak. Following wins over the Broncos, Aggies and Flames, Wilson returned to action to lead BYU to a 42-10 home victory over Idaho State and a 56-24 road win over UMass. The string of wins ended in a 13-3 defeat at San Diego State in the regular-season finale against an Aztec team that would go on to dominate the New Mexico Bowl to finish the year 10-3 overall. 

Seven wins in the regular season earned the Cougars their 14th bowl invitation in the last 15 years and 37th overall. BYU’s 37 bowl appearances ranks No. 22 among college programs—more than storied programs such as UCLA (36), Notre Dame (36), Virginia Tech (33), Wisconsin (31) and Stanford (30).

A Christmas Eve date with hometown favorite Hawai’i in the SoFi Hawai’i Bowl ranked No. 4 in CBS and USA Today’s bowl game rankings despite the Cougars coming up on the wrong end of a 38-34 wild affair. Both teams combined for 1,000 yards of total offense but a late Rainbow Warrior touchdown with just over a minute to go ended BYU’s hopes at finishing 2019 with a bowl win. Zach Wilson was named the Cougars’ MVP of the game, finishing with 274 passing yards and 72 rushing yards. Hawai’i was the fourth team BYU faced in 2019 that achieved 10 or more victories on the season. 

FACTS AND FIGURES

OFFENSE
The Cougars finished the season ranked No. 26 in passing offense (284.7 yards per game) despite starting three different quarterbacks. The mark improved by 72.9 yards per game from 2018 and was the most yards per game since 296.5 in 2015. It was the first time since the 2008 season that the Cougars threw for more than 200 yards in every game, taking a streak of 15 straight into the 2020 season. The last time BYU threw for 200 in more consecutive games was a string of 18 across the 2007-08 seasons.

During the team’s final five regular-season games—all in November—BYU boasted the nation’s No. 8 offense (520.6 yards per game), No. 13 passing offense (323.0 yards per game) and No. 34 rushing offense (197.6 yards per game). BYU’s 505 yards of total offense in the SoFi Hawai’i Bowl, including 274 through the air and 231 on the ground, continued to build on that production.

With Zach Wilson, Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney each leading the Cougars to victory, BYU was one of only five schools to win games with three different starting quarterbacks in 2019. The Cougars were also one of only two schools in the country along with UCF with four signal callers on the roster with at least one win in their career as a starter.

Three receivers had more than 500 receiving yards for the first time since 2015. Senior wideout Micah Simon saved his best year for last as he led the team with 51 receptions and was second with 616 receiving yards. Junior tight end Matt Bushman was a key target again with his third consecutive year leading the team in receiving yards with 688 yards on 47 receptions. Bushman became just the third tight end to put together three consecutive seasons of 500 or more receiving yards in school history, joining consensus All-Americans Gordon Hudson and Dennis Pitta.

Senior Talon Shumway was the third player to top the 500 receiving yards mark, finishing with 561 yards on 43 catches and four touchdowns. Aleva Hifo finished his career with his best numbers as well, putting together 42 receptions, 483 yards and three touchdowns.

The ground game got off to a promising start behind graduate transfer Ty’Son Williams from South Carolina. Williams ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the triumph at Tennessee, including the winning score in overtime. He put together another near-100-yard game against No. 24 USC with 99 yards but was lost to a season-ending injury the following week. With additional injuries impacting the running backs, BYU had to look to its depth as the season became a big running back-by-committee effort. The Cougars ran for over 2,000 yards for the first time since 2016 but no player had more than redshirt freshman Sione Finau’s 359 yards. Redshirt sophomore Lopini Katoa had the most carries at 85 and finished with 358 yards while true freshman Jackson McChesney had 274 yards, with 228 coming against UMass in a single game, the sixth-most in a single game in school history. Williams had 264 yards and senior grad transfer Emmanuel Esukpa, who was hampered by injuries all year, finished with 190. The committee effort still yielded 4.4 yards per carry and 25 total touchdowns.

Up front, BYU played every game with sophomores James Empey at center and Brady Christensen, who graded as the No. 12 overall offensive lineman in the FBS in 2019 by Pro Football Focus, at left tackle. Despite shuffling at the other three positions, the Cougar bigs finished the season ranked No. 12 overall as a group by PFF. Tristen Hoge, Keanu Saleapaga, Kieffer Longson, Thomas Shoaf, Clark Barrington, who received PFF All-Freshman Team honorable mention, all saw significant action at one of the guard spots or right tackle, with injuries impacting many of their playing time. As a result, however, BYU may have found its next up-and-coming star at right tackle in true freshman Blake Freeland, who ended a potential redshirt season to start the final seven games. The 6-foot-8 former basketball star and quarterback turned offensive lineman impressed in his freshman campaign. Other than lone senior Shoaf, every offensive lineman is back for 2020.

DEFENSE
The Cougar defense specialized in takeaways in 2019, finishing the season ranked No. 13 in interceptions with 15 and No. 23 in turnovers gained overall with 22. BYU also finished the season with high marks in limiting big plays, allowing just 46 plays of 20 yards or more, the same mark as Alabama, to rank No. 17 in the country.

