PROVO — Throw out an anemic first quarter effort and the BYU football team performed decently versus inferior FCS competition on Saturday. The result was a 30-3 win over McNeese State, which perhaps left most observers with mixed feelings regarding what they saw on both sides of the football.
The first-quarter performance was just short of awful, particularly when considering the competition, but credit to the team for putting together a second quarter where it outscored the Cowboys 24-0.
"Obviously there are some things we can fix to get better, but I think I will say that after every game," said BYU coach Kalani Sitake at the outset of his postgame comments to the media. "I thought it was good to celebrate the win and get to the next game."
That next game is against No. 10 Washington on the road, a game where the Cougars can ill-afford to come out as flat as they did Saturday. Grades are in for every position group for how they performed overall during the win.
The offensive brain trust tried to be creative from the outset, calling for big plays and several misdirection attempts to perhaps jump out on the Cowboys early. Almost none of the offensive play-calling worked, however, evidenced by a paltry 25 yards of total offense and no points for the first quarter.
Particularly inefficient was the Cougar passing attack, which produced 19 of the yards in the first quarter, but just 130 yards for the game.
"It needs to improve," Sitake said of the passing attack. "We need to throw better and be more efficient."
The offense got back to its basics in the second quarter, using a straight-forward attack while increasing the tempo. The Cougars have proved their best when relying on the offensive front to get a good push, and did as much in a quarter that produced 24 points and 112 yards of total offense.
The second half saw the Cougars maintain possession for just over six minutes and drive the ball 70 yards, but a dropped pass by running back Squally Canada on third-and-goal made the team settle for a field goal.
Dropped passes continued to prove a problem on Saturday, hampering quarterback Tanner Mangum's ability to get much of anything going in the passing game, although the senior quarterback certainly has some of the blame to shoulder.
Much like the offense, the Cougar defense struggled initially but rebounded to allow just three points and make enough plays to boost the offensive performance, which was well-noted by everyone during postgame interviews.
Particular notice for the defensive performance goes to several backups, who filled in for injured starters, most notably safety Tanner Jacobson, along with linebackers Riggs Powell and Adam Pulsipher. All three players made big impacts during the win, with Jacobson providing a key interception, along with fellow backup Rhett Sandlin.
Overall, the Cougars allowed just 207 yards of offense and held the Cowboys out of the end zone despite allowing two long drives in the first quarter. A big plus for the defense was again its ability to limit big-play opportunities down the field, with cornerbacks Michael Shelton and Chris Wilcox proving adept in coverage and in run support.
Save for a fumble by punt returner Michael Shelton, which was nullified by a McNeese State penalty, the Cougar special teams were relatively flawless and made the big play that turned the momentum BYU's way. Corbin Kaufusi blocking a field goal attempt completely turned things the Cougars' way for the remainder of the game, with Troy Warner putting on a nice return to help set up BYU's first touchdown.
Skyler Southam again stood out with three field goals made, including one from 47 yards. The kick and punt coverages were on point, and Michael Shelton atoned for his muffed punt with a 21-yard return.
The Cougars' punt game was good, with Danny Jones showing well on his first two points of his career. Rhett Almond averaged 45.5 yards per punt.
Once again the Cougars won the special teams battle, and aspect of any football game that often go underrated.19 comments on this story
It was largely an underwhelming performance overall by the Cougars, but not an entirely disappointing one. The team was never threatened after the second half and coaches were able to unload the bench on both sides of the ball, which is what you want when playing an FCS program.
The offense will have to prove better going forward, particularly in the passing game, should it hope to upend Washington on the road, along with other tough opponents, such as Utah and Boise State.