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DICKSON: Cougars with another flat performance vs. MWC team

By Darnell Dickson - | Sep 30, 2022

Courtesy BYU Photo

A BYU football player poses with the Old Wagon Wheel, which is awarded to the victor in the series with Utah State.

The Old Wagon Wheel will stay in Provo for the foreseeable future since BYU and Utah State aren’t scheduled to play anytime soon.

That’s probably not enough to satisfy anyone who follows Cougar football.

The word “uninspired” was invented for football games like the one BYU won on Thursday. From the game plan to the play calling to the execution to the water boy, nothing looked clean or especially intentional.

For a team supposedly in the top 20 facing a team that was 1-3 with a loss to an FCS program (Weber State), it was a weird and unfulfilling Thursday night.

Yes, the Cougars beat the Aggies 38-26 as USU scored a meaningless touchdown against the BYU backups late in the fourth quarter. And as we hear so often from coaches and players, it’s hard to win in college football. Nothing should be taken for granted.

However …

Last year, BYU fans crowed about being the unofficial champion of the Pac-12 by going 5-0 against Arizona, Utah, Arizona State, Washington State and USC.

This season, the Cougars have less-than-dominating wins against Mountain West Conference teams Wyoming and Utah State in the past two weeks.

You don’t hear anyone bragging about that.

Thursday’s effort was disjointed and undisciplined. It was BYU’s second straight game with 10 or more penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct for throwing a shoe and numerous false starts on offense.

The Cougars were 4 of 12 on third down and 0-1 on fourth down. Jaren Hall was still good but not as sharp as the previous week, mainly because Utah State was able to get some pressure on him. BYU had minus-21 yards rushing in the first half (woof).

The offense seemed to have no identity early in the game, then found a nice stride in the third quarter to take the lead. In the fourth quarter, the Cougars failed to score on three drives inside the Aggies 25-yard line on three strangely conservative and poorly executed play calls.

  • On third-and-14 from the USU 16, Hall couldn’t connect on a short pass to Cody Epps and Jake Oldroyd missed a 33-yard field goal.
  • On fourth-and-3 from the USU 25, Hall threw a wide receiver screen to Gunner Romney who was dropped a yard short of the first down.
  • On third-and-8 from the USU 18, Hall was blitzed and couldn’t find Ethan Erickson on yet another short pass. Oldroyd shanked his second field goal, his fifth miss in his past six tries.

It was brutal.

At one point in the first half, Utah State had outgained BYU 200 yards to 56 yards … yet trailed 14-7 because of Max Tooley’s pick six.

The Cougars found a bit of a running game in the second half with Chris Brooks, who carried 10 times for 90 yards after halftime. Instead of the zone blocking scheme — which sends the offensive line and the running back parallel to the line of scrimmage looking for a cutback lane — BYU ran Brooks straight ahead. He’s much, much better doing that and punished the Aggies with his size and speed.

As for the defense, yet another opponent lined up and ran right at the Cougars with great success, especially early. In the post-game, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake expressed surprise that the Aggies would go away from their up-tempo, quick passing game and run the ball.

I’m sure after watching film of BYU’s games against Baylor, Oregon and Wyoming the Utah State coaches were eager to exploit the Cougars weak run defense.

You can bet Notre Dame and Arkansas will follow suit until BYU shows the ability to stop the run.

If you want some positives from the Utah State game, fine. The Cougars caused three turnovers. Brooks and Epps were offensive stars and Romney looked solid in his return.

The fireworks over the south video scoreboard at the end of the game were pretty cool, too.

But there are far, far too many negatives emerging from this team right now. Utah State ran for 206 yards and the game was tied at 17 in the third quarter. Coach Gary Anderson called it the Aggies best game of the year.

It’s a shame BYU couldn’t say the same.

The Cougars are 4-1 but even they would agree there are many, many ways they need to improve. Sitake said he was focusing on correcting the “low-handing fruit” with a few extra days to prepare for Notre Dame. Tooley said he thinks the team will starting clicking next week in Las Vegas.

I’m pretty sure you won’t find much of Cougar Nation that would agree with them right now.

BYU fans have a few extra days to mull over these facts: The overtime win against No. 9 Baylor in Week 2 is looking more and more like an anomaly and next year’s move to the Big 12 is looking more daunting by the game.

The next two weeks are going to be an enormous challenge for the Cougars.

Are they up for it?

Recent performances are less than encouraging.

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