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BYU tries to stay positive after struggling to win season opener

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Neil Pau'u (84) celebrates his touchdown with Brigham Young Cougars tight end Matt Bushman (89) and Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Inoke Lotulelei (83) during the game at LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday, August 26, 2017.

BYU 20, Portland State 6 at a glance<br>• The Cougars win their fourth straight season opener.<br>• Tanner Mangum completes 16 of 27 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown.<br>• Senior captain Fred Warner records 10 tackles and junior Sione Takitaki has two sacks and three tackles for loss.

Provo • Well, that was underwhelming on a day in which the only entity doing any of the expected overwhelming was the heat.

It was such an unimpressive opening-game performance for heavily favored BYU that coach Kalani Sitake had to remind his players in the locker room after that they won.

It wasn’t easy, though, and it was not even close to being pretty.

In temperatures that soared to 95 degrees, the Cougars held off Portland State 20-6 in front of 55,427 sun-drenched and unsatisfied fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Neil Pau'u (84) celebrates his touchdown with Brigham Young Cougars tight end Matt Bushman (89) and Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Inoke Lotulelei (83) during the game at LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday, August 26, 2017.

Sitake said he’s not worried, but he might be in the minority as the Cougars turn their attention to LSU, Utah and Wisconsin in the next three weeks. Defensive coordinators at those three Power Five schools have to be licking their chops right now. The Cougars were that punchless against a lower-division foe that won three games last year.

“Obviously, I wish we should have played differently and not made so many mistakes, but I know what our coaches are capable of and I know what our players are capable of,” Sitake said. “If we had played our best game and the same result would have happened, I would have been grateful for the win, but I would have been a little nervous about how good we are.”

BYU’s defense played relatively well, except for a 17-play, 87-yard drive to the Vikings in the second quarter that took 5:57 off the clock and changed the tone of the game. Portland State converted on fourth down twice and capped it with a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jalani Eason to Darnell Adams.

“Defensively, we played pretty well,” senior linebacker Fred Warner said. “But not getting off the field on third and fourth down, that’s something we are going to clean up.”

Portland State ran 13 more plays than BYU, but was out-gained 365-220.

It was clearly the offense’s shortcomings that enabled PSU to keep it close. Portland State had possession twice in the third quarter of a one-score game, 14-6, but BYU’s defense held.

While Sitake fell on the familiar mantra that teams improve the most from Week 1 to Week 2 and too much can be read into BYU’s poor performance, Portland State coach Bruce Barnum took the opposite approach.

“Last year I could have told you that we were going to struggle after the first football game,” Barnum said. “Right now, we are going to win some games this year. I have a pretty good football team.”

The jury is out on BYU — at least against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents.

Quarterback Tanner Mangum started slowly, then settled in a bit and led two touchdown drives that put the Cougars ahead 14-0. But after PSU’s touchdown drive, when the offense really needed to make a statement with 1:49 remaining until halftime, Mangum fumbled for a 3-yard loss and was short on a throw to Talon Shumway that was ruled complete, reviewed, then ruled incomplete.

Mangum finished 16 of 27 for 191 yards and a touchdown — a 28-yarder to freshman Neil Pau’u late in the first quarter.

“Definitely not our best performance — a little sloppy,” Mangum said. “But there were some flashes there, some sparks there. … I am not going to worry. I am not going to panic. It’s Game 1 and we are 1-0.”

Penalties, including two chop-block violations and a holding penalty on a receiver, thwarted BYU drives as much as Portland State’s defense. An illegal formation penalty negated a touchdown run by Kavika Fonua, and a hold called on Jonah Trinnaman away from the play brought back a long Fonua run.

“The main thing from this game was just the mental breakdowns and the mistakes,” Sitake said. “We can fix those. I don’t think it was anything having to do with ability or talent. … I am not going to over-think it. We just made some stupid mistakes and we will enjoy the win … A lot of improvement happens from Week 1 to Week 2 and I am really looking forward to that being true.”

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