The BYU Cougars defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats, 35-27, in a Big 12 Conference game in Provo, Utah. Here are three thoughts on the game.
Cincinnati Didn’t Get Its Money’s Worth
With less than a minute to play in the first half Cincinnati (2-3, 0-2 Big 12) had 250 total yards. The Bearcats’ running game was just cutting through the BYU front seven. Quarterback Emory Jones calmed down after throwing a pick-six to BYU (4-1, 1-1) corner Jakob Robinson early in the game. Yet, after all of that, the Bearcats only had a 10-7. What could possibly go wrong?
BYU took over at its own 18-yard line, the result of a rather misguided decision to try and return it out of the end zone.
At that point BYU had fewer than 40 yards of total offense and quarterback Kedon Slovis had completed one pass. One.
Then Slovis hit Keanu Hill for a 23-yard pass. Then BYU went into hurry-up, Cincinnati decided to bring the blitz and Slovis hit Chase Roberts for a 24-yard pass. Then Slovis tried to hit Isaac Rex on a quick back-shoulder face but Cincinnati’s Jordan Young was called for pass interference to move the ball further downfield.
Then, Slovis hit Darius Lassiter for a 22-yard touchdown pass to the far corner of the end zone. Lassiter was so wide open it defied logic.
Three official plays, 82 yards, 30 seconds, go-ahead touchdown.
By half’s end Cincinnati still led in total yards (154) but BYU had all the momentum thanks to those four plays, which put them up 14-10 at the break.
BYU Wakes Up
It’s funny what a little momentum does for you. That three-play drive at the end of the first half suddenly turned the Cougars into a juggernaut. They scored on their first two drives of the third quarter. The Bearcats had one meaningful drive in the third quarter that led to a field goal and BYU had a 28-20 lead after three quarters.
By the end of the game the Cougars had serviceable offensive numbers, given that they produced almost nothing for 29 minutes. Slovis threw for 223 yards and two scores. Roberts caught six passes for 131 and one touchdown. BYU rushed for less than 75 yards against a formidable Cincinnati defensive front, but it was enough.
And, Cincinnati committed a cardinal sin of playing on the road — a special teams turnover.
Down only 28-20 late in the third quarter, Cincinnati’s Braden Smith tried to field a punt on the bounce, but it was too high for him and he touched it and lost control of it. BYU’s Austin Riggs fell on it and the Cougars eventually scored to make it a 35-20 game. Smith made up for it with an acrobatic touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late.
BYU got a critical stop late in the fourth quarter, thanks in part to a review of a spot that showed Cincinnati was short of a first down with 2:42 left.
At times it was not pretty, but eventually BYU started playing like BYU.
Bearcat Touchdown Woes
Cincinnati needs to find an answer for getting in the end zone consistently or this first Big 12 campaign is going to be rough.
The Bearcats’ touchdown in the second quarter broke a drought that dated back to the fourth quarter of their overtime loss to Miami (OH). It spanned their entire game with Oklahoma last Saturday, one they only lost, 20-6.
Cincinnati actually didn’t have much of an issue moving the football against BYU, especially on the ground, where they gained more than 200 yards. Chamon Metayer had a terrific game at wide receiver, catching three passes for 59 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which came in the third quarter. Both of the scores needed booth reviews.
But, the Jones pick early was damaging. So were a couple of drives where Cincinnati failed to convert near the end zone and had to settle for field goals. Plus, the special teams turnover.
It’s promising that Cincinnati has played its first two Big 12 games close for three quarters and proved its ability to move the ball.
But its secondary proved to be a liability in the second half and the offense’s inability to consistently convert close to the end zone are two areas that have to be addressed entering October.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.