PROVO — Micah Simon knew he had to make a play.
Time was running out, and BYU was about a minute away from dropping to 0-2, down 16-13 at Tennessee, with more than 100,000 rabid fans breathing down on them Saturday night.
A loss would be disastrous for many reasons — not the least of which would be in relation to the rest of the month, which still features USC and Washington at home before the end of September.
So Simon did something about it. And while his name won’t appear in the final game box with "touchdown" next to it, Simon’s role was just as big as Ty’Son Williams', his roommate who ran for 92 yards and two scores in BYU's 29-26 double-overtime win at Neyland Stadium.
“Micah’s my roommate, so we are going to have a lot of stories to talk about the next couple of days,” Williams told BYU Radio. “The odds were stacked against us, but he made the play.”
"The play" came when the senior receiver who finished with a career-high seven catches for 127 yards — but the highlight was a 64-yarder in the final minute. That’s when the Texas native tiptoed past the boundary cornerback, cut inside and caught a 64-yard gain from Zach Wilson that took the Cougars down to the red zone to set up Jake Oldroyd’s field goal to force overtime.
The rest was history.
“I didn’t have to really prove anything to anyone. This is a team game, a team effort,” said Simon, who was outside the starting lineup before kickoff. “All of the guys who traveled are a part of this win, and even the guys back in Provo. This is a complete program win, and we couldn’t do it without any of these guys.”
Here are three takeaways from the Cougars’ come-from-behind win in SEC country.
The Cougars weren’t without their big-play moments, such as with a flea-flicker by Wilson to Gunner Romney or a fourth-down stop by Payton Wilgar in the second quarter.
But those moments were few — and almost always immediately followed by drive-killers. After Wilgar’s stop, giving the Cougars the ball on the 19-yard line, BYU was immediately flagged for a false start penalty. That set up a sack on the same series, and the Cougars punted away.
The worst case of “foot-meet-bullet” syndrome came in the fourth quarter, after Oldroyd had pulled the Cougars within three, 16-13.
BYU forced a stop on fourth down; credit Isaiah Kaufusi for a remarkable tackle at the BYU30. But the Cougars’ offense stalled — again. Just three plays later — two incompletions and an 8-yard rush by Williams — Oldroyd was back on the field, punting back to the Vols.
For every step forward, the Cougars seemed to take another bigger step back.
But in that final drive onward — from Simon’s catch, to Oldroyd’s boot, to touchdowns to Talon Shumway and Williams in the extra sessions — something changed.
“I think it got a little quiet for him, to be honest with you,” Sitake said of Wilson in the final stages. “I think he was able to settle down a bit, and he seemed to be a little more poised and under control.
“He trusted the O-line to block for him. It’s hard when they are coming at you.”
Juice repays Grimey
Feed Williams. Run the ball. Give the man the rock.
Whatever it was, Williams was ready to run in the second half — and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes was happy to oblige.
In two games, Williams — the South Carolina transfer whose career began at North Carolina — has run for 137 yards on 24 attempts, an average of 5.7 yards per carry. It’s a small sample size, but if anyone has earned the starting spot to which he ascended after joining the team late as a graduate transfer, it’s the back his teammates call “Juice.”
His roommate agrees.
“I love Ty’Son. I hosted him on his visit here, and when he committed in the summer,” Simon said. “It worked out perfectly that all my other friends were getting married, and I need a roommate. It’s been great to have him on our team, and he’s really made a difference.”
Wherefore art thou, offense?
Critics will point to the final numbers as reason why the Cougars didn't "deserve" to win Saturday night. Tennessee out-gained BYU with 418 yards to 339. Jarrett Guarantano threw for 176 yards and two touchdowns, with just one interception, to Wilson’s 232 yards and a score on virtually the same QB rating.
Of course, BYU pulled it out, by Vol mistakes or Cougar grit, in time to even its record before welcoming the Trojans to LaVell Edwards Stadium. And by the end of the game, BYU was averaging 5.7 yards per play to edge out Tennessee’s 5.4 — not to mention, a 12.2 yards per catch to 10.4 for the Vols.
Late to the party, Grimes’ offense finally delivered.
“I wish we could’ve just figured it out earlier. We had a lot of stalled drives … but a win’s a win. I’m happy we got that done,” Wilson said. “I think it’s huge that we were able to bounce back, fight through adversity. A lot of guys weren’t going to quit.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly listed the score as 29-23, instead of 29-26. This has been corrected.