In James Lark’s first career start as a BYU quarterback, the offense came alive, producing a whopping 520 yards and converting 9-of-16 third downs. The performance by Lark will indeed continue to raise the question of whether or not it was wise to start an injured Riley Nelson over Lark in previous games.
Lark is the 10th BYU quarterback to throw for six touchdowns in a game. His six-touchdown performance ranks alongside past BYU quarterback greats such as Gary Sheide, Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Steve Sarkisian and Max Hall. His halftime efficiency rating of 185.4 and an incredible 172.1 by the end of the contest, with zero turnovers, was one of the best unseen performances in a long time. Lark hit seven different receivers in stride, down the field and after going through his read progressions. Lark’s performance will raise further questions concerning the management of the quarterback situation and will forever live within the minds of Cougar fans as what might have been. Sure, some will argue Lark’s performance came at the expense of a weak New Mexico State defense. It’s hard to imagine what Lark could have done if he had been given the opportunity to develop among the first-team unit over the past few years.
Wide receivers: A
Cody Hoffman lit up the field with 12 receptions for 182 total yards and five touchdowns. His chemistry with Lark produced a tie for BYU’s single-game touchdown record, placing him among BYU greats such as Luke Staley, Ronnie Jenkins and Eric Lane. Hoffman was the recipient of passes that covered almost every aspect of the field, and he made the most of it. Along with Hoffman, Ross Apo, J.D. Falslev (nine receptions for 68 yards), and Skyler Ridley (five receptions for 46 yards) turned in a very productive day. A number of different receivers caught passes on the day, making the Cougar wide receiver group virtually unstoppable.
Tight ends: B
The tight end position seemed to awaken against New Mexico State, as they were targeted often with success. Kaneakua Friel made some nice catches in traffic and, if he hadn’t slowed down, could possibly have had a touchdown. Mahina also got into the action by catching passes downfield, keeping drives alive.
Running backs: B+
It would have been expected that the ground game would have really opened up even more against New Mexico State, especially since the passing game was on fire. However, the ground game wasn’t quite on par with expectations. Williams again ran hard as always and cashed in 62 yards on 19 carries for the day. His average of 3.3 yards per carry was underwhelming, and most of that was due to the fact that the New Mexico State defense was keying in on him. Foote turned in a very good performance of 52 yards on four carries, spelling Williams when the game was out of reach.
Offensive line: B-
The Cougar offensive line should have dominated the Aggie front in both aspects of the game. However, the domination by BYU’s line only came in the passing game, where they were able to pick up blitzes and check-block effectively to allow Lark to pass the ball all day long. Where the line struggled, once again, was in the run game. The Cougars couldn’t get a push or clean gaps for the running backs to flow. This has been an issue all season long.
The defense came out a bit slow and uninspired. After the Aggies scored first against the Cougar defense, and the BYU offense sparked some enthusiasm into the overall team, the defense finally rose up to the occasion, holding NMSU to only one other score and a total of 187 yards of offense.
Defensive line: A
The defensive front held NMSU to only 29 total yards of rushing and was, once again, stout up front. In key situations the front of Ezekiel Ansah, Romney Fuga and Russell Tialavea played their run gaps perfectly. In the end the Aggies were very one-dimensional with no ground game to rely on. That’s when the Cougars got aggressive and the sacks began to pile up from the linebackers.
Led by Kyle Van Noy, the linebacker group got on a roll. Van Noy was a monster from the outside and was simply unstoppable. His explosiveness on the outside led to three sacks, bringing his season total to 11.5 sacks. The middle of the linebacker corps struggled a bit early on in the passing game, but was able to rise up in the end.
Aggie quarterback Andrew Manley completed 13-of-24 passes for only 158 total yards of offense and two touchdowns. The secondary was good for the most part, and most of the yardage came from big plays. Much of the Aggie offense came on a 67-yard pass that led to a touchdown.
Special Teams: B
The punting and kicking game was once again very good under Riley Stephenson. He continues to place well-kicked balls that back up BYU opponents against the end zone. For punt returns, Falslev had a very good performance due to very good blocking by his teammates. The only negative in special teams came by way of Justin Sorensen missing two extra points and a field goal. Sorensen’s miss on his first extra point attempt ended a long streak of consecutive makes.