Jenni Carlson: Another college football stadium might have a setting as good as the home of BYU football, but it’s hard to imagine any being better.
PROVO, Utah — First things first: LaVell Edwards Stadium is the best setting in college football.
Oh, I guess I haven’t been to every college football stadium in America. One might be as good as the home of BYU football, but after being there for OU’s game Saturday, it’s hard to imagine any setting being better.
The Wasatch Mountains to the east of the stadium rise above it, and man, they are quite a sight. I’m guessing the view is not nearly as good for people sitting on the east side of the stadium, but for everyone else on the west and in the end zones, it’s hard not to lift your eyes to the hills.
And it’s not just the mountains, though a few of them were even snow-capped on Saturday.
The buildings and houses on the mountain look like they could just as easily be in the Swiss Alps. They are quaint. Plus, they are set right now among trees that are still brilliant with fall colors.
It is truly a stunning setting.
It’s even a bit distracting.
“I’m literally playing the game, and I’m looking at the mountains,” said Sooner receiver Jayden Gibson, who kept his focus long enough to have two catches for 82 yards and one touchdown. “The whole game I’m thinking, ‘I’m literally playing in the mountains right now. That’s so cool.’”
About the only thing that could’ve been better is if there would have been a little less cloud cover. It was overcast and rainy throughout the game, and that obscured the view.
Still, the setting for LaVell Edwards Stadium stands as the best of the best on Saturday.
Here’s the rest of the best and worst from OU’s 31-24 victory:
Best offensive player: Another big day from Gavin Sawchuk. He scored the game-winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and it was no easy score. He ran the ball in from 16 yards out, but along the way he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage, then broke another one a few yards up field, then took contact at the goal line. The Sooner tailback muscled through all of it. The touchdown was the highlight of his 107-yard performance, his third consecutive game with more than a hundred yards rushing.
Best defensive player: It’s hard to go against Billy Bowman, who had a game-changing pick-six as well as eight tackles. But Danny Stutsman was playing hurt. More accurately, he was playing after a bad bout of food poisoning. He said after the game he didn’t keep much down Friday or Saturday, but still, he had a team-high 10 tackles that included two tackles for loss and one sack. He also forced a fumble that was recovered by Jacob Lacey and led to OU’s game-winning touchdown.
Best play: You can watch a lot of football games and not see a 100-yard interception return. But Billy Bowman had one Saturday. And it was a huge play. BYU had first-and-goal from OU’s 2-yard line, and after a bunch of chunk running plays, the Cougars looked poised to score. Instead, they threw the ball on first down, Bowman stepped in front of the intended receiver, then he was off to the races. BYU quarterback Jake Retzlaff caught up to Bowman around the 5-yard line but was only able to clip Bowman’s feet. The OU cornerback dove into the end zone for the score. It gave the Sooners the lead and was a huge momentum shifter.
Gallery: OU’s victory over BYU in pictures
Worst play: It’s gotta be the play on which we think Dillon Gabriel got hurt. We don’t know exactly because Sooner coach Brent Venables didn’t even offer the nature of Gabriel’s injury, only terming it an “upper-body injury,” but it sure looked like Gabriel’s head bounced off the turf on his scramble on second-and-goal from the 5 late in the first half. It was shades of the last time OU and BYU played in 2009; Sooner quarterback Sam Bradford injured his AC joint and never returned to full strength.
Best under-the-radar play: OU punter Luke Elzinga had a likely touchdown-saving tackle late in the first quarter. After he and the Sooners had a successful fake punt called back because of an offensive-pass-interference penalty, Elzinga had a nice 55-yard punt. But his coverage team failed to contain BYU return man Parker Kingston. Elzinga brought him down on the Sooner half of the field, and while the Cougars had good field position, they didn’t have a score.
Worst under-the-radar play: On OU’s first drive of the second half — and its first with Jackson Arnold taking over for an injured Dillon Gabriel — the Sooners had a chance to get out of the shadow of their own end zone. Arnold had a big third-down run that would’ve gotten a first down and moved OU to near the 30-yard line. But an illegal-block penalty on Austin Stogner negated the play, and after another third-down try came up short, the Sooners had to punt. Getting that first down would’ve been a huge boost to Arnold and the offense.
Best stat: The Sooners committed no turnovers. Zero. A week after turning the ball over once, they kept a clean sheet in terms of turnovers. It’s a huge turnaround from the losses at Kansas and Oklahoma State when OU had three turnovers in each game.
Worst stat: We won’t have an official missed-tackles count until later — Pro Football Focus provides one after grading games — but it felt like the Sooners had a bunch. Too many, that’s for sure. The Cougars blocked well in the run game, but missed Sooners tackles helped the Cougars run for a season-high 217 yards. It was only the fourth time this season that BYU rushed for more than 100 yards and its first time over 200.
Best reason to feel good about OU: The run game continues to pick up steam. Now, that momentum might slow next week if Dillon Gabriel isn’t available. Jackson Arnold may be a great quarterback some day, but right now, he’s a true freshman who isn’t as polished or capable as Gabriel. Not having Gabriel leading the passing attack could hamper the room that the running game has to operate. Still, Gavin Sawchuk continues to run strong.
Best in-game feature: Ice cream for the visitors! BYU’s hospitality is second to none, and sure enough, OU fans were treated to free ice cream during the game. Yes, it was a bit chilly for ice cream — 42 degrees at kickoff — but who can turn down something that delicious?
Best talk: “I would feel really good after I threw up. Last night, I had chicken broth or something. Had like three bites of that, maybe a half of a Hawaiian roll. Didn’t stay down too long.” — Danny Stutsman, OU linebacker who played after a bout with food poisoning.