Future stars emerged at the linebacker position with redshirt freshman Payton Wilgar leading the team with three interceptions to go along with his 54 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. His efforts earned him first-team recognition on the Pro Football Focus All-Freshman Team, which rated Wilgar as the No. 2 overall freshman linebacker overall and No. 2 pass coverage freshman backer in the nation. Sophomore Chaz Ah You led the team with 5.5 tackles for loss and posted an interception, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and recovered another. Redshirt freshman Max Tooley also impressed with 48 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and an interception. Tooley and fellow freshman Keenan Pili, who added 25 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, both received PFF All-Freshman Team honorable mention for their contributions.

Junior Kavika Fonua returned to the defense after injuries and stints with the offense as a running back to find a home at linebacker where he led the team in tackles with 83 and also had two interceptions. Fellow linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi, the most seasoned of the group, had 60 takedowns with a pair of interceptions of his own in his junior campaign.

The Cougars rarely gave up big plays on the ground, allowing just nine runs all year of 20 yards or more. That started with standout junior defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga in the middle, who posted 45 tackles and 4.0 tackles for loss as a key piece of the defense.

Safety Austin Lee concluded his BYU career as one of the best leaders on the team in 2019. He was fourth on the squad with 55 tackles and took an interception to the house on a 26-yard pick-six. His fellow senior Dayan Ghanwoloku finished No. 2 in tackles with 62 and had 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and was Johnny-On-The-Spot with two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. With two more fumble recoveries, Ghanwoloku claimed the top spot in BYU history (since NCAA records in 2000) in career fumble recoveries with seven.

SPECIAL TEAMS
The return game took a step forward in 2019, highlighted by Aleva Hifo as a punt returner averaging 15.9 yards per return, ranking No. 5 nationally. His 18.5 yards per game ranked No. 12 nationally and consistently set BYU up with good field position. As a group, the Cougars ranked No. 14 at 13.48 yards per punt return. The group’s 21.8 yards per game also ranked No. 10.

Another highlight was the kickoff coverage team, allowing an average of just 19.24 yards per return. Of BYU’s 73 kickoffs, just 46 were returned, eight were fair caught and 18 were touchbacks while only one went out of bounds.

In the punting game, BYU didn’t punt that often, with only 53 boots this season, the fewest since 47 in 2011. When the punt team did come out, the Cougars averaged 41.68 yards per punt while only allowing 16 punt returns all season.

Jake Oldroyd led the placekicking game, breaking a drought of more than a decade with the Cougars’ first 50-yard field goal since 2006. Oldroyd booted a 54-yarder against Washington and followed it up with a 51-yarder at South Florida. Oldroyd also punted, with an average of 43.17 yards per punt on 42 tries, dropping 14 inside the 20 and booting nine more than 50 yards.

HONORS & ACHIEVEMENTS

In 2019, some 30 individuals in the BYU football program received various recognitions for their talents, leadership and accomplishments on and off the football field.

Among them, six Cougars were honored as All-Independent Team selections, linebacker Payton Wilgar was named to the Pro Football Focus All-Freshman Team as the nation’s No. 2-rated freshman backer and running back Jackson McChesney set a new freshman school record with 228 rushing yards in a single game. Among the coaches, both offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick were singled out with recognition, while BYU Director of Athletics Tom Holmoe announced after the Idaho State victory that a contract extension was finalized for head coach Kalani Sitake that extends the leader of the Cougar football program through the 2023 season. 

The various 2019 individual honors and other team and program accolades are listed below.

Tyler Allgeier
College sports Madness Independent Defensive Player of the Week (Week 8–Oct. 19)

Clark Barrington
2019 Pro Football Focus All-Freshman Team—Offensive Guard/Honorable Mention

Matt Bushman
2019 Phil Steele All-Independent First Team
John Mackey National Tight End of the Week (Week 8–Oct. 19)
2019 John Mackey Award watch list
2019 Walter Camp Player of the Year watch list

Brady Christensen
2019 Phil Steele All-Independent Second Team
2019 Outland Trophy watch list

Bracken El-Bakri
2019 Burlsworth Trophy nominee

James Empey
2019 Phil Steele All-Independent First Team
2019 CoSIDA Academic All-District
2019 Rimington Trophy watch list

Lorenzo Fauatea
Pro Football Focus National Team of the Week selection (Week 3–Sept. 14)

Dayan Ghanwoloku
2019 Phil Steele All-Independent First Team
2019 NFLPA Bowl invitation
College Sports Madness Independent Defensive Player of the Week (Week 3–Sept. 14)
Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll (Week 3–Sept. 14)

Jeff Grimes
Athlon Sports Offensive Coordinator of the Week (Week 3–Sept. 14)

Jaren Hall
College Sports Madness Independent Offensive Player of the Week (Week 7–Oct. 12)

Mitch Harris
2019 Phil Steele All-Independent Second Team

Aleva Hifo
2019 Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Polynesian College Football Player of the Year watch list
2019 Hula Bowl invitation

Lopini Katoa
2019 Doak Walker Award preseason candidate

Austin Kafentzis
2019 Hula Bowl invitation

Isaiah Kaufusi
2019 Phil Steele All-Independent Second Team
2019 Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Polynesian College Football Player of the Year watch list

