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PROVO — The BYU Cougars had a top 10 ranking and a 5-0 season, but all that went away when the clock hit zeroes Saturday afternoon.
Four turnovers, costly penalties and a lack of execution led to an upset victory for the Boise State Broncos and the first loss for the Cougars.
Halfway into the season, we're still learning a lot about BYU, and Saturday taught us some tough lessons that have been looming in the background all season long.
Here are three lessons from BYU's loss to unranked Boise State:
The healthy quarterback should start
This is a lesson some will not agree with, but we're going with it anyway. Jaren Hall was the Week 1 starter for the Cougars, and in the three games he played before an injury he looked fantastic. He made plays with his legs and protected the football.
The sophomore still had plenty to learn and improvements to make, but overall he was doing great things as the BYU starter. After a two-game absence due to an injury to his ribs, backup Baylor Romney stepped in and played lights out for the Cougars until he suffered a concussion against Utah State.
Freshman Jacob Conover came in for an injured Romney in the second half of the Utah State game, but struggled to find a rhythm. It's hard to blame him too much considering it was his first collegiate snaps and he was not getting first team reps in practice.
In the loss, Hall threw for more yards than he has all season, but he wasn't the Hall we'd seen in the early part of the season. Hall is a playmaker. He can torch teams his legs and can punish them with a depleted secondary. But Hall's dynamics were limited Saturday, and it could be argued he was not 100% healthy.
He looked hesitant to run; and while he connected on some good balls, his receivers bailed him out of some precarious situations. Hall never looked fully comfortable in the game.
It was a gutsy performance by Hall, but it was a limited one. If you're going to gamble, it seems like BYU should gamble on a healthy Conover and not an injured Hall.
Big 12 play cannot come soon enough
As hard as it was for Cougar fans to see their team lose the way they did Saturday, the truth is they still have a possibility for a great season. They have four more games against Power Five opponents and still have a top 20 ranking. So why does it hurt so bad?
That's because Cougar Nation now knows exactly what their team is playing for: an Independence Bowl game with a Conference USA opponent. That is unless the Big Ten or Big 12 can't provide a team for the Cheez-It Bowl.
The playoff was a huge long shot already, but now it's all but an impossibility. A New Year's Six bowl was a real possibility if BYU could finish the season undefeated (a tall task at the least), but now that's all but a dream, as well. Independence has given BYU fans some fun games against teams like USC, Texas, Notre Dame and Michigan State, but it also brings with it an all-or-nothing perspective.
Utah is currently 3-2 on the season, but they are still very much in the running for an opportunity at the Rose Bowl. Arizona State has one loss and is ranked, but the Sun Devils could also win the Pac-12 and go to the Rose Bowl — these are two teams that lost to BYU, by the way. But since they play in a P5 conference, their hopes for a big bowl game are very much alive.
Even Alabama, who now has one loss to an unranked team, could still find their way into the College Football Playoff.
The Big 12 can change the landscape, but as for now the Cougars destiny is mostly played out in 2021.
What caused the collapse on Saturday?
First things first, let's give Boise State credit for the win. The Broncos came prepared, knew what they needed to do and beat a top 10 team on the road in a hostile environment; they earned that win, but the BYU team that ran out onto that field Saturday did not look like the team from weeks past.
Both the offensive and defensive fronts of BYU have pushed teams around this year. With the exception of the South Florida game, BYU owned the line of scrimmage, but that can mostly be attributed to injury. But on Saturday, the trenches went to Boise State. One of NCAA's worst rushing offenses ran for 140 yards and averaged over 3 yards per carry.
On the other side of the ball, Boise State gave up 235 rushing yards to Utah State but held BYU to just 111 yards. For context, Utah State had a total of 31 rushing yards against BYU. So what happened to the offensive and defensive fronts of BYU?
Ball security was also an issue. BYU had not given up a fumble all season, but they lost three Saturday — two within their own 30-yard line and another in the red zone to take away points. That was a potentially a 21-point swing.
Another issue was a lack of intensity. It felt like BYU came out flat, and even the energized Nacua brothers seemed to be more low key than usual. It was hard to tell what was going on, but it felt like the Cougars expected the win.
Maybe this will be the wake-up call for the Cougars, who need to refocus and get back on track. They need to play four full quarters of football and prove they deserve their ranking. But things don't get any easier for BYU as they hit the road to take on a 5-1 Baylor team averaging 40 points a game and only giving up an average of 16 points a game.