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Cougars rue surprise onside kick that robbed them of a possession in loss to Baylor

Receiver Puka Nacua is one of the few bright spots for Cougars, catching five passes for 168 yards

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake, left, meets Baylor head coach Dave Aranda on the field.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake, left, meets Baylor head coach Dave Aranda on the field following Baylor’s 38-24 win in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Waco, Texas.
Ron Jenkins, Associated Press

WACO, Texas — A lot has and will be made about how the Baylor Bears gave the BYU Cougars a lesson of what life could be like in the Big 12 with Saturday’s 38-24 thrashing in front of a sellout crowd of 48,016 at McLane Stadium.

The tutoring even extended to special teams.

In one of the game’s most pivotal moments, Baylor executed a surprise onside kick to perfection in the first half to rob the Cougars of a possession after taking a 17-7 lead with 3:36 remaining in the second quarter.

It was a message-sending moment that signaled the Bears weren’t messing around, really believed in themselves and their ability to stop the Cougars anywhere on the field, and were ready to put the hammer down in the first meeting of the faith-based institutions since 1984.

The Bears didn’t cash in on the turnover — BYU’s defense stopped quarterback Gerry Bohanon’s sneak on fourth-and-1 from its 23 — but the Cougars got the ball back with just 25 seconds left in the half and couldn’t do anything with it.

“Error in judgment on our players and error in judgment on our coaches,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said.

Sitake said the Cougars work to prepare for those types of surprises but appeared to have turned their heads to begin running downfield to block for the return.

“We actually pride ourselves on looking out for those types of things,” he said. “We practice it every week. We come up with things like that to practice. … That is something I need to do a better job at, when it comes down to it.”

It was a tough ending to an awful first half for BYU, which was fortunate to only be trailing by 10 points at the break.

For the first time all season, BYU didn’t score first.

The Bears jumped ahead 3-0 on their third possession, but BYU answered with its only successful drive of the first half and took a 7-3 lead.

Puka Nacua’s 52-yard catch, a crafty adjustment on an underthrown ball, proved to be the key play, and six plays later Tyler Allgeier carried a tackler into the end zone with him for a 1-yard TD. Up 7-3 with 12:17 left in the first half, the Cougars should have stopped there.

The rest of the half was all Bears.

They sandwiched 75- and 67-yard drives around Jake Oldroyd’s missed 50-yard field goal try and moved out to the 17-7 lead.

Baylor rushed for 132 yards in the first half and picked up 305 yards before halftime, compared to just 134 for BYU, the fewest first-half yards for the Cougars all season.

Baylor ran 44 plays in the first half, BYU just 22. The disparity continued into the second half as Baylor finished with 75 plays — gaining 534 yards — and BYU had just 55 for 409 yards.

“Baylor is a great team,” Hall said. “We knew they were. We knew it would be a dogfight, and so props to them. It is good to see what there is to look forward to, and there is a lot.”

BYU had a chance to stop Baylor’s second touchdown drive, but Hayden Livingston couldn’t come up with what could have been a spectacular interception after getting his left hand on a Bohanon throw four plays before a short TD run.

The Bears averaged 8.1 yards on first down in the first half to set the tone for even more punishment in the second half.

Nacua shines for BYU

For BYU, the offensive star was Nacua, who made outstanding adjustments on the ball on a breezy day on the banks of the Brazos River and finished with five catches for 168 yards.

“We get those reps in practice,” Nacua said. “I have seen that ball come out of Jaren’s hands a lot of times, so I knew he was going to put it out there and leave it up to me, and I was going to go get it. The wind out here did have a little bit of an impact, but we were able to connect and have a good day in that regard.”

It was a bittersweet day for Nacua, the Washington transfer who had the big game BYU fans have expected for a couple of months now.

“Just trying to do as much as I can when the ball comes my way, but I was proud of the guys,” Nacua said. “I love those guys in that locker room. Coach Kalani is the best, but we just gotta go out there and execute better. We aren’t getting the job done.

“We are not really hurting ourselves too much, but we are also not making the big plays at the same time,” he continued. “We got room for improvement. We will be ready to go next week against Washington State.”