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BYU football report card: Cougars’ flat bowl effort puts damper on a good season

Brigham Young Cougars running back Tyler Allgeier (25) watches from the sideline as BYU falls to UAB.
Brigham Young Cougars running back Tyler Allgeier (25) watches from the sideline as BYU falls to UAB in the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. UAB won 31-28.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

It’s hard to get around it: for all the good vibes BYU has built this season in winning 10 games — including six over Power Five competition — the Cougars’ season sputtered at the end.

That was capped by No. 13 BYU’s 31-28 loss to UAB on Saturday, as the Blazers controlled the flow of the game much of the afternoon.

Here’s how the Cougars graded out in their season finale:

Offense

BYU’s bowl game was thrown a bit of a curve before the game even kicked off, when it was reported that Baylor Romney would start at quarterback in place of an injured Jaren Hall.

Romney played OK — he completed 15 of 23 passes for 195 yards — but the passing game lacked a lot of punch, as he struggled to find touch on longer passes.

That was just one of a handful of issues for the Cougar offense that struggled to string together positive plays throughout the game.

Once again, Tyler Allgeier carried the BYU offense: he finished with 192 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries, setting the school record for single-season rushing yards (he had 1,601) in the process. His 62-yard touchdown run in the third was BYU’s offensive highlight of the day.

Without him, this could have been a lopsided loss. But if it was the final chance BYU fans have to watch Allgeier play in a Cougar uniform — there’s speculation he will declare for the 2022 NFL draft — he went out on an extremely high note.

Unfortunately, that’s where most of the positives ended for BYU. The Cougars managed to overcome an early 14-0 deficit and even took a 28-24 lead early in the fourth quarter, as the offense kept them in the game.

One of the toughest things to swallow, though, was the Cougars’ struggles on third and fourth down, which led to BYU turning the ball over on downs three times in UAB territory. BYU was 4 of 11 on converting third downs, and 2 of 5 on fourth down.

The final fourth-down failure was particularly costly for BYU, as the Cougar coaches opted to use fullback Masen Wake on a fourth-and-1 at the UAB 32 in the third quarter instead of Allgeier, and the play netted no gain.

It squandered a perfect chance for BYU to add points in a three-point loss, and was symbolic of how the Blazers often won the little 1-on-1 battles during the game.

Grade: C

Defense

UAB’s final drive — which didn’t even net any points — was a perfect example of how the Blazers outphysicaled the Cougars’ defense all afternoon.

UAB got the ball back with 3:36 to play after BYU’s lone turnover — a Samson Nacua fumble — and the Blazers needed to run some clock to protect a three-point lead against the Cougars, who had three timeouts remaining.

The result? The Blazers did more than just run some clock, as they netted 58 yards on nine straight runs — including runs of 16, 15 and 9 yards — to run out the clock, extinguishing any BYU hopes of a rally.

It was that kind of day for the Cougars, who allowed UAB 412 yards of total offense, including 223 on the ground. DeWayne McBride had 183 of those rushing yards for UAB, which trailed for only eight minutes and got out to a 14-0 lead after McBride’s 64-touchdown run in the first quarter.

UAB owned a nearly 11-minute edge in time of possession, as BYU’s bend-but-not-break defense too often bent and led to scores. Of the Blazers’ five scoring possessions, three of them (5:00, 6:16 and 8:16) took five or more minutes off the clock, including UAB’s go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter that took more than eight minutes off the clock.

BYU also failed to get much pressure on quarterback Dylan Hopkins, who completed 19 of 23 yards for 189 yards and three touchdowns.

The Cougars’ Hayden Livingston did intercept Hopkins on a tipped ball in the third quarter, which led to a touchdown that put BYU up 28-24, but too often the Cougars struggled to make disruptive plays.

Case in point: the Blazers went 9 of 14 on third downs, and also converted both of their fourth-down attempts. The big one came with 6:17 to play, when Hopkins converted a fourth-and-7 inside the BYU 20 with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Trea Shropshire that put UAB up 31-28.

BYU will have the offseason to try and find ways to improve a defense that, while dealing with a litany of injuries, struggled down the stretch.

Grade: D-

Special teams

As was the theme throughout the season, special teams were largely a nonfactor.

The biggest play BYU had in this aspect of the game was when Hobbs Nyberg had a nice 13-yard punt return to help set up the Cougars’ second touchdown during the second quarter.

Otherwise, little happened special teams-wise. There were three total punts in the game — BYU’s Ryan Rehkow only punted once, on the team’s opening drive — and there weren’t any big kickoff returns.

UAB’s Matt Quinn hit the game’s only field-goal attempt — a 38-yarder in the third — which proved key in a three-point game.

Grade: C