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Now bowl-eligible, BYU looking to finish regular season strong

UMass (2-8) at BYU (6-4)

Saturday, Noon, MST LaVell Edwards Stadium

TV: BYUtv

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

PROVO — One of BYU’s goals this season was to get bowl eligible.

The Cougars accomplished that Saturday with a 37-7 win over Southern Utah. after the victory, they formally accepted a berth to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 21.

“I’ve never been in this position where we know this early where we’re going, so it’s a bit of a relief,” said coach Kalani Sitake.

For BYU (6-4), getting bowl-eligible was a source of motivation against the Thunderbirds.

“The guys were motivated for the sixth win, and now it’s time to get motivated for the next one and build off the momentum we’re getting from this one,” Sitake said.

The next one is Saturday (noon, MST, BYUtv), when BYU hosts fellow independent UMass.

The Minutemen (2-8) are coming off a bye. Their two wins came against Florida International and FCS opponent Wagner.

While the Cougars outgained SUU in total yardage, 596-165, they certainly weren’t perfect. BYU had three turnovers, had to settle for three field goals and missed several tackles.

“We had quite a bit of reserve guys. When you do that, it’s going to be a little sloppy. For the most part, (Algernon Brown’s) fumble shouldn’t happen,” Sitake said. “Sae (Tautu) had a penalty that was him just losing his cool. I was disappointed that the veteran guys made mistakes. Maybe there was a little miscommunication on a few things, but we’re going to try to get our backup guys a lot of significant reps because that’s where you make the most growth in a program. I thought the young D-line and linebackers and then receivers on offense were able to get some big plays. A lot of the young guys got in some really good reps.”

Sophomore quarterback Tanner Mangum received significant playing time for the first time this season against SUU. He completed 11 of 13 passes for 121 yards after replacing Taysom Hill, who completed 22 of 29 passes for 320 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Mangum said he likes offensive coordinator Ty Detmer’s pro-style offense.

“We have some things to work on. It’s a really good offense. When we execute, when we mix it up with the run game and the pass game, it can be tough to stop.”

Going into this weekend’s game, Mangum’s playing time will, once again, be situational.

“Same as the season as gone. I’m always ready to go,” Mangum said. “It’s nice having good communication between Detmer and Taysom and the quarterback room. We all get along really well. We’re all in it together. We have a selfless group. It’s fun to come off the field and be able to celebrate with the other guys. That means a lot. We’re not going to worry about playing time or who goes in when.”

Mangum said that he’s focused on helping the Cougars win the rest of their games this season.

“I’m looking forward to continuing to work on it and continuing to get better. We have two more regular-season games and we just accepted a bowl invitation, so we have just a few more games to finish the season strong. We have a lot of hungry guys that are working really hard. We have a lot of good momentum going right now, good energy towards the end of the season, which is what you want to have. We’re looking to finish strong.”

EMAIL: jeffc@deseretnews.com