A mixture of old and new nonetheless led to an expected result Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium as Idaho State lost 42-10 to BYU.
The old? Starting quarterback Matt Struck threw yet another pick-six, his fifth in the last five games.
The new? Freshman running Malakai Rango, taking the bulk of the workload for the first time this season with starter Ty Flanagan out, ran 24 times for 142 yards and a touchdown.
The result? Never much in doubt after a second quarter in which BYU scored on three consecutive drives to take a 28-3 lead to the locker room.
“It’s tough to play an (FBS) team,” ISU head coach Rob Phenicie said. “Your margin for error is very small. You can’t throw interceptions for touchdowns and you can’t have punts blocked and you can’t miss tackles.”
A great first quarter by ISU (3-8, 2-5 Big Sky Conference), which was marred only by Austin Lee intercepting a tipped Struck pass and returning it 26 yards for a touchdown, didn’t last.
After holding the Cougars to 23 yards and forcing three punts on BYU’s first three drives, the Bengals’ defense couldn’t keep up.
BYU, with starting quarterback Zach Wilson returning to the field after missing several weeks with an injury, put together touchdown drives of 77, 75 and, after a blocked Kevin Ryan punt, 27 yards in the second quarter.
“I liked the way that (defensive coordinator) Roger Cooper had them prepared, and the defensive staff,” Phenicie said. “BYU did a great job of poking and prodding until they found where they could expose us, but I sure liked the way we came out.”
The Cougars (6-4) mostly did it by leaning on running back Sione Finau, who finished with 102 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, as well as by cutting out the penalties that plagued them early.
Idaho State did get on the board midway through the second quarter, with Struck hitting Michael Dean for a 40-yard gain into BYU territory and Ryan line-driving a 27-field goal off the right upright and through.
That briefly made it 14-3, but BYU closed out the half with a 16-yard touchdown run by Finau and, two plays after the blocked punt, a 26-yard touchdown throw from Wilson to Talon Shumway.
BYU outgained Idaho State 245-149 in the first half.
Shumway added to the lead early in the third quarter with a diving 3-yard touchdown catch at the goal line, and BYU nose tackle Khyiris Tonga smashed over from 3 yards out barely a minute later after another Struck interception gifted the Cougars another short field.
That stretched BYU’s lead to 42-3 in the middle of the third quarter and capped the scoring for the hosts.
Rango added a consolation touchdown not even a minute after that with a career-long 54-yard touchdown run after he cut right and ran into a pile at the line of scrimmage before bouncing off and outracing everyone up the middle for the score.
The 24 carries and 142 yards were also career highs for the freshman, who has blossomed while splitting carries with Flanagan and now looks poised to fully take over for the senior next year.
After starting slowly — his first seven carries went for a total of just 7 yards — Rango kept grinding away. His first double-digit carry — a 31-yarder late in the second quarter — didn’t come until his 15th tote of the game, but he gained effectiveness as the game went on.
“He’s a big, pleasant surprise,” Phenicie said. “I really enjoy the young man. He’s come on really well, and I’ll probably nominate him for freshman of the year in the Big Sky.”
The freshman also added one catch for 8 yards, two punt returns for 16 yards and a kick return for 24 yards, giving him 190 all-purpose yards in the game.
BYU came within a whisker of adding another touchdown with time winding down, but receiver Keanu Hill was ruled down at the ISU 1 with under two minutes left. BYU backup quarterback Joe Critchlow knelt three times from there to end the game.
Senior safety Adkin Aguirre, playing in his second-to-last game and next a new secondary partner, Manase Time, with Christian McFarland out, was the star for the ISU defense, finishing with a career-high 16 tackles, 15 solo.
“The kids competed, played hard,” Phenicie said. “We always say, control your attitude and effort, and they did a good job with that. There were not any long faces, not any lack of effort out there. It’s our job as coaches to put them in position to be successful. I liked the attitude of the kids, they came in here, weren’t intimidated, and came in and handled the situation well.”
Idaho State finishes its season by traveling to Big Sky Conference rival Weber State next week.
Freshman quarterback Sagan Gronauer, who split time with Struck in the previous two games, didn’t play. ... Fellow freshmen Jihad Brown (defensive back) and Matt West (tight end) were on the participation report. ... Idaho State’s offensive line didn’t allow a sack, while Darian Green, Kainoa Fuiava and Anthony Parker each had a sack for the Bengals. ... Linebacker Kody Graves got his second interception of the season, picking off a floated Wilson pass early in the fourth quarter. ... According to ISU Sports Information, the announced crowd of 57,379 at LaVell Edwards Stadium was the largest ISU has played in front of since 2013 (58,645, also at BYU). ... Phenicie praised BYU’s decision to kneel at the 1 with time winding down. “(BYU head coach Kalani Sitake) had every right to run the ball in, because it’s our job to stop them, and with 2 minutes and 9 seconds left, he took a knee on the 1 ... and I want to thank him, thank his staff,” Phenicie said. “It wasn’t a popular decision. I think I heard some noises up in the stands, but what people up in the stands don’t understand is what a class move that is by Kalani Sitake, and so I want to thank him.”