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BYU football report card: Cougars dig deep to earn comeback win

Published: Friday, Sept. 23 2011 9:44 p.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars running back Bryan Kariya (33) dives for a touchdown against UCF in Provo  Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. BYU won 24-17. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars running back Bryan Kariya (33) dives for a touchdown against UCF in Provo Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. BYU won 24-17. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

A week removed from one of the most disappointing performances in BYU football history, the Cougars hardly looked like they were capable of bouncing back throughout the first half of their home contest with Central Florida.

But to their immense credit, BYU’s players found ways to get a victory. A host of guys in blue jerseys made plays in the second half, and the Cougars managed to erase a seven-point halftime deficit and ultimately emerge with a 24-17 win on Friday inside LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Here’s how BYU graded:

OFFENSE: BYU’s offense struggled and struggled and struggled some more during the first half on Friday — par for the 2011 BYU football course — before showing some signs of life in the second half. The credit for that goes to veteran running backs Bryan Kariya and JJ Di Luigi. They simply stood up and took ownership of the offense, making plays when BYU badly needed them. Both scored a touchdown and helped BYU capitalize when it had opportunities after halftime. On the negative side, BYU sophomore QB Jake Heaps continues to make lots of poor decisions and lots of poor throws. He was just 16 of 34 for 133 yards. He had no TDs and a costly INT in the first half. It didn’t help, it should be noted, that BYU’s wide receivers dropped lots of passes against Central Florida. GRADE: C.

Brigham Young Cougars running back Michael Alisa (42) celebrates his touchdown on a muffed punt against UCF in Provo  Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. The touchdown was disallowed. BYU won 24-17. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars running back Michael Alisa (42) celebrates his touchdown on a muffed punt against UCF in Provo Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. The touchdown was disallowed. BYU won 24-17. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

DEFENSE: BYU’s defensive performance was hardly perfect — its secondary gave up a bunch of big plays and the entire unit seemingly couldn’t tackle — but this side of the ball came up big when it was required. A bunch of BYU defenders made big plays — Uona Kaveinga, Kyle Van Noy and Joe Sampson, just to name a few — and did what they needed to ensure the Cougars didn’t lose their third consecutive game. Van Noy, in particular, continues to be a rising star. Against Central Florida, he tipped a pass that led to an interception and had a sack in the closing stages of the contest. GRADE: B.

SPECIAL TEAMS: BYU’s special teams players struggled mightily early on this season, but they were simply terrific against the Knights. Cody Hoffman returned a kickoff for a touchdown (the first BYU TD off a kickoff return in 13 years), Michael Alisa was Johnny-on-the-spot to recover a muffed punt return after a fantastic punt by Riley Stephenson and kicker Justin Sorensen boomed kickoff after kickoff into the endzone. GRADE: A.

Brigham Young Cougars running back Michael Alisa (42) is mobbed by teammates after scoring on a muffed punt in Provo  Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. The touchdown was disallowed. BYU won 24-17. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars running back Michael Alisa (42) is mobbed by teammates after scoring on a muffed punt in Provo Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. The touchdown was disallowed. BYU won 24-17. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

COACHING: BYU’s defensive coaches — on the evidence of tonight — haven’t done a good enough job of practicing tackling. BYU defenders, while consistently displaying fanatical effort, almost always put their heads down and left their feet when attempting to take down Central Florida players. The result was a whole bunch of broken tackles and big plays for the Knights. Going forward, BYU coaches must clean that up. On the plus side, brand-new offensive coordinator Brandon Doman enjoyed a much better second half. His decision to keep the ball on the ground proved to be very wise, and he had some nifty play calls along the way. GRADE: B.

OVERALL: The Cougars will be delighted to have gotten back on the winning track, and they should be. After such a disastrous performance last week — and after a disappointing first half — BYU’s players dug deep and pulled out a much-needed victory. GRADE: B.

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