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Did BYU receiver Kody Epps finally have his breakout game in loss to Oregon?

Redshirt freshman from California caught five passes for 45 yards and a touchdown, but says he wasn’t totally happy with his performance

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BYU wide receiver Kody Epps (0) and Oregon Ducks defensive back Trikweze Bridges (11) compete for the ball in the end zone at Autzen Stadium in Eugene on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. The pass was incomplete.

BYU wide receiver Kody Epps (0) and Oregon Ducks defensive back Trikweze Bridges (11) compete for the ball in the end zone at Autzen Stadium in Eugene on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. The pass was incomplete.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

EUGENE, Oregon — BYU’s No. 12-ranked football team didn’t lose 41-20 to No. 25 Oregon on Saturday at Autzen Stadium because the Cougars were without arguably their best two receivers, Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney.

As BYU redshirt freshman receiver Kody Epps aptly put it, “(the Ducks) were the better team today.”

By a mile, as it were.

With the way the Cougars (2-1) were struggling to run the ball, they might not have been able to beat the Ducks (2-1) with Hall of Famers running the routes.

But there were some bright spots, as Epps, Chase Roberts, Keanu Hill and Brayden Cosper attempted to fill in for Nacua and Romney.

“It kinda makes a lot of people happy for what they have been waiting for from me. But it is a lot of stuff that I need to fix. I need to come back stronger, more focused. There were a lot of mistakes I made out there.” — BYU receiver Kody Epps after a breakout game vs. Oregon.

Speaking of which, head coach Kalani Sitake said Nacua made the trip and was “close” to being able to play. Romney didn’t make the trip.

“Hopefully next week will be time for (Nacua) to return, and time for Gunner. We need some guys back,” Sitake said.

Epps led the way, catching five passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. He had 19 yards after catches.

Was it a breakout game from the former three-star recruit from Southern California, the one BYU fans have been waiting for?

“Um, yeah, I guess, I (caught) a touchdown,” he said. “It kinda makes a lot of people happy for what they have been waiting for from me, but it is a lot of stuff that I need to fix. I need to come back stronger, more focused. There were a lot of mistakes I made out there.”

Epps said it is hard to worry about his own accomplishments when the team loses.

“It wasn’t a breakout game in my opinion, but I am so happy to do it for the fans, my first touchdown to share it with the Cougs family. It was pretty lit,” he said.

“But there is a lot of stuff I need to do better.”

Quarterback Jaren Hall dropped back to pass more than 40 times, and was sacked only once — a coverage sack on the Cougars’ first possession — so the protection was there. Many times, he had time to survey the field, but couldn’t find an open receiver.

Hall completed 29 of 41 passes for 305 yards and rushed eight times for 19 yards.

“Our receivers did a great job,” Hall said. “… I think that was the most completions we have had in quite a few games. Their defensive backs did a great job.

“A couple plays, they did clamp us down, but that is football. Great athletes over there. Their DBs, safeties were very good, their ‘backers smooth, so in that sense we knew we were going up against a great secondary. We won some, they won some, it just went back and forth.”

BYU’s tight ends were targeted more Saturday than in the previous two games combined. Dallin Holker had five catches for 38 yards, while Isaac Rex caught two passes for 32 yards and a touchdown.

But when the Cougars really, really needed a big play to prolong a drive, they fell short more often than not. They were 0-for-4 on fourth down.

“Yeah, it is tough. Momentum goes to them, especially us being away, in their stadium (when drives stall),” Hall said. “You hate to give up opportunities on fourth down. It is a turnover. It is just as devastating as throwing an interception or fumbling, to us. 

“We rely a lot on being able to convert on fourth downs, giving our defense a break. We just didn’t do it today.”

As for going without Romney and Nacua, Hall said they found out before the game that Nacua wouldn’t be able to play.

“He just wasn’t feeling it, so we don’t want to put guys out there that aren’t ready to go,” he said. “We are more concerned about their health than being back at their fullest and trying to force guys in. So when he is ready, he will be back.”

A week after breaking the 100-yard barrier against Baylor, Roberts was bottled up by Oregon but did have his moments. He finished with four catches for 60 yards while being targeted eight times.

Epps said the receivers were schooled at times by some pretty good defensive backs.

“Those dudes are good, man. Those dudes are pretty good,” he said. “They did what we expected — played a lot of man, played some four, played some three, but they were really athletic. We fought, we kept going.”