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BYU hangs on to beat FCS Portland State 20-6 in season opener

PROVO — For BYU, playing a Week Zero game against an FCS opponent wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

So much for working out the kinks and developing a rhythm before diving into the teeth of the schedule.

The Cougars put on an underwhelming, lackluster performance — particularly on the offensive side of the ball. But BYU did enough to beat Portland State 20-6 in front of a national television audience and a crowd of 55,427 at LaVell Edwards Stadium on a sweltering Saturday afternoon.

“Tough game,” Cougar coach Kalani Sitake said. “I’m happy we got the win, but I thought we made some mistakes that didn’t help much.”

In the locker room after the game, Sitake had to remind his players that they actually won.

“The guys obviously weren’t happy with the performance,” Sitake told reporters afterward.

“This definitely wasn’t our best performance. It was a little too sloppy,” said quarterback Tanner Mangum. “We had way too many penalties, shooting ourselves in the foot, especially on big plays. That’s something we don’t want to have happen. We have to get better than that.”

Who would have guessed that BYU would be clinging to an eight-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter? Portland State was driving into Cougar territory with seven minutes left in the game, trailing just 17-6.

BYU’s offense, breaking in a bunch of skill position players, sputtered for much of the contest. Even the veteran offensive line committed untimely penalties, including chop blocks.

“That’s supposed to be our strength,” Sitake said of the O-line.

Still, despite the struggles, Sitake remains optimistic about his team’s future.

“I’m not worried. Obviously, I wish we would have played differently and not made so many mistakes,” he said. “But I know what our coaches and our players are capable of. If we would have played our best, and the same result would have happened, then I would have been grateful for the win, but I would be a little nervous about how good we are.

“There were a lot of plays for us to make, and we didn’t really get the opportunity to show it today,” Sitake continued. “Hopefully it shows up next week. We know what to work on now. It’s good to get that game out of the way and get the win.”

BYU’s offense gained only 13 first downs (compared to 14 for PSU) and had 365 yards of total offense. Mangum completed 16 of 27 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown.

The Cougars punted on their first two drives, then on the first play of their third drive, Mangum connected with Matt Bushman for 36 yards. Mangum then threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Neil Pau’u to give the Cougars a 7-0 lead.

Midway through the second quarter, a 33-yard completion to Talon Shumway set up Squally Canada’s 1-yard touchdown plunge to make it 14-0. Canada finished with a team-high 98 rushing yards, including a 34-yard scamper.

“We did some good things. We busted out some big runs, we had some big catches,” Mangum said. “There were flashes there. We’ve just got to learn from the positives and focus on that for this next week.”

On Portland State’s ensuing drive, the Vikings converted on a pair of fourth-down plays, drove 87 yards on 17 plays and consumed 5:57 off the clock to cut the deficit to 14-6 as PSU’s extra point kick attempt failed.

Mangum fumbled the ball on the first play of BYU’s next possession but fortunately for the Cougars, left tackle Thomas Shoaf recovered late in the first half.

Early in second half, Jonah Trinnaman’s holding call negated a long run by Kavika Fonua. Later, in the fourth quarter, Fonua scored on a short touchdown run that was called back due to an illegal formation penalty.

BYU was held scoreless in the third quarter. Rhett Almond booted a 27-yard field goal to put the Cougars up 17-6 in the fourth.

Later in the final quarter, Almond drilled a 33-yarder, but it was nullified because BYU called a timeout just before the attempt. He missed his second try. Later, with 2:09 remaining, Almond booted a 35-yarder.

Defensively, the Cougars limited the Vikings to 220 yards of total offense. But at times BYU had a tough time getting PSU’s offense off the field.

“The only thing defensively we need to do better is get out of third downs,” Sitake said. “They converted a lot of third downs on some drives and some fourth downs as well. We need to get out of those and create more disruption and get some big plays. We had one turnover. That’s not good enough.”

“I think we did well,” said linebacker Matt Hadley. “I think there are definitely things that we need to work on both offensively and defensively, but that’s normal. First game, we are just glad we got out with a win. Now we are looking forward to next week and getting better.”

BYU is scheduled to play No. 13 Louisiana State next Saturday at NRG Stadium in Houston.