PROVO — It’s a negative trend that BYU hopes will end quickly.
The Cougars know that they can’t afford to turn the ball over like they did against Middle Tennessee if they hope to beat Utah State Friday (6 p.m. MDT, CBSS).
BYU (2-2) had five turnovers against the Blue Raiders in its 37-10 victory last Friday at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Two of those turnovers — fumbles — occurred inside the 5-yard line, as the offense squandered prime scoring opportunities.
“We left, easily, 14 points on the field with the fumbles near the goal line,” said quarterback Taysom Hill, who coughed up the ball near the goal line. “That’s inexcusable. We have to clean that up. When we get into a close game, we can’t do that. That’s two weeks in a row that we’ve left a lot of points on the field from our red zone performance. That will be our focus going into Utah State.”
The Aggies (3-2) forced four San Jose State turnovers in a 40-12 victory last Friday.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said turnovers “can get in the way of our team having the kind of season, and progress, that I’d like to see.”
Overall, the Cougars fumbled the ball five times, losing four of them. Three of those fumbles came on punt returns by JD Falslev. Two were recovered by Middle Tennessee.
“Five fumbles, that’s unacceptable — especially when we’re inside the 5-yard line,” said wide receiver Ross Apo. “We should have scored like 60 points, but we kept fumbling on the goal line. We’ll clean that up. There’s a much higher level that we can play at than where we played at (last Friday).”
Those turnovers put the BYU defense in difficult positions, but the Cougars only surrendered seven points off turnovers.
“You can’t do anything about it. You have to forget about it,” Cougar safety Craig Bills said. “Sure, it’s frustrating, but we go out there and we need to buckle down. If we’re just mad about it, then it’s going to affect us in a negative way. We were positive and we knew we could stop them, and we did.”
Stopping Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton is expected to be a challenge for the Cougar defense.
Keeton completed 29 of 42 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns against San Jose State. He rushed 12 times for 52 yards and another TD.
“I’ve seen a couple of (Aggie) games on TV. He’s an incredible player,” defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna said of Keeton. “He’s very athletic, very fast and shifty. He’s going to be a tough quarterback to defend. But it’s all about the preparation coming into the week. This upcoming week is going to be fast. If we emphasize something on an opponent, usually we’ll execute the task. But he’s a very talented player.”
Meanwhile, the Cougars are trying to get healthy.
Running back Jamaal Williams, who missed the Middle Tennessee game, is dealing with a concussion suffered against Utah. Backup running back and kickoff return specialist Adam Hine sustained a concussion against Middle Tennessee. Earlier in the game, Hine returned a kickoff 90 yards, setting up BYU’s first touchdown.
Linebacker Tyler Beck suffered a “fairly severe” hamstring injury against Middle Tennessee, according to Mendenhall, and offensive lineman De’Ondre Wesley injured his shoulder. Offensive linemen Ryker Mathews (hip) and Brock Stringham (shoulder) did not play against Middle Tennessee due to injuries.
With Williams out, other running backs filled the void. Michael Alisa did lose one fumble, but he rushed 16 times for 55 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Algernon Brown picked up 68 yards on 11 carries.
“I was very impressed with Brown, how physical he ran, and how hard he ran and how tough he is,” Mendenhall said. “I really liked him. We certainly miss Jamaal. That’s clear — not only in the explosive nature of the runs, but the ball security part, because he holds on to it so well.”
BYU is looking to build on the momentum gained against Middle Tennessee.
“Overall, the whole team took a step forward, coming off that loss (to Utah),” Manumaleuna said. “It was a great turnaround. We’ve got another fast week coming up. We have to keep the focus, take the good from the game and learn from mistakes and move forward.”
BYU (2-2) at Utah State (3-2)
Friday, 6 p.m.
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company