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COLLEGE FOOTBALL

BYU hadn’t made this mistake all season. It did three times in a loss to Boise State

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BSU vs. BYU

BYU running back Lopini Katoa fumbles the ball after receiving a hit from Boise State safety Tyreque Jones in the second half of the Broncos’ 26-17 upset of the Cougars on Saturday in Provo, Utah. It was BYU’s third fumble of the game and the second for Katoa.

The BYU football team has lost no fewer than four fumbles every season since 2000, so the odds were good that the Cougars would cough up the football eventually. But from Boise State’s perspective, the Cougars couldn’t have faltered at a better time. The shorthanded Broncos forced four turnovers — three fumbles and an interception — to upset No. 10 BYU 26-17 on Saturday afternoon at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The previously unbeaten Cougars hadn’t lost a fumble all season and surrendered three in a game for the first time since 2018 in a loss to the Broncos on The Blue.

In addition to the four takeaways, the Broncos stopped BYU on 2-of-3 fourth-down tries after the Cougars entered the game as one of just five teams in the nation with a perfect 4-for-4 record on fourth down this season. “Being in the underdog role today was awesome,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “We’re going to keep that mentality, regardless. … We’ve got a lot to work for, we’ve got a lot to improve upon and we’ve got a lot to show week in and week out.”

Counting Jonah Dalmas’ 41-yard field goal with 1:25 remaining in the first quarter, the Broncos scored 23 unanswered points to turn a 10-0 deficit into a 23-10 lead. The rally was sparked by the first of Boise State’s four takeaways. “This is just a part of reestablishing the foundation and reestablishing what Boise State has always been about, and that’s hard work, diligence and taking care of each other,” Avalos said. BYU running back Tyler Allgeier entered Saturday’s game ranked No. 8 in the nation with 564 rushing yards and seven TDs. But it was Allgeier’s fumble that set up the Broncos’ first trip to the end zone. On second-and-10 from the BYU 20-yard line, Boise State edge Isaiah Bagnah tackled Allgeier and knocked the football loose in the process. Defensive tackle Scott Matlock pounced on the ball — his second fumble recovery of the season — to give the Broncos the ball on the BYU 24. Four plays later, Boise State running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio scored on an 11-yard run to knot the game at 10-all with 6:29 until halftime.

On the ensuing kickoff, BYU returner Lopini Katoa couldn’t hang onto the football as he was brought down by Boise State’s Alexander Teubner, and JL Skinner swooped in for his second fumble recovery of the season. Less than a minute later, the Broncos took their first lead of the game, 17-10, courtesy of a 1-yard run from Andrew Van Buren. It marked the first time the Cougars had trailed in a game all season. “Nobody feels worse than those running backs right now. Ball security is something that we’re always preaching,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “It’s something we can always improve and always get better. Mistakes happen; it just seems like we made way too many today to battle back from. Even with all of those mistakes that were made, I felt like the guys still battled and played hard and gave us their effort every time.” Skinner, Boise State’s leading tackler through the first five games, was ejected for targeting on a BYU kick return. Already down six starters, including both cornerbacks, the Broncos stood tall, earning their first fourth-down stop of the game by stuffing Allgeier on a fourth-and-2 try from the Cougars’ own 46. The Broncos then tacked on a 20-yard field goal from Dalmas to close out the first half with a 20-10 lead.

“When it comes down to it, we knew that we shot ourselves in the foot in previous games,” Boise State linebacker Riley Whimpey said. “We continued to believe in ourselves throughout the season. We put the work in this week and focused on simplifying everything so that we could go out there and play fast, and I thought we did a really good job of that.” On BYU’s first drive of the third quarter, Katoa committed his second fumble of the game. Boise State free safety Tyreque Jones forced the fumble, and Teubner continued his career night with the recovery. “One of the objectives that we have as a defense is to develop dependable depth,” Whimpey said. “… The guys who stepped up and came in did their job, did their one-11th, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.” BYU eventually pulled within 23-17 with 7:27 remaining in the fourth quarter. But Boise State made it a two-score game again with a 22-yard field goal from Dalmas, and the Broncos closed out the game the same way their rally started — with a takeaway. Redshirt freshman cornerback Kaonohi Kaniho grabbed his first career interception with 1:59 on the clock, picking off BYU QB Jaren Hall to seal the win.

Boise State has 16 takeaways this season, which is the most for the Broncos since having 16 through six games in 2015. “They weren’t going to leave here without the win,” Avalos said. “It was earned during the week, and the players know that. They held each other accountable.”

BRONCOS MISSING SIX STARTERS

Boise State defeated BYU without six starters. Cornerbacks Markel Reed and Tyric LeBeauf missed the game for undisclosed reasons, Boise State announced about 45 minutes before kickoff. That left Bowling Green transfer Caleb Biggers and less experienced cornerbacks Damon Cole and Rodney Robinson to match up with the Cougars’ wide receivers. Cole, a redshirt senior, originally came to Boise State as a receiver but converted to cornerback in 2019. He appeared in six games last year and had five total tackles this season. Biggers finished with a team-leading nine total tackles. Kaonohi Kaniho replaced Cole, who was injured early the first quarter, and contributed a career-high five tackles with one pass breakup and the game-sealing interception. Starting running back George Holani was also out for the second time this season. A leg injury kept him out of the season opener at UCF, and he aggravated the injury in the first quarter of a loss to Nevada. Habibi-Likio and Van Buren carried the load in the backfield as they combined for 135 of the Broncos’ 140 rushing yards. Wide receiver CT Thomas was out for the first time this season, and center Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez missed his sixth straight game. Texas Tech transfer Will Farrar started at center. Guard Garrett Curran was also out for the second straight game. The Broncos used the same offensive line combination as the previous week against Nevada: LT John Ojukwu, LG Jake Stetz, C Farrar, RG Ben Dooley and RT Uzo Osuji.

BRONCOS LOSE LEADING TACKLER

Skinner was ejected from the game with 3:27 remaining in the second quarter for targeting. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound junior had led the Broncos in tackling in four of their first five games. Going into Saturday’s game, Skinner had a team-best 51 total tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and four pass breakups. Before he left the BYU game, Skinner had a fumble recovery and two tackles. Despite leaving early, Skinner still has the most tackles among Boise State defenders this season with 53. Whimpey is second on the team with 39.

QUICK HITS

Team captains Khalil Shakir and Kekaula Kaniho were joined by receiver Stefan Cobbs and safety Tyreque Jones as game captains. … Boise State won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. … Boise State was led onto the field by Shakir, who carried the Dan Paul Hammer. … Long-snapper Daniel Cantrell carried the American flag and offensive lineman Donte Harrington carried the Bleed Blue flag. … Fruitland High graduate Tyler Eiguren grabbed his first career reception. The redshirt sophomore caught a 13-yard pass from Hank Bachmeier in the fourth quarter. … Saturday’s game was played in front of 63,470 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

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