The BYU Cougars entered Saturday’s game against the Baylor Bears looking to get back on track after a loss to rival Boise State knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Instead, BYU lost its second consecutive game as the Bears defeated the Cougars 38-24.
Here are three takeaway’s from BYU’s latest loss:
The defense was not good enough, especially against the run
Early in the season, BYU’s defense seemed to do exactly what it needed to do to help the Cougars come away a victory, whether that be forcing turnovers (hello, ASU) or taking away a particular aspect of an opponent’s offense (think Utah State’s rushing attack).
Against Baylor, however, the Cougars’ defense could do nothing to stop the Bears, save for an early interception by Payton Wilgar.
Baylor racked up 534 yards of total offense in the game, 231 through the air and 303 on the ground. The Bears were 7 of 15 on third down and converted 2 of 4 attempts on fourth down.
Run defense was the biggest issue, and blame could be laid everywhere. The Cougars’ front was dominated by Baylor’s offensive line, and BYU’s linebackers struggled to get off blocks throughout the game. The Cougars also frequently failed to set the edge, and the Bears took advantage by running to the outside time and again.
Another third down opportunity to get off the field and Baylor converts on the ground.— Benjamin Criddle (@CriddleBenjamin) October 16, 2021
Credit to Baylor here. These players are an extension of the physical and violent nature and culture that Grimes/Mateos have created at the LOS. pic.twitter.com/1ecrXXuxhz
That makes back to back games in which BYU has been unable to handle its opponent’s rushing attack, a clear departure from what happened earlier in the season.
Puka Nacua has become a star
For as poorly as BYU’s defense played, the Cougars’ offense was almost the polar opposite. BYU did struggle a few times to sustain drives, but Jaren Hall had a strong game, arguably his best as BYU’s starting quarterback.
Hall threw for 342 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 25 yards and another score.
As good as Hall was, wide receiver Puka Nacua was the real standout. The former Orem High star was clearly one of the best players on the field, and Baylor struggled all game to cover him.
Nacua finished with five catches for 138 yards and a touchdown and averaged 33.6 yards per reception (Gunner Romney had a strong game as well, with three catches for 81 yards).
Nacua had good performances before Saturday, but he seemed to take the final step to becoming BYU’s true No. 1 receiver against the Bears.
BYU won’t win again until it gets better in the trenches
Against Arizona, Utah, ASU, USF and Utah State, BYU was the stronger, more powerful team. The Cougars’ offensive line was roundly praised, and some (Utah State head coach Blake Anderson) even called it one of the best O-line units in the country.
BYU’s defensive line didn’t get that high of praise, but the Cougars’ linemen easily exceeded preseason expectations and looked more than capable, both in passing situations and against the run.
Injuries on both lines have been a problem (BYU was without starters on both sides against Baylor), but the Bears were simply the better team in the trenches throughout the game. That was the case against Boise State as well.
BYU’s success has been predicated on overpowering its opponents, and when that has happened, Tyler Allgeier has gone off. Against Baylor, he rushed 15 times for only 33 yards, an average of 2.2 yards per carry.
By comparison, Baylor’s running back Abram Smith carried the ball 27 times 188 yards and scored three touchdowns, averaging 7 yards per carry.
BYU won’t win again until it can win the battle in the trenches. That is just the way the Cougars are built.