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BYU football report card: The Cougars were hit and miss in loss to Baylor

Baylor wide receiver Josh Fleeks (21) dives but comes up short of the goal line against BYU during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 38-24.
Ron Jenkins, AP

BYU’s trip into Big 12 country on Saturday did not exactly go as planned. The Cougars, while competitive at times, were soundly outplayed by the Baylor Bears in a 38-24 loss in Waco, Texas.

It was the Cougars’ second consecutive defeat, as they fell to 5-2 on the year.

Here’s how the Cougars graded out in their loss to the Bears:

Offense

If there was a bright spot in BYU’s performance against Baylor, it came on offense.

Quarterback Jaren Hall, for instance — in his second game back from injury — was both dynamic and effective. Case in point, he threw passes of 52 and 48 yards, to receivers Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney, and rushed for a 56-yard touchdown. He wound up completing 22 of 31 passes for 342 yards and a score, good for a quarterback rating of 93.7.

Hall was sacked five times, but most of those could be laid on the offense line rather than anything he did. He didn’t always make the right read in run-pass option, but overall his performance was arguably his best and most complete of the season.

Hall wasn’t alone, either. Nacua had a breakout performance, finishing the game with five receptions for 168 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 33.6 yards per catch and simply could not be covered by the Baylor defense, which cycled through defensive backs all afternoon trying to slow him down.

Romney, too, had a strong outing, catching three passes for 81 yards, though most of his contribution came late after the game was already decided. Issac Rex had four receptions for 41 yards, while Neil Pau’u had five catches for 38 yards. The Cougars passing attack was largely effective throughout the game.

The run game, however, was a completely different story. Sans two starters on the right side of the offensive line, BYU struggled to do almost anything on the ground. Tyler Allgeier, who has been touted as an NFL caliber running back, finished the game with only 33 rushing yards, on 15 carries. That is an average of 2.2 yards per run.

It was a far cry from what Allgeier had done previous weeks, but he was consistently forced to run outside rather than through the middle of the defense, and as result went nowhere frequently.

BYU’s offensive line struggled greatly in the game — they were better in pass protection than run blocking — and too often the Cougars let possessions get away from them. They punted four times total, and another drive ended with a Hall fumble.

BYU ran just 55 total plays on offense, compared to the 75 run by Baylor. Some of that was the Cougars’ big play offense, but much was because of the five ineffectual drives.

The Cougars proved themselves capable on offense — only Iowa State and Oklahoma State have scored as many points in a game against Baylor this season as BYU did — but the lack of any sort of effective run game was just too much to overcome.

Grade: C

Defense

Unlike BYU’s offense, which definitely had its moments even with the lack of an effective run game, the Cougars’ defense played its worst game of the season against Baylor.

Aside from the opening two series, the Bears largely got whatever they wanted whenever they wanted.

Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon didn’t finish with great statistics — he completed 18 of 28 passes for 231 yards, a touchdown and an interception — but he was never uncomfortable and led the Bears on several quick strike scoring drives.

Baylor had touchdown drives of four, seven, eight, nine and 12 plays (plus another eight-play drive that ended in a field goal), none of which took longer than six and a half minutes.

For BYU’s bend but don’t break defense, there was a lot of breaking.

That was most easily seen on the ground, as the Cougars had no answer for the Bears’ rushing attack. Running back Abram Smith — who was a linebacker last season — ran the ball 27 times for 188 yards and three touchdowns, averaging seven yards per carry.

He wasn’t the only effective back, though. Trestan Ebner ran the ball 11 times for 95 yards, an average of 8.6 yards per run.

BYU’s defensive tackles couldn’t get any sort of consistent penetration, while the Cougars’ linebackers struggled all game getting off blocks and making tackles. Throw in BYU’s inability to set the edge, and Baylor was able to run inside and outside with ease.

The Cougars’ pass defense was slightly better, but mostly because it was targeted less. Baylor receivers Tyquan Thornton, R.J. Sneed and Ben Sims routinely found holes in BYU’s secondary, and each averaged 12 or more yards per reception.

The Bears had a few fewer dynamic receptions compared to BYU, but consistently converted on intermediate throws.

Baylor’s offensive line also deserves mention. The Bears’ big men dominated the game, allowing Baylor to convert 7 of 15 third down conversions as well as 2 of 4 tries on fourth down.

Baylor finished with 534 yards of total offense, too much surrendered to a team that finished drives in the end zone.

Payton Wilgar was a bright spot for the Cougars. His early interception prevented a Baylor touchdown and it was first interception thrown this season by Bohanon, but overall BYU’s struggled mightily.

Grade: D-

Special Teams

Usually BYU’s special teams are a one of the team’s biggest strengths, what with Jake Oldroyd and Ryan Rehkow forming one of the best kicking duos in the country.

That wasn’t the case against Baylor, though. Rehkow was solid, per the usual, with four punts at an average of 42 yards, and Oldroyd did connect on a 48-yard field goal and went 3 for 3 on extra points, but he also missed a field goal attempt, albeit a difficult one from 50-plus yards.

Then there was the onside kick. Baylor perfectly executed a surprise onside kick with 3:36 remaining in the second quarter. It caught the Cougars completely off guard and deprived them of a much needed offensive possession at the end of the first half.

Rather than have 3-plus minutes to march down the field and score, possibly cutting the Baylor lead to just a field goal, BYU was left with only 25 seconds after stopping the Bears’ drive, not enough time to do anything.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake bemoaned giving up the kick after the game.

“Error in judgment on our players and error in judgment on our coaches,” he told the Deseret News. “We actually pride ourselves on looking out for those types of things. 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.”

Usually such a strength, special teams failed to give the Cougars an advantage in a game they sorely needed one.

Grade: C-