BYU defense wilts in second half of loss to East Carolina

East Carolina's Davon Grayson (85) tries to get his feet down in bounds after catching a pass in front of BYU's Trevion Greene (12) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Greenville, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Greenville, N.C. • For the second time in three games, BYU’s defense forced a fumble on its opponent’s first possession Saturday night at East Carolina and its offense turned the takeaway into a touchdown.

But the final result was the same.

Boise State pounded the Cougars 24-7 two weeks ago after giving up an early touchdown, and the Pirates also rolled after the early miscue, taking a 33-17 win at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

“It’s frustrating,” said BYU safety Zayne Anderson, who forced the fumble after Quay Johnson’s 13-yard reception.

Six plays later, Tanner Mangum threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Micah Simon, and it appeared the Cougars were going to have their way with the country’s 129th-ranked defense.

Instead, East Carolina chipped away at BYU’s bend-but-don’t-break defense until the Cougars softened in the fourth quarter and the floodgates opened.

After an early touchdown — Anderson forced a fumble on the play that set up the score, too, but a replay showed ECU’s receiver had stepped out of bounds before the drop — the Pirates’ Jake Verity tied a school record with four field goals to give East Carolina a 19-10 lead.

BYU’s defense broke in the fourth quarter, though, as backup quarterback Gardner Minshew threw touchdown passes to Trevon Brown and Johnson to put the game away.

“There are 33 points up there, and that’s unacceptable,” Anderson said when asked how the defense played overall. “It is what it is. I feel like we are a better defense than that.”

The Cougars were dinged when starting cornerback Troy Warner suffered a foot injury in the first quarter and left the game for good. He watched the entire second half in street clothes with his foot in a protective boot.

East Carolina finished with 413 yards, but 136 of those came in the third quarter when the Pirates started dominating the line of scrimmage. Minshew, who replaced injured starter Thomas Sirk, was 6 of 9 for 121 yards and two TDs.

“Defensively we were stretching a little bit to create turnovers and create plays and they made some good plays,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake, referencing Brown’s one-handed catch in the end zone.

Anderson said the Cougars needed to “take advantage” of a backup QB in the game, but the replacement carved them up with ease.

Fred Warner led the Cougars with 11 tackles, while Anderson had nine and Butch Pau’u and Adam Pulsipher seven each. Pulsipher recovered the fumble that Anderson caused.