Statesboro, Ga. • Trailing 17-14 in a hostile road environment with everything from emotions to food flying around, No. 14 ranked BYU needed a response.
The Cougars got it from the offensive stars who have carried the team all season.
Running back Tyler Allgeier moved into a tie for the national lead in rushing touchdowns with his 18th of the season, quarterback Jaren Hall eclipsed 2,000 passing yards for the season with 312 for the game, leading receiver Puka Nacua caught a pair of touchdowns and the Cougars pulled away from Georgia Southern in a 34-17 at Allen E. Paulson Stadium.
“The first half I don’t think we played our style of football. I think we had to kind of regain our composure,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “There was a lot of stuff going on. We were getting hit by burritos on the sideline; it was pretty hostile. I’m just really proud of the way the guys bounced back and made some adjustments.”
Some of the first half ebbs and flows were a result of some learning on the job from the Cougars. Georgia Southern (3-8) was forced to use its third-string quarterback Connor Cigelske for the first action of his college career, and the redshirt freshman caused BYU (9-2) problems throughout the first half.
“We had never seen that quarterback before,” Sitake said. “There’s not a lot of film on him and we just learned about him on the field right before the game, so there’s not much to go off of. He threw the ball a little bit better than we expected.”
But for whatever answers BYU failed to come up with against, the offense responded in a back-and-forth first half.
The Cougars drove a combined 159 yards on their first two touchdown drives, racing out to a 14-3 lead in front of a crowd packed to the brim and filled with blue-clad traveling fans. But just as the game was inching away from the Eagles, they turned it around just before it fell out of hand.
A critical third-and-6 completion from Cigelski to Khaleb Hood extended a Georgia Southern drive that resulted in a touchdown, and less than four minutes later the home team took the lead after it cashed in a fourth-and-2 stop into a touchdown. Senior day in Statesboro quickly turned into a party atmosphere, and it even spilled over from the Georgia Southern students sitting directly behind the BYU bench.
“Kalani said he got hit by a burrito but I didn’t see anything,” BYU defensive back Jakob Robinson said. “I was just sitting on the bench.”
The burritos were a fitting piece of foreshadowing for the way BYU wrapped up the game in the second half. The Cougars outgained the Eagles 224-93 in the second half, holding the ball for over 20 of the 30 minutes and winning 14-0 on the scoreboard.
Allgeier tied Louisville’s Malik Cunningham for the NCAA lead in rushing touchdowns with his 18th of the season early in the second half, and it was just the start of his big half. Allgeier concluded the game with 18 carries for 92 yards in the second half, bringing his total for the game to 136 rushing yards.
“Mr. Allgeier does it again,” Puka Nacua said. “I think we got the ball with eight minutes left and we finished off the game; it’s been like that almost every game this season. When we get the ball in the fourth quarter it’s hard to bring down that guy, and our O-line, it’s like they get stronger in the fourth quarter. I love seeing that. As much as I love catching the deep ones, it’s always fun to see Tyler carry seven dudes for eight yards every time.”
Nacua did get his opportunity to catch a deep one before the game ended. After briefly exiting the game with an injury, he returned in the second half and caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Hall to all but ice the game in the final frame.
“He’s a stud man,” Hall said. “He plays out, balls out in the first half, gets injured, and then he comes right back in.”
Up next for the Cougars will be the regular-season finale at USC, a big opportunity for both the program as a whole and a roster with over a dozen California natives.
“They’re going to play with a lot of emotion and they have tons of athletic ability and speed,” Sitake said. “We have to be on top of it. I’m looking forward to our guys relishing the moment and playing a lot better, and getting better from what we learned this week.”