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BYU football report card: Cougars’ win over Arizona State earns solid grades across board

Brigham Young running back Lopini Katoa, center, runs under pressure during game against Arizona State in Provo.
Brigham Young running back Lopini Katoa, center, runs under pressure during an NCAA college football game against Arizona State at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

BYU has found itself a winning formula for 2021: build a double-digit lead, hold on as the opposition tries to rally, then finish them off with a final, grind-it-out scoring drive.

The formula worked again Saturday night, as the Cougars beat their third Pac-12 opponent in a row with a 27-17 victory over Arizona State at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Here’s how BYU graded out in its latest win.

Offense

For the first time in his college career, Jaren Hall threw an interception. Two, even.

OK, now that we have the most glaring offensive negative from BYU’s game out of the way, it’s time to focus on the positive.

Hall, even with those miscues, again had a nice night against a Pac-12 opponent. Hall completed 15 of 27 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns, both that capped long scoring drives in the second quarter. He also rushed for 38 yards on seven carries, none bigger than his 13-yard keeper down to the ASU 4 late in the game, though Hall was forced to leave the game after taking a big hit on the play.

The Cougars finished 3-for-3 in the red zone, scoring touchdowns all three times. Hall’s backup, Baylor Romney, threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Isaac Rex to cap the final red-zone opportunity with a score, and with that, it was game over.

BYU’s star power again shone through. Tyler Allgeier had 69 rushing yards and a touchdown run in the first minute of the game. He also made the momentum-changing play when, after Hall threw a third-quarter pick in Sun Devil territory, he chased down ASU’s Merlin Robertson after Robertson appeared headed for a pick-six. Allgeier stripped the ball from Robertson and Hall recovered at the BYU 15, an all-effort play that’s certain to be remembered in Provo for a long time.

Also, Gunner Romney caught six passes for 95 yards and a touchdown, Rex had two receptions for 18 yards (both touchdowns) and Lopini Katoa added 29 rushing yards in relief of Allgeier.

The Cougars still left some points on the field, though. BYU, which was 4 of 11 on third downs, moved the ball well in the second quarter, struggled to move at all in the first and third quarters, then utilized a grinding ground attack in the fourth quarter en route to their clinching touchdown.

BYU had a chance to make it a three-score game in the second quarter before Hall’s first interception came on a pass into the end zone. If BYU can continue to improve on its passing game and get guys like Puka and Samson Nacua further involved, this Cougar offense could reach its potential.

Grade: B

Defense

BYU is earning a reputation for tough-nosed defense that bends but rarely breaks. The Cougars have given up 17 points or fewer every game so far this season, ranking 38th nationally in scoring defense.

Arizona State was able to put up more total yards than BYU, 426 to 361, but the Cougars’ defense didn’t let that translate into many scoring opportunities for the Sun Devils. BYU also won the turnover battle, four to two.

Arizona State scored on three of four red-zone opportunities, but the empty possession was key. Early in the second quarter, ASU had a chance to take the lead, but Payton Wilgar tipped a Jayden Daniels pass and Max Tooley intercepted it at the BYU 19. The Cougars capitalized, scoring a touchdown off that turnover, and never trailed.

The BYU defense never let Daniels and the ASU offense get into a rhythm much of the game, outside of a pair of Sun Devil possessions in the third quarter where they scored 10 points to trim a 21-7 BYU lead to 21-17.

Daniels, in particular, was bottled up much of the night. He entered the game averaging over 80 yards rushing per game — that included a 125-yard effort against UNLV last week — but finished the game with just eight rushing yards. He threw for 265 yards, but the Cougars made two key interceptions off Daniels in the second quarter.

Grade: B+

Special teams

Talk about a way to start a game.

The Cougars received a huge boost when Talmage Gunther forced Geordon Porter to fumble on the opening kickoff and Hayden Livingston recovered at the ASU 12. Three plays later, BYU scored on a 4-yard Allgeier run and had a 7-0 lead.

That play set the tone for BYU, as the Cougars never trailed.

Ryan Rehkow also had a phenomenal night for BYU punting the ball, as he averaged 52.8 yards per punt and routinely flipped flip position. His biggest kick, of course, came near the end of the first quarter when Rehkow boomed an 83-yarder, a modern-day school record. He finished with four punts that went over 50 yards.

If there’s a place to nitpick, it’s that Justen Smith only had touchbacks on two of his five kickoffs — though BYU didn’t allow any big returns — and the Cougars aren’t getting much out of their return game.

Still ...

Grade: A-