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3 takeaways from BYU’s fourth straight loss — this time to No. 14 Oklahoma

The Cougars gave themselves a chance to get the upset, but mistakes plagued the team yet again

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Brigham Young Cougars safety Crew Wakley (38) brings down Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Jalil Farooq (3) as BYU and Oklahoma play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

Brigham Young Cougars safety Crew Wakley (38) brings down Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Jalil Farooq (3) as BYU and Oklahoma play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

BYU played its best game in over a month on Saturday against No. 14 Oklahoma at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

The result?

Still a loss, as the Cougars couldn’t overcome their own mistakes in a 31-24 loss.

Here are three takeaways from the game that dropped BYU under .500 for the first time this season.

Turnovers changed the complexion of the game

Following several weeks of inept offensive play, BYU outgained Oklahoma in total yards, 390 to 368.

What led to the Cougars’ ultimate undoing, though, were three absolutely costly turnovers.

The game-changer happened in the third quarter.

With the game tied and Oklahoma star quarterback Dillon Gabriel out with an injury, BYU had used its run game to move the ball to the Sooners 2, with Aidan Robbins sandwiching runs of 27 and 22 yards around an 11-yard gain from BYU quarterback Jake Retzlaff.

But on first-and-goal, Retzlaff opted to pass on an RPO option and was picked at the goal line by Billy Bowman Jr. The defender raced 100 yards for the momentum-swinging score.

Retzlaff also fumbled twice — his late first-quarter fumble on a bad exchange led to an Oklahoma touchdown, squandering an excellent BYU punt return that started that drive in Sooners territory.

Oklahoma got the game-winning touchdown off Retzlaff’s third turnover of the game — this one came with just under nine minutes to play when the Cougar quarterback was strip-sacked on third down. 

It led to a 16-yard Gavin Sawchuk touchdown run three plays later.

BYU’s third-down defense is still giving up too many conversions

The Cougars saw a bit of improvement on defense against the Sooners over recent weeks — including a couple stops inside the BYU 10, one that led to a field goal and another to a missed field goal — but BYU was far-too-often burned on third down against Oklahoma.

That’s not unsurprising, seeing as how BYU entered the game allowing opponents to convert 44.7% of their third-down attempts — that’s among the 20 worst teams in the country.

On Saturday, the Sooners converted several long third-down attempts, moving the chains on 8 of 16 third downs.

On Oklahoma’s final drive, backup quarterback Jackson Arnold converted a third-and-8 with his arm, allowing the Sooners to run out the clock.

Arnold also completed a 16-yard pass on a third-and-13 pass earlier in the fourth quarter.

Before leaving at halftime, Gabriel — who finished with 191 passing yards and two touchdowns — converted third downs of 13, 12 and 9 yards to gain with double-digit yard passes, as well as a 3-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-goal for Oklahoma’s first score.

Jake Retzlaff showed promise … and made critical errors

Retzlaff made his third straight start for BYU after replacing an ailing Kedon Slovis, and Saturday’s game — at times — was his most promising effort.

The junior college transfer completed 15 of 26 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns, helping BYU go into halftime tied with Oklahoma at 17-17. He showed a nice connection with Kody Epps, who had six catches for 90 yards.

The dual-threat Retzlaff ran for 29 yards on 13 carries, picking up chunk yardage on a handful of drives to help keep the offense churning. His third-quarter 10-yard touchdown run tied the game at 24-24.

Retzlaff also converted three fourth-down tries with his arm, including a fourth-and-2 in the first quarter that ended up in a 23-yard touchdown pass to Chase Roberts.

He even led an impressive touchdown drive after the pick-six, showing resilience after a costly turnover.

The mistakes, though, were too much to overcome against a Sooners squad that didn’t turn the ball over.

After the half, Retzlaff only completed 5 of 9 passes for 26 yards. BYU scored on just one of six second-half possessions, after scoring on three of five during the first half.

Against more menial competition, that might have been enough for a win — but not against Oklahoma.

BONUS: BYU gets its run game going

It’s been a frustrating year for the Cougars in the ground game, but on Saturday, Robbins gave that part of BYU’s game a much-needed burst.

The junior transfer from UNLV ran for 182 yards on 22 carries, good enough for 8.3 yards per tote.

After he missed more than a month due to a rib injury, Robbins has shown he can carry the BYU ground attack.

It’s an encouraging sign he made it happen against Oklahoma.

What’s next?

BYU will wrap up the regular season with a road game at Oklahoma State two days after Thanksgiving.

The Cougars (5-6) need a win to become bowl eligible — BYU has lost four straight and has just one road victory this season.

If BYU doesn’t get bowl eligible, it will be the first time since 2017 the Cougars don’t play in the postseason.