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Quick observations video: BYU special teams turns the tide and 4 other keys to a win over UMass

PROVO — BYU didn’t make quick work of fellow independent Massachusetts on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Instead, after taking a 14-9 lead into halftime after bouncing back from two early game deficits, the Cougars (7-4) rolled in the second half en route to a convincing 51-9 victory over the Minutemen (2-9).

Here’s a few thoughts on BYU’s dominant victory:

Special teams turned the tide in the third quarter

BYU had driven for a field goal to start the second half and led 17-9 when the Cougars' special teams put away any hopes of UMass pulling the upset.

It began after the BYU defense forced a three-and-out. Morgan Unga blocked the ensuing punt, giving the Cougars possession at the UMass 19 and setting up a field goal.

On the ensuing kickoff, senior safety Eric Takenaka landed a big hit on Minuteman returner Isaiah Rodgers to force a fumble, which BYU recovered at the UMass 17.

Six plays later, BYU scored a touchdown to boost its lead to 27-9 and from there, the Cougars seized control. BYU’s special teams also recovered a muffed kickoff, this one recovered by Hiva Lee, in the fourth quarter, which led to the Cougars’ final points on a field goal.

Langi steps up in injury-filled backfield

Senior linebacker Harvey Langi made the most of his opportunity to return to the backfield against the Minutemen. After playing the running back position in high school and one year at the University of Utah before transferring to BYU, Langi transitioned over to the defensive side of the ball.

Against UMass, he showed the ability that made him a coveted offensive talent. Transitioning back to running back, Langi finished the game with 56 yards on 14 carries and scored the first two touchdowns of his BYU career. If he’s needed at the position beyond Saturday, the Cougars know the 6-foot-3, 252-pound Langi can provide a strong option in the backfield.

Hall steps up again at running back

Yes, it’s another running back observation, but freshman KJ Hall had another solid game with Jamaal Williams and Canada sitting again with injuries. Hall made his debut last week and had 127 all-purpose yards against Southern Utah, and he followed that up with a 101-yard rushing effort against the Minutemen and two receptions for 10 yards.

Hall added an 11-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter and continued to show maturity and patience as a runner as the Cougars piled up 247 rushing yards.

Defense overcomes early struggles

Through much of the first two quarters of Saturday’s contest, UMass was finding it easy to move the ball against the BYU defense. The Minutemen had 124 total yards in the first quarter, outdoing BYU by 10 yards, and had 213 going into the halftime break.

But in the second half, Cougar linebacker Francis Bernard said the team refocused, and that helped BYU shut down the Minutemen the final two quarters. In the third and fourth quarters, UMass had a combined 115 total yards and only drove deep into BYU territory once, late in the game, while being held scoreless. The Cougars also forced two second-half interceptions.

The first of those interceptions was a pick-six from Bernard that he took back 39 yards to give the Cougars a commanding 34-9 lead.

Nitpicking the offense: Downfield shots don’t connect

Not everything went BYU’s way in the lopsided win that saw the Cougars put up 437 yards of total offense. While BYU passed for 190 yards and a touchdown, including 171 yards from starting quarterback Taysom Hill, the pass game took several shots downfield without any success.

Hill looked impressive in the run game with 81 tough yards on the ground and completed a solid 61 percent of his passes, and backup Tanner Mangum connected on 2 of 4 passes for 19 yards and his first touchdown pass of the year.

On a day where BYU scored the final 44 points of the game, it’s a part of the offense to fine-tune — especially after the Cougars had success on some downfield passes last week vs. Southern Utah — as bowl season approaches.