On Friday, for the second week in a row, the BYU Cougars football team faced off against a high scoring team from the American Athletic Conference. The similarities didn't end there. The Cincinnati Bearcats, much like East Carolina last week, runs a fast paced offense and are highly efficient on third downs.
The game also started out very similarly with BYU facing an early deficit, this time 10-0 after an opening drive field goal and a long touchdown drive of 92 yards. Cincinnati quarterback, Hayden Moore routinely hit receivers in soft spots in the BYU zone coverage until he finally connected on a 46 yard completion to Shaq Washington. After that the Cincy offense showed their balance by scoring on a mix of mid range passes and mid yardage runs to set up the one yard touchdown pass out of the Wildcat formation by Tion Green.
The BYU offense continued to struggle with quarterback Tanner Mangum missing throws and receivers dropping passes that should have been caught. Even after blocking a long field goal attempt the offense failed to take advantage. The drive started off with a 38 yard pass to Mitch Matthews, but then stalled and had to settle for a field goal. The offensive struggles continued in the next drive when Mangum tried to force a 3rd down pass into double coverage that was deflected into the air and intercepted. The BYU mistakes compounded with a defensive holding penalty on a third down throw that would have made the Bearcats settle for a field goal. Instead they scored another touchdown to take a 17-3.
And then the Cougar offense got revved up. BYU came out throwing and caused two different pass interference penalties. Squished in between those were two good runs by Algie Brown (15 yards) and Riley Burt (7 yards), a 16 yard completion to Nick Kurtz, and a 4 yard run by Francis Bernard. This lead to a five yard run by Brown for the touchdown.
The second half showed a completely different BYU team. The Cougars received the opening kickoff and displayed a balanced attack to march down the field for 12 plays and 78 yards. The two biggest plays on the drive were back to back deep catches by Colby Pearson for 16 yards followed up by a 19 yard touchdown pass to Nick Kurtz.
After both teams exchanged punts, Cincy jumped back ahead on a 2 yard run by Tion Green. After exchanging punts, BYU finally asserted themselves for good. BYU's first big play was a 40 scamper by Francis Bernard. Then Tanner hit Devon Blackmon for an 11 yard gain to set up 1st and goal. After two short gains Cincinnati committed another pass interference penalty on 3rd down. On the next play Algie Brown ran it in from two yards to tie the game.
With the game now even, Bronco Mendenhall really started to dial up the pressure on Moore. On first down Moore was sacked by Bronson Kaufusi, who just blew right past his blocker. On the next play, Moore scrambled to avoid the rush but was pummeled by Harvey Langi. On 3rd and long, the pressure was brought again and Moore was brought down by a host of Cougar defenders.
After a short punt, Tanner Mangum found Nick Kurtz for a 53 yard touchdown pass. It was a beautiful route combination that really confused the Cincinnati defense. With Kurtz running a deep route, Devon Blackmon ran an out route underneath Kurtz which pulled all three defenders to Blackmon allowing Kurtz to break free.
On the next Cincinnati possession, it was more of the same for the Cougars. A ton of pressure forced Moore out of his comfort zone forcing an incomplete pass and another sack, this time by Sae Tautu. The problems compounded for Cincinnati with a false start on the punt and then Garrett Juergens ran back the ensuing punt for 39 yards after reversing the field giving BYU great field position at the Cincy 32.
BYU seemed content to run the ball until a slant route was called for Mitch Matthews. Matthews was interfered with again by a Cincinnati defender setting up the Cougars at 24 yard line. Three runs later, Francis Bernard scored on an 11 yard run to extend the lead to 14.
This was truly a game of two halves. Tanner Mangum was 5/15 in the first half with an interception. The second half he was 14/17 for 2 touchdowns. Once again, the BYU running game was crucial to the success of the offense. Brown had 20 carries for 88 yards and 2 touchdowns, Bernard had 60 yards on 4 carries and a touchdown, and Riley Burt showed some promise with 2 carries for 48 yards.
Tanner ended up going 19/32 for 252 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Nick Kurtz was his favorite target with 6 catches for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns. Everyone else ranged from 1-3 receptions and only Matthews had over 50 yards receiving in that group.
The real story was the pressure of the defense when the tide turned toward the Cougars. Bronson Kaufusi lead the defense with 3 sacks, BYU defenders totaled 8 sacks on the night. Sione Takitaki lead in tackles with 9, while Fred Warner, Manoa Pikula, Jehrremya Leuta-Douyere each had 7 tackles. Kai Nacua had another nice game with 6 tackles and two pass breakups. The defense really clamped down in the second half and allowed the offense to find their rhythm.
The Cougars take on Wagner next Saturday at 1 p.m.