BYU took advantage of SJSU's 4th-down-friendly defense to put game out of reach

BYU WR Micah Simon hauls in a fourth quarter pass (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Going into the game, the BYU Cougars offense and San Jose State Spartans defense were nearly polar opposites in fourth down efficiency. On the season, BYU had chosen to go for the first down, rather than punt or kick a field goal, 13 times on fourth down. The Cougars successfully converted just one of those tries (7.7%). San Jose State had seen its opponents make that same choice the exact same number of times. Those opponents successfully converted the first down every single time but one (92.3%).

When faced with fourth down on Saturday, BYU decided to go for the first down three times, and the Cougars found out just how fourth down friendly the Spartan defense was to its opponents.

1. 4th and 4

With just 47 seconds left in the second quarter, BYU wanted to score one more time before the half. BYU was already at the San Jose State 25-yard line when it was 4th and 4. Head Coach Kalani Sitake decided the odds of converting the first down were better than converting a 42-yard field goal. Tanner Mangum dropped back to pass, and he found running back KJ Hall for a six-yard gain and a first down.

That drive ended without any points for BYU. San Jose State wouldn't be so fortunate in the second half. The Cougars converted two more fourth downs in the second half, and they proved costly.

2. 4th and 1

Leading 24-6 midway through the third quarter, BYU faced a 4th and 1 at its own 41-yard line. BYU made the aggressive decision to go for the first down, rather than protect the lead and field position by punting. Mangum picked up two yards on a quarterback sneak to keep the drive alive. Four plays later, the Cougars were in the end zone to extend the lead to 31-6.

The next time BYU had the ball, the offense couldn't pick up a first down. This time, the Cougars were all the way back at their own 12-yard line, which made punting the easy choice. San Jose State, however, could not cleanly field the punt, and BYU recovered it at the Spartans 46-yard line. As frustrating as that is for a defense, San Jose State came right back on the field and forced BYU into another fourth down situation just three plays later.

3. 4th and 5
BYU used the break in between the third and fourth quarter to think it over. The Cougar coaches decided to try for the first down, again. It was 4th and 5; the longest of BYU's three attempts. This was when San Jose State really rolled out the red carpet.

Rather than make a safe five to ten yard throw that would accomplish the objective of keeping the drive alive, Mangum went for the home run. He threw deep down the left sideline where Micah Simon caught the ball just as he crossed the goal line. The 41-yard touchdown officially put the game out of reach, 38-6.

BYU has now converted four of 16 fourth-down attempts this season (25%). As was the case for many other phases of the game where BYU needed to improve, San Jose State proved to be the perfect opponent to boost BYU's fourth down efficiency.

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