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BYU football report card: Cougars get solid marks but there’s room for improvement after latest win

BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua (12) celebrates with wide receiver Gunner Romney (18) after scoring a touchdown.
BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua (12) celebrates with wide receiver Gunner Romney (18) after scoring a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Southern, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Statesboro, Ga.
Paul Abell, Associated Press

No. 14 BYU may not have brought its “A” game when it traveled to face Georgia Southern on Saturday, but the result — a 34-17 win — was still a positive one.

Here’s how the Cougars graded out in improving to 9-2 on the season:

Offense

The Jaren Hall-led Cougar offense put together another solid performance overall, finishing with 510 yards of total offense.

BYU scored on four of its five first-half possessions, though two of those drives ended with short field goals when some inefficient play prevented the Cougars from punching the ball in the end zone for more points.

BYU’s scoring slowed down in the second half, but the Cougars were able to add a pair of touchdowns and take control with time-consuming drives, including holding on to the ball for the final 7:45 of the game, giving Georgia Southern few opportunities to rally.

While the Cougars struggled on third down — converting only 3 of 10 — and missed on a fourth-down try in the second quarter, they never turned the ball over and punted just twice.

Hall, who’s had a string of good games recently, had another Saturday, completing 17 of 29 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns against the nation’s fourth-worst pass defense.

He also ran for 21 yards.

BYU’s usual cast of offensive contributors such as running back Tyler Allgeier and wide receiver Puka Nacua also had big games.

Allgeier finished with 25 carries for 136 yards and a touchdown after a slow first half — at least by his standards — while Nacua caught five passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns.

Gunner Romney also had five catches for 87 yards in his return to the field.

The Cougars will need to be more efficient when they take on USC next week, but this was a good enough effort to get the job done against Georgia Southern.

Grade: B

Defense

In the early going, it looked like the Cougar defense could be in for a long, grind-it-out afternoon after it allowed Georgia Southern to score 14 points and put up 115 yards of offense in the second quarter, making it a tight 20-17 game at halftime.

BYU responded well in the second half, though, giving up just 93 yards in the final two quarters and coming up with two key turnovers to thwart a pair of promising Georgia Southern drives.

The Cougars scored 20 unanswered points after Logan Wright’s two touchdown runs in the second quarter, and the defense played a big role in that.

This all came when the middle of BYU’s defense was hurting Saturday — star linebacker Payton Wilgar missed the game after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, and fellow linebacker Max Tooley missed the second half after being flagged for targeting.

Georgia Southern entered the contest averaging just over 200 yards rushing per game, but BYU held the Eagles to 146 on the ground.

The Eagles, behind redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Cigelske, also had just 122 passing yards, though the young Cigelske completed 11 of 14 passes.

BYU cornerback Jakob Robinson came up with a pair of huge momentum-swinging plays in the second half, with the Cougars holding on to a 27-17 lead.

After Georgia Southern forced BYU’s first punt of the game, the Eagles had driven from their own 7 to the BYU 28 before Robinson intercepted an errant pass at the Cougar 10.

On Georgia Southern’s next drive, Robinson came up with another interception, leaping high to intercept a Cigelske pass near the sideline in BYU territory.

Those takeaways essentially closed the book on Georgia Southern’s upset hopes.

Grade: B-

Special teams

Jake Oldroyd has had some field goal struggles in recent weeks, so it was encouraging to see the Cougars’ sophomore kicker have a solid day with two made field goals, from 38 and 39 yards.

Ryan Rehkow, like he’s done so many times before, showed his value in limited punting opportunities.

He averaged 53.5 yards on two third-quarter punts, including a booming 63-yarder that pinned Georgia Southern inside its own 10.

Neither team did much in the return, a common theme this season in BYU games.

The Cougars nearly gave up a big play on special teams, though. In the second quarter after the Eagles cut BYU’s lead to 14-10, Georgia Southern attempted a surprise onside kick and recovered the ball.

The Eagles were flagged for illegal touching on the play, however, and BYU retained possession.

Grade: C+