DICKSON: Every game a struggle for BYU in 2021, you OK with that?
Why can’t this be easy?
BYU’s six victories in 2021 have been by a margin of 8.5 points, including Saturday’s 21-19 win on the Palouse against Washington State.
Winning is fun. Winning by a bunch is fun AND relaxing, which blue Cougar fans found out during the strange and wonderful 2020 season with a victory margin of 31.1 points per game.
Everything BYU has done this season has been a struggle.
In many ways, that good. You know, the old “iron sharpens iron” thing. Injuries have forced young players to learn by trial (and sometimes error) and that will pay off next year and when BYU joins the Big 12 Conference in 2023.
But Cougar fans have had enough character-building moments.
Their hearts can’t take any more close games.
On Saturday, the BYU defense gave up a long, time-consuming drive on Washington State’s opening possession but actually held the crimson Cougars down pretty well after that. The tackling left a lot to be desired but 19 points against a Pac-12 team is a pretty good defensive effort.
Just ask Utah, which gave up 42 in a loss to Oregon State on Saturday.
Check out BYU’s tackle leaders from Saturday’s game. On top is nickel back Jacob Boren, a walk-on, with five tackles. Boren also made a great play on Washington State’s two-point conversion attempt, staying home on the reverse and helping to make the tackle.
Freshman linebacker Ben Bywater, who wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the season, also had five tackles. Sophomore Morgan Pyper, mostly a special teams player this season, had four tackles.
There are four defensive backs and four defensive linemen out due to injury. You can criticize Ilaisa Tuiaki all you want, but he and the rest of the defensive coaches are keeping BYU competitive without a lot of their front line players.
Head coach Kalani Sitake hinted this week that the defensive rotation was going to be shortened up, and it was. In total, 16 players earned stats on defense. Last week against Baylor, that number was 24.
Sitake decided to go with a smaller core of defenders and that worked well enough for a win.
On offense, guard Joe Tukuafu finally made it back into the lineup but tackle Harris LaChance is still out and All-American center James Empey left Saturday’s game with an injury, replaced by freshman Connor Pay.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick had a tough time finding any rhythm in the first half but think about the challenge he’s facing. How difficult is it to call plays when you’re not sure what your patchwork offensive line is capable of?
In the second half, Roderick pointed running back Tyler Allgeier north and south (finally) and the big sophomore ended up with one of the best games of his career: 32 carries (a career-high) for 191 yards and two touchdowns.
Allgeier has earned several nicknames: Psycho T, T-Bone, the Punisher, the Sledgehammer. I’d vote for “The Closer” after is performance against Washington State. On BYU’s game-clinching drive, he carried the ball seven straight times for 53 yards and three first downs.
So, good news: The blue Cougars broke a two-game losing streak and a 6-2 record makes them bowl eligible. With Saturday’s win, BYU has four victories against Power Five schools for the first time in program history.
The fact is, the Cougars aren’t the kind of team that will produce many blowouts. Not against this schedule, anyway.
BYU fans will be a lot happier if they come to grips with that.
Up next is a friendly little grudge match with former coach Bronco Mendenhall and Virginia at LaVell Edwards Stadium next Saturday. The Cavaliers have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Brennan Armstrong, who is averaging more than 350 yards per game passing. Virginia held off Georgia Tech 48-40 on Saturday.
In all likelihood, the game will be close with BYU making as many good plays as bad ones. Cougar fans will complain, call for Tuiaki’s head and demand a change at quarterback.
In other words, business as usual in 2021.
Evan Cobb, Daily HeraldDarnell Dickson