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BYU vs UCF Recap: Knights edge out Cougars in overtime

The BYU Cougars (4-2, 2-1 away) fell to the UCF Golden Knights (3-2, 2-0 home) 31-24 in overtime in Orlando on Thursday night.

Sione Takitaki comes away with a fumble after sacking UCF's Justin Holman.
Sione Takitaki comes away with a fumble after sacking UCF's Justin Holman.
David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

The BYU Cougars (4-2, 2-1 away) fell to the UCF Golden Knights (3-2, 2-0 home) 31-24 in overtime in Orlando on Thursday night. The Cougars made a valiant effort, overcoming a 10 point first quarter deficit with gutsy defense and persistence on offense. But their efforts came up just short on a 4th and three in overtime in the shadow of the UCF end zone. BYU looked to be in position to keep their drive, and by extension, the game, alive on 2nd and five after a quick completion to Juergens, but after an incompletion that only the quick thinking of right tackle De'Ondre Wesley prevented from being an interception, quarterback Christian Stewart was unable to find a crease on 3rd down and was stopped short, leading to the pivotal 4th down play. Stewart was hit by a furious pass rush as he threw and, while the defender appeared to hold Jordan Leslie on the play, the ball sailed over his head for an incompletion. Ball game.

While the term moral victory is not one that I like to use, Cougar fans can rest assured that the team definitely is in capable hands with Stewart, particularly after his underwhelming performance the previous Friday night. Stewart completed 22 of 37 passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns, while only throwing one interception on a miscommunication with Mitch Matthews in the end zone. While the yards don't jump off of the page, the fact that Stewart threw for three touchdowns, and three impressively located touchdowns at that, should have Cougar fans optimistic. He showed marked and massive improvement in only three days worth of practice with the first team. Stewart also finished second for the team in rushing with 52 yards on 13 carries, showing a good sense of when to take off with the football, and probably more reassuringly for Cougar fans, a good sense of when to slide when he'd picked up the first down to preserve himself.

The Cougar offense was without running back Jamaal Williams, who left the game after the first series with ankle injuries after only picking up one yard on his only carry of the game. In the beginning, Stewart was shaky, and BYU went the entire first quarter without a first down, only tallying four total yards of offense. In order to get into a rhythm, BYU decided to go big with its two fullbacks, Paul Lasike and Algernon Brown, combining for 131 yards on 28 carries, including several long runs on first and second down that extended drives, offering up redzone opportunities and touchdowns. Tight end Devin Mahina led the team in receptions with four for 46 yards and two touchdowns, while Colby Pearson added another three catches, including Stewart's third touchdown of the night.

BYU's defense had a much improved showing over Friday, despite giving up 326 yards and two touchdowns to UCF's Justin Holman; the defense was able to pick him off twice, with Skye Povey and Kai Nacua coming up big off of deflections. True freshman Sione Takitaki had a huge impact as well, providing the Cougars with the pass rush that they had been searching for this season with several key pressures, forcing a fumble on a sack, and providing the impetus for at least one of Holman's interceptions. After the Cougars gave up 10 points early in the first quarter, losing cornerback Jordan Johnson to an arm injury and Craig Bills to a concussion, the defense stiffened and held the Knights to under 100 yards the remainder of the first half, and forcing seven punts. The pressure of the BYU rush also resulted in two missed field goals, including one with five seconds remaining on the clock that resulted in overtime.  The Cougars experienced a rare loss while winning the turnover battle 4:2, while a relatively egalitarian time of possession of 28:06 to UCF's 31:50 had little effect on the outcome of the game.

All told, there are a lot of positives that came out of the loss on Thursday. Stewart showed that he's capable of cool and poised decision making under pressure. The Cougar defense showed the ability to overcome adversity and, while showing they have the depth to overcome major losses, to put their team in a position to win a game on the road, in a tough environment. The Cougars can definitely build off of the positives in this loss and move forward as they look to break their current two game skid against Nevada in Provo on October 18th.