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BYU in review: Cougars recover from slow first half to put together season-defining win over Boise State

Boise State quarterback Cade Fennegan (8) looks for a receiver as the BYU defense closes in during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)

Boise, Idaho • On paper, No. 9 BYU’s dominating 51-17 victory over No. 21 Boise State at Albertsons Stadium looks like it the game was over from the moment it started. But that wasn’t necessarily the case.

BYU had a quite a few hiccups that prevented the Cougars from pulling away drastically early. In the first half, after scoring on its first drive, BYU had to settle for a field goal on the ensuing drive and then was forced to punt and turn it over on downs. The Cougars later added another score, but poor clock management and miscommunication during a lineup prevented them from scoring at the end of the half. BYU took off to the locker rooms with only a 16-3 lead, leaving it open for Boise State to mount a comeback in the second half.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake said the players were frustrated with their performance because the first half wasn’t their best, but he didn’t have to talk to them much over halftime. In fact, when he walked into the locker room, the players were already talking — leaders were speaking up.

“It was a good moment for me to take a step back and let the players and leaders work with each other,” Sitake said. “I went and talked to the coaches to talk about things we could fo and adjustments we could make on offense, defense and special teams before going out and challenging the players.”

When the Cougars took the field for the second half, they had a newfound focus. And it was evident in their performance.

BYU went on to score touchdowns on the first five drives of the second half and started putting the game away like it has done in the majority of games this season. The Broncos scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, but the Cougars had put the game too far out of reach by then.

The Cougars went into Friday’s matchup looking to get its first win against a ranked opponent this season, but walked away with a much more decisive victory than was expected. The win should continue boosting BYU’s resume as the Cougars look to earn a NY6 bowl bid and maybe even crash the College Football Playoffs.

“It was a team effort and I think we did a great job of coming out and not letting off the gas,” junior wide receiver Neil Pau’u said. “Although we were up at half, we wanted to do more. We knew that we could, so that was our mindset at halftime. So, when we started the second half, we continued to keep our foot on the gas. I am happy we came out and everyone knew what we were supposed to do. We knew we could do it and I am glad we were able to do it.”

Three takeaways

• One of the Cougars' biggest struggles came on third-down conversions; BYU was 2 of 8 on third-and-outs. The Cougars fared better on fourth downs, converting 2 of 3 attempts. The lone fourth down the Cougars were unable to convert came by a simple mistake. While staying in the pocket and looking for an open receiver, Wilson moved over to the left as pressure started building, but tripped over Clark Barrington feet. Luckily, Wilson was able to keep the football secure.

• While BYU struggled a year ago to score when in the red zone, the Cougars scored on all six times they made it within the 20. Meanwhile, the Broncos never managed to get in the red zone. Both Boise State touchdowns came on long plays.

Pau’u believes BYU’s success in the red zone comes from the level of maturity on the team.

“We are able to play more formations and change it up,” Pau’u said. “I think it’s just maturity and we understand that when we get down there, we need to be more consistent that we are when we aren’t in the red zone.”

• Sophomore kicker Jake Oldroyd couldn’t stay perfect forever. Prior to Friday, Oldroyd had nailed every PAT and field goal attempt. At Boise State, the sophomore made his 47-yard field goal attempt, but went 4 of 6 on his PATs — one was blocked, while the second was missed. Fortunately for BYU, the Cougars had already established a strong lead, so the missed points didn’t hurt the team.

Player of the game

Zach Wilson, junior, quarterback.

No surprise here, BYU’s starting quarterback put up another dominating performance. This time around, Wilson threw for 359 yards and two touchdowns while completing nearly 78% of his passes. The junior also added a rushing score.

Honorable mention:

Khyiris Tonga, senior, defensive lineman.

The Outland Trophy candidate was key in disrupting the Broncos' offense, which only managed to put up 3 points in the first half. Tonga finished with four tackles, combined for a sack, forced a fumble and blocked a punt.

Play of the game

In just the second play of the Cougars' first drive of the game, Tyler Allgeier broke an ankle touch and then sped away for a 86-yard rushing touchdown. It was a quick jab at the Broncos to start the game and establish dominance early on.

Ultimately, Allgeier finished with 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. The sophomore was key in establishing the Cougars' running game. Of BYU’s 573 total yards, 214 yards came on the ground.

“The run game always helps,” Wilson said. “That was a huge key in this game, was able to establish that run game. The big boys up front did a great job — we were making them have to respect it.”

Up next

After seven weeks of consecutive games, BYU will take a slight break with a bye week. Then, the Cougars will get right back into action as they prepare to host North Alabama, of the Big South Conference, Nov. 21.

The Lions (0-2) were set to take on Southern Miss (1-5) Saturday. North Alabama moved from Division II to the FCS in 2018.

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