BYU secured its 300th football win at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Friday night edging out the University of Connecticut 30-13 after a strong fourth quarter.
The Cougars are back on track following a tough loss at Michigan on Sept. 26. However, the win over UConn was closer than the score suggested as the Cougars were tied with the Huskies 7-7 heading into halftime.
“The outcome was favorable, but ultimately we want to play at a higher level than we did tonight, especially in the critical moments in the blue zone,” BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said following the game.
The Cougars struggled in the blue zone for the first three quarters, despite a season high of 539 total yards on offense. BYU kicker Trevor Samson was called upon five times to kick field goals, but made only three. The Cougars showed resiliency and continued to battle through the fourth quarter.
BYU dominated UConn statistically throughout the night, but entered the fourth quarter tied 10-10. An interception by defensive end Bronson Kaufusi helped turn the tide for the Cougars. On the next play, quarterback Tanner Mangum connected with receiver Mitch Mathews for a touchdown.
This season has been one full of fourth quarter energy for the Cougars. BYU defeated Nebraska and Boise State with fourth quarter comebacks and almost beat UCLA in the same manner.
“It was a fun experience to come out in the fourth quarter and score to get the house rocking,” Mangum said after the game. “It all started with the defense. They deserve high credit for the win tonight as always.”
Turnovers and penalties haunted the Cougars for most of the game. With one fumble, two interceptions and seven penalties for 70 yards, BYU’s defense had to step up, and it did. The Cougars held UConn to 230 yards during the night and forced two turnovers. It was the defensive play that kept the Cougar offense within striking distance, and eventually it took the lead in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars continued to struggle on the ground Friday night, finishing the first half with only 44 yards. But the running backs picked it up in the second half and finished with 174 yards, a season high.
Running back Algernon Brown carried most of the load Friday night, running for 95 yards on 18 attempts, but it was freshman Francis Bernard that came through in the fourth. Bernard had his first career start against UConn and scored BYU’s first touchdown in the first quarter, but also helped the Cougars to pull away in the fourth.
“I really liked the way (Bernard) ran at the end of the game,” Mendenhall said.
Mendenhall stressed the importance of consistency in the run game. With injuries and rotating running backs, the Cougars’ running game is not what it used to be, but it is improving every week. The offense will continue to rotate running backs throughout the season and try to establish consistency.
“Our O-line was fighting the whole game and they finally broke down the defense in the second half,” Brown said.
However, the lack of ground game paved way for the Cougars to soar through the air. Mangum had a historic night, throwing for a career high of 365 yards and two touchdowns in spite of the rain. However, BYU went three quarters without a passing touchdown. Mangum’s two passing touchdowns came in the fourth quarter and both were caught by Mathews.
BYU’s receivers bounced back and had a big night as well. The receivers helped Mangum and the offense move the ball almost at will in the middle of the field before stalling in the blue zone.
In classic Cougar fashion, BYU began to get the ball in the end zone through the air in the fourth quarter.
“This game was a big opportunity for the entire wide receiver core to step up,” wideout Terenn Houk said. “It was a key opportunity and the entire group did a good job in each situation stepping up their game.”
BYU will host the East Carolina Pirates on Oct. 10 for Homecoming. This will be the first time that the two teams meet, and it won’t be a walk in the park for the Cougars. The Pirates stomped SMU on Saturday with a 49-23 victory and will be confident as they come into Provo.
The Pirates boast a dual-threat quarterback that may prove difficult to stop for the Cougars. The BYU defense will have to be on its toes to contain junior quarterback James Summers. Mendenhall said he hopes to have nose tackle Travis Tuiloma and linebacker Harvey Langi back to provide support to the defense.
The Cougars should be evenly matched on the ground. East Carolina’s rushing defense is ranked No. 92 overall compared to BYU’s No. 116 rushing offense. The next few weeks will be an opportunity for the Cougars to polish the running game before their next big test when they head into SEC country to face the University of Missouri on Nov. 14.
Many knew that the Cougars would have a tough September schedule, but October may prove to be just as difficult. The Cougars will look to play four strong quarters against the Pirates in order to avoid having to make yet another comeback in the fourth quarter.