The Cougars slugged through an anemic offensive effort for much of the first half in putting together a 35-27 win over the Bearcats on Friday.
The game featured BYU proving opportunistic and relatively mistake-free while Cincinnati committed two big mistakes on top of several other mishaps throughout — preventing it from winning the game despite out-gaining the Cougars by more than 200 yards. It felt a lot like BYU’s win on the road versus Arkansas where BYU proved the more composed team for 60 minutes, allowing it to overcome significant disadvantages in total yards among other factors.
So there was a lot to like, mixed with a couple notable items that still need work.
What we liked
Jakob Robinson: Sure, the junior defensive back spotted BYU an early 7-0 lead with his pick-6, but he added a lot more than that throughout the game in providing tight coverages and good run support. Robinson is well on his way to be considered one of the best ever to play the cornerback position in Provo.
Kedon Slovis: Slovis did away with his 1-7 start for a mere two yards quickly at the end of the first half, conducting a touchdown drive to finish it all off and then hit his stride from there. He finished with 13-24 passing for 223 yards and two touchdowns while showing good pocket presence and precise passing for the game’s final 31 minutes.
LJ Martin: The freshman running back again showed well in key situations — particularly during his 29 yard touchdown run in a third-and-13 situation. Martin broke two open-field tackles on a run that put BYU up 21-10 while putting the Bearcats solidly in catch-up mode for the rest of the game. Overall he finished with 66 yards on 16 carries.
Miles Davis: The sophomore speedster was a surprise contributor, and although he ran it just four times for 17 yards, he helped spread the field laterally, which is key in a wide-zone blocking scheme — an aspect that has been missing in games prior.
Marcus McKenzie: He didn’t recover the big fumbled punt return in the second half, nor did he directly cause it, but he absolutely aided in the recovery by again shooting quickly down the field while taking out at least one Bearcat player who could have secured the football.
Crew Wakley: Wakley didn’t enter the game until late, but rose to the occasion in a big way. The Jordan High School product provided good run support and provided one of the bigger defensive plays of the game when he knocked away an attempted pass on a fourth down attempt by the Bearcats.
Chase Roberts: The American Fork product is establishing himself as BYU’s top receiver with his six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown on Friday. His biggest play came on a 59-yard touchdown reception where Slovis deftly side-stepped a defender in the pocket to buy time for Roberts to break loose for the score.
Max Tooley: BYU needed its linebackers to step up big in the wake of Ben Bywater’s injury, and it was Tooley who stepped up most with his team-leading 16 tackles of which nine were solo.
Kingsley Suamataia: Suamataia’s play has been up-and-down throughout the year due to injury, but he was definitely up in Friday’s win. While BYU’s offensive line play still needs work, it was very much improved over last week’s effort, and especially when considering the opponent. Suamataia led that improvement with some punishing run blocks and solid pass protection.
Harrison Taggart: The freshman linebacker was asked to step up in a big spot in spelling Bywater and largely responded well with his ten total tackles recorded.
Composure: The Cougars committed just four penalties for 25 yards to the Bearcats’ seven committed for 63. But it was Cincinnati’s two gigantic turnovers committed that proved the difference in the game to BYU’s zero. Team composure plays big in most games, and BYU minimizing mistakes while pouncing on Cincinnati’s multiple mishaps played big on Friday.
What needs work
Rush defense: Yielding 242 yards on the ground for a 5.1 average isn’t going to win you a lot of games and BYU certainly has to be better in this regard. The most effective runs came from Cincinnati quarterback Emory Jones, who broke the pocket time and again for 94 yards on just 14 attempts. Meanwhile the Bearcats’ top two running backs galloped for 138 yards on 31 attempts.
Complete game effort: While the final 31 minutes were well-played the first 29 were anything but, with BYU’s offense accounting for just 23 yards before the final 48 seconds of the first half when the offense finally woke up to manufacture a critical touchdown drive to go into the break up 14-10.