Moroni Laulu-Pututau
2019 Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Polynesian College Football Player of the Year watch list

Uriah Leiataua
2019 Wuerffel Trophy watch list & official nominee

Austin Lee
2020 East-West Shrine Game invitation
College Sports Madness Independent Defensive Player of the Week (Week 12–Nov. 16)

Jackson McChesney
Set BYU freshman record with 228 rushing yards at UMass
No. 6 all-time at BYU with 228 rushing yards at UMass

Jake Oldroyd
2019 CoSIDA Academic All-District
Lou Groza Star of the Week (Week 3–Sept. 14)

Keenan Pili
2019 Pro Football Focus All-Freshman Team—Linebacker/Honorable Mention

Aaron Roderick
2019 Broyles Award nominee

Baylor Romney
Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Player of the Week Award honorable mention (Week 8–Oct. 19)

Talon Shumway
2019 National Football Foundation William V. Campbell Trophy semifinalist

Micah Simon
College Sports Madness Independent Offensive Player of the Week (Week 2–Sept. 7)

Kalani Sitake
BYU contract extension as head coach through 2023 season

Khyiris Tonga
2019 Bronko Nagurski Trophy preseason watch list
2019 Outland Trophy watch list
2019 Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Polynesian College Football Player of the Year watch list

Max Tooley
2019 Pro Football Focus All-Freshman Team—Linebacker/Honorable Mention

Payton Wilgar
2019 Pro Football Focus All-Freshman Team—Linebacker/First Team
No. 2-rated freshman linebacker overall by Pro Football Focus
No. 2-rated freshman linebacker in pass coverage by Pro Football Focus

Zach Wilson
2019 SoFi Hawai’i Bowl BYU Most Valuable Player
College Sports Madness Independent Offensive Player of the Week (Week 13–Nov. 23)
2019 Maxwell Award watch list
2019 College Football Performance Awards National Performer of the Year preseason watch list
Touchdown Club of Columbus 2019 Player to Watch

TEAM

  • Faced eight teams who achieved eight or more wins in 2019 for only the second time in program history (also in 2013). BYU went 4-4 on those games. Among them, BYU played four teams with 10 or more wins, something BYU has only done on two other occasions (also in 2010 and 2012).
  • Defeated a 12-win team for the first time in program history with its 28-25 victory over then unbeaten Boise State. The Broncos finished the year 12-2.
  • Played in front of No. 5 largest crowd for a BYU game in 29-26 double-overtime win over Tennessee at Neyland Stadium (92,475)
  • Achieved first win over USC with 30-27 overtime victory over the No. 24 Trojans in LaVell Edwards Stadium
  • Defeated two ranked teams in the same season for the first time since 2009 and only 6th time in program history
  • Earned back-to-back seasons with a top-15 win (Wisconsin 2018, Boise State 2019)
  • Reclaimed the Old Wagon Wheel from Utah State after a two-game losing streak in the rivalry with a 42-14 road win in Logan.
  • BYU's 28-point win over Utah State was the largest margin of victory over the Aggies since a 34-0 win in 2006. 
  • The first brother-to-brother touchdown pass in school history took place in BYU's win at Utah State (QB Baylor Romney to WR Gunner Romney)
  • Posted two 600-yard games for the first time since 2013 (628 at UMass, 639 at Utah State)
  • Scored BYU record 42 points in the second quarter at UMass – most points in any quarter for BYU (previous high 36 against Washington State in 1990). 
  • Had No. 2 output in school history for most points in a half – 49 points in first half at UMass (51 vs. Savannah State in 2014)
  • Ranked No. 22 in the nation in average home attendance and No. 2 in the West behind only Washington (59,547)

PROGRAM

With 2019 being the 150th anniversary of college football, BYU football was also recognized as a program in a variety of ways during the season. Players, coaches and great moments of BYU history were included and featured during special programs, such as ESPN’s The Greatest series that took a look back at the history of the game. In addition to contributing to the programs, BYU also was selected in several of the all-time rankings recognizing the best in the history of the game. The list below includes those rankings featured on ESPN The Greatest series.

  • No. 10 The Greatest Upsets (1984 National Championship)—ESPN The Greatest CFB150 Anniversary
  • No. 10 The Greatest Walk-on (Ezekiel Ansah)—ESPN The Greatest CFB150 Anniversary
  • No. 22 The Greatest Coaches (LaVell Edwards)—ESPN The Greatest CFB150 Anniversary
  • No. 35 The Greatest Games (1980 Holiday Bowl)—ESPN The Greatest CFB150 Anniversary
  • No. 87 The Greatest Players (Steve Young)—ESPN The Greatest CFB150 Anniversary Baltimore
  • No. 146 The Greatest Teams (1984)—ESPN The Greatest CFB150 Anniversary Baltimore

Other notables
Former BYU tight end Brian Billick was inducted into the Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor for his contributions as the head coach of the Ravens.

Ravens Ring of Honor (Brian Billick)

2019 Final Season Stats
2019 Game Results, Recaps & Stats

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