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BYU Football - Payton Wilgar
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BYU Football Midseason Awards, What To Watch For In Second Half

Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Payton Wilgar (49) celebrates a sack on Arizona Wildcats quarterback Gunner Cruz (9) during the Vegas Kickoff Classic in Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. BYU won 24-16. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – The midseason point for BYU football is already here, and the Cougars have put together an impressive run thus far. At 5-1 and ranked No. 19 in the AP Top 25 poll, BYU has exceeded many people’s expectations for this team.

The national conversation around Kalani Sitake’s program coming into this season went something like this, “Zach Wilson and a handful of NFL draft picks are gone. They play seven Power Five teams, lock BYU in for a seven-win season.”

The seven-win season could be in play still if BYU replicates the performance they put out in the loss against Boise State. But any notion that BYU would fall back to the mediocrity they experienced in Sitake’s first couple of years has been sorely mistaken thus far.

“I’m really pleased with the talent that we have on our team and the development of our players,” Sitake said. “We’ve been really tested with our depth because of injury. That happens. This season, it’s been more than we’re comfortable with, but we knew this was a possibility. I’m happy with the way our guys are performing and how they prepare. Coming off a loss is always difficult, but there’s an opportunity for us to learn and get better.”

BYU Football Midseason Awards

Let’s dish out some midseason awards for this BYU football team.

Offensive MVP: Tyler Allgeier

Pretty obvious to go with Tyler Allgeier as BYU’s offensive MVP. Despite the loss against Boise State, Allgeier has put on great film that one can only imagine is improving his NFL draft stock.

Through six games, Allgeier has rushed for 642 yards on 121 carries. That’s good for 5.3 yards per carry and he’s scored eight touchdowns this season. What’s crazy is that he is technically only a sophomore if he utilizes the free COVID year from a season ago. Imagine this guy for two more years. It seems unlikely, but Allgeier has the talent to be one of the school’s best running backs ever to carry the rock.

Defensive MVP: Payton Wilgar

Wilgar came into the season with many preseason accolades (Butkus Award Watch List); he’s living up to the hype so far. Through six games, Wilgar has 35 tackles, six tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups, one quarterback hurry, and one forced fumble.

His impact on the BYU defense is greater than simply the stats, as opposing offenses always have to account for wherever Wilgar is on the field. Also, if you want to give someone an award for the hardest hitter on this year’s BYU team, Wilgar might take that as well with some of the hard hits he’s given to opposing players.

Like Allgeier, Wilgar is only a sophomore. He’s 6-foot-3, 235-pounds and has the versatility to play as a linebacker or defensive end.

Best Newcomer: Puka Nacua

The start of Nacua’s career at BYU started slowly as an injury hampered him during fall camp. His limited availability in camp made coaches hold off on him playing in the season-opener against Arizona. But ever since week one, the former Washington Husky continues to produce more with each game in BYU’s offense.

The talent from Nacua is undeniable as he arrived at BYU as one of the top transfer portal prospects during the 2021 cycle. He catches everything in sight, as evidenced by the one-handed grab he made against Boise State. But where he has improved is his physicality. During the win against rival Utah State, Nacua was seen downfield making key blocks to create big-play opportunities for BYU in the ground attack.

Nacua is just scratching the surface of what he could become at BYU. His potential is endless with the Cougars over the next few seasons.

Biggest Surprise: Pepe Tanuvasa

Last season, the former Navy transfer made an impact at linebacker during BYU’s 55-3 blowout win over Tanuvasa’s old team. But after that, his role on the BYU defense was minimal for the remainder of the 2020 campaign.

Fast forward to this year, Preston Hadley switches from safeties coach to defensive ends and with that move, Tanuvasa got a position change moving from linebacker to defensive end/JACK. The move has been beneficial for him and BYU. Tanuvasa has emerged as one of BYU’s best pass rushers alongside players like Tyler Batty, Earl Tuioti-Mariner, and Payton Wilgar.

Tanuvasa is tied for the fifth-highest rated player on BYU’s defense according to Pro Football Focus grades.

Best Win: Utah

Was it going to be anything else? Ending the nine-game losing streak was a big deal to BYU. Plus, BYU didn’t do it with trick plays or “specials,” BYU beat Utah at their own game by winning at the line of scrimmage and taking care of the football. So now BYU can say they have bragging rights over the Utes until the 2024 season.

What To Watch For During Second Half Of The Season

Can BYU’s defense get off the field on 3rd down?

When BYU gave up long drives during the second half of the win over USF on September 25, many chalked it up to being a game where BYU took their foot off the gas because the Bulls were a huge underdog. That was understandable that night, but the problem has been reoccurring.

Utah State and Boise State both put together long methodical drives against BYU’s defense. With many of the drives being extended by third-down conversions.

BYU is currently 103rd nationally in first downs allowed this season. The Cougars have given up 131 first downs this season. In addition, they are 91st in the nation in 3rd down conversion percentage on defense at 41.8%.

With the schedule not easing up until November, BYU’s defense has to find a way to get off the field when opposing teams are in third & long situations.

Back-to-back double-digit win seasons?

After BYU lost to Boise State, many Cougar fans then asked Independence the annual question: What does BYU have to play for now? In my opinion, there’s still a lot to play for. Win out and finish 11-1 could have BYU knocking on the door of an at-large bid in the New Year’s Six.

If BYU finds a way to end the season with 10 wins, it will mark back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time since 2008 and 2009. That type of consistency with many personnel returning (there will be some losses to the NFL) could position BYU to be a preseason Top 25 team next year in their final season as an Independent program.

Four games against Power Five teams

Typically at the midway point of an Independent schedule for BYU football, games against Power Five teams are long gone and in the rearview mirror. However, that’s not the case this season, as the first three games of the second half are against teams in the power structure of college football. Then a regular-season finale against USC.

This week’s game against Baylor might be the toughest of them all and it gives a sneak peek into what life will be like as a future Big 12 member. The first-ever trip to the Palouse to take on a surging Washington State could be intriguing, and then the return of Bronco Mendenhall to Provo has no shortage of awesome storylines.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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