Lopini Katoa runs the ball against Boise State. (Addie Blacker)

BYU football fumbles away undefeated season 26-17 against Boise State

BYU’s ascent to No. 10 in the polls had been in large part due to its stellar turnover margin, losing the ball just twice in the first five games. The Cougar offense made the most of each possession and almost always took care of the football.

Oh, how quickly things can change.

Dreams of an undefeated campaign came to a screeching halt at the hands of Boise State on Saturday, where the Cougars fell 26-17 to the Broncos after coughing up four turnovers — doubling their season total in just 60 short minutes.

Led by starting quarterback Jaren Hall, who returned from injury after a two-week absence, the Cougars jumped to an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter on a Jake Oldroyd field goal and an impressive leaping, toe-tapping touchdown grab from receiver Samson Nacua. The typically slow-starting Cougars were on an immediate roll, and it appeared that 6-0 was imminent.

Then, the rain came down and the wheels fell off.

As LaVell Edwards Stadium was treated to a steady downpour, BYU’s identity flipped just as quickly as the weather. Hall faced difficulty gripping the wet football, and running back Tyler Allgeier let a fumble slip out of his grasp for a Boise State recovery and eventual score.

Jaren Hall throws the ball against Boise State. (Addie Blacker)

On the ensuing kickoff, return man Lopini Katoa lost control and gave the ball right back to the Broncos, who scored again to mark 14 straight points off turnovers for the Broncos. Katoa fumbled again later in the game on what seemed to be a walk-in touchdown in the third quarter – just another brick in the wall for the cursed Cougars.

“It’s tough when you shoot yourself in the foot. Those are not situations that you want,” linebacker Ben Bywater said.

The Cougars had never trailed all season before the second quarter against Boise, and they would remain at a disadvantage for the remainder of the contest. The Broncos — who entered the game with a lowly 108th ranked run defense — held the Cougars to just 4.1 yards per carry, forced three fumbles and even intercepted Hall late in the fourth quarter to end all hopes for a BYU rally.

“We made mistakes, but they made the plays,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “Nobody feels worse than those running backs right now. We’re always preaching ball security and that’s something I can never get enough of as a coach.”

The BYU squad we saw in the season’s first five weeks was nowhere to be found against the Broncos. The typically disciplined unit couldn’t avoid costly penalties on both sides of the ball. The efficient red zone offense stalled in several critical situations. The defense which averaged more than six tackles-for-loss per game could only manage two, couldn’t find a takeaway and put minimal pressure on Bronco quarterback Hank Bachmeier. Even the rowdy ROC section seemed deflated toward the finish line.

“Coach Sitake always talks about the small and simple things, and one of those things is ball security. I thought we fought back and played hard, but when you have four turnovers it makes it hard to come back,” receiver Puka Nacua said.

Puka Nacua runs after a catch against Boise State. (Addie Blacker)

Hall looked sharp upon his return, notching his first career 300-yard game along with a touchdown. Receiver Gunner Romney racked up 102 yards on four catches, including a 59-yard bomb that led to an Allgeier score. Fellow receivers Nacua and Neil Pau’u combined for 125 yards on eight receptions.

“We turned the ball over too many times and put ourselves in a tough spot,” Hall said. “Any adversity is gonna be tough. I was confident we were going to bounce back but just couldn’t finish drives.”

Bywater continued his tremendous season with a team and career-high 14 tackles, including six solo stops and a tackle for loss. Payton Wilgar added nine tackles and a forced fumble, Pepe Tanuvasa had a sack and cornerback Kaleb Hayes notched two pass break-ups.

It was awkward to fall short on many of the team’s usual strengths, but even more embarrassing for the Cougars to lose to an unranked opponent at home as a top 10 program.BYU looks to rebound as it faces Baylor on the road next Saturday, where the future Big 12 conference foes will face off in a battle of 5-1 squads.

“Everybody’s gonna go to church tomorrow and we’ll get back at it on Monday,” Nacua said. “We’re gonna learn from it and be ready to go next week.”

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