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Cougars keep climbing toward elusive peak performance

BYU’s latest win over Texas Tech showed the Cougars are resilient, if not imperfect

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Brigham Young Cougars running back Aidan Robbins (3) runs against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. BYU won 27-14.

Brigham Young Cougars running back Aidan Robbins (3) runs against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. BYU won 27-14.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

For two quarters on Saturday, BYU looked like a team moving toward a complete game performance with offense, defense and special teams working in harmony with each other. In the second half, however, the defense and special teams left the offense in the dust and did just enough to secure the Cougars 27-14 victory against Texas Tech.

Fans found themselves happy with the win but disappointed with the progress on offense. It’s like the undesired aftertaste from drinking sugar-free Kool-Aid. While initially refreshing, it leaves you longing for something more.

Defensively, the Cougars were a different animal than the unit that TCU tamed the week before. BYU forced five turnovers and held the Red Raiders to 17 points below their average. They gave up too many third-down conversions (9 of 18) but they also forced Texas Tech to turn the ball over on downs twice.

Special teams delivered as well. Ryan Rehkow averaged 45.5 yards on his eight punts. One of his kicks traveled 70 yards. Rehkow also hustled downfield and recovered a fumble. Kicker Will Ferrin was good on his 35- and 41-yard field goals and three extra points.

The offense had positives, too. BYU threw short passes, it didn’t turn the ball over, it rushed for 150 yards and as soon as the Cougars took the lead, they kept it. Optimism was sky-high as BYU rolled into the locker room, up 24-7 at halftime. The second half, however, was a different story, or more like the same old story.

Quarterback Kedon Slovis completed one pass in the third quarter (1 of 6) and BYU rushed nine times for 44 yards with three punts. The Cougars punted three more times in the fourth quarter and managed just a field goal after halftime. For the game, BYU converted just 4 of 14 on third down. Combined with the TCU experience, they are 6 of 28 on third downs over the last eight quarters.

Not even the darkness could help, and that’s saying something, considering BYU is now 20-1 in its last 21 night games. It’s really become a case of the glass being half empty or half full. It’s a tug-o-war between Peaked vs. Potential.

The good news is BYU is 5-2 without coming close to peaking, or least that’s the hope of head coach Kalani Sitake. Considering the inconsistencies, it’s fair to assume the Cougars potentially have their best days ahead of them. A complete game on Saturday, or something close to it, could be enough to stun No. 7 Texas.

The Longhorns have been stunned before. BYU is 4-1 in its history against Texas, including 2-1 in Austin. The Cougars were underdogs in every meeting and Saturday will be no different. Texas opened as a 16-point favorite (1:30 p.m. MDT, ABC).

There is no Taysom Hill this time around to torment the Texas defense; however, overlooked in Hill’s galloping through the secondary was the dominating performance of the BYU defense. During the 2014 game in Austin, the Cougars held the Longhorns to seven points while forcing four turnovers.

Can they do it again? Why not? And if the offense can clean up the third-down-and-long situations that have dogged them all season, the potential is there for a peak performance, and maybe even another win for the ages. The danger of a second Texas beatdown this month looms if they can’t.

The Big 12 is all over the place. The Longhorns were 23 ½ point favorites to rout Houston last week. Instead, Texas needed a defensive stand to avoid overtime in a 31-24 win. The Cougars will roll into the Lone Star State playing with a pocket full of house money. If they lose and return home 5-3, no one will be surprised. In fact, 5-3 is still ahead of where many thought they would be in their first year of Power Five football.

But what if they return to Provo 6-2 and bowl eligible? That’s a big “what if,” but everything is bigger in Texas. To do it, the Cougars will need more peaking and less banking on having the potential to figure it out somewhere down the line.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.