In a word, the BYU Cougars’ 41-17 victory over Northern Iowa on Saturday was sloppy. Thanks to five fumbles, BYU squandered a 27-3 halftime advantage and led only 27-17 at the close of the third quarter. The visiting Panthers had wrestled control of the game’s momentum, putting the stadium’s blue-clad fans on the edge of their seats.

Fortunately for the Cougars, the Max Hall-to-Dennis Pitta connection revived in the fourth quarter and yielded several big plays to set up the game’s final two scores.

What does Saturday’s uneven performance against UNI tell us about next week’s road game against the Washington Huskies?

Look-back – Offense

1. Hall is stronger and has more zip on his ball this year. It took him and Austin Collie nearly three quarters to start clicking, but that’s understandable when you consider Collie sat out most of the fall camp healing a hairline leg fracture. Look for Collie to make more of an impact next week in Seattle.
2. Pitta is the Brooks Robinson of college football tight ends; in other words, he’s a vacuum cleaner who catches everything thrown his way. Look for foes to key on him more this year — increasing opportunities for his fellow receivers.
3. The Cougars will not be able to afford turning the ball over four times against Washington, UCLA or any top-tier MWC teams this year. Backup running backs Wayne Latu and JJ DiLuigi coughed up the ball three times on five rushing attempts. Harvey Unga was absolutely punishing every time he touched the ball, and the Cougs will need him and Fui Vakapuna both healthy next week against the Huskies if they want to return to Provo, Utah, with a win.
4. The offensive line gave up only one sack, but it cost seven points and a temporary momentum shift when Hall, after being taken down, fumbled the ball away in the end zone near the close of the third quarter. The O-line’s potential was evident, but the unit was inconsistent against the Panthers. The group will need to turn it up a notch against Washington next week. As the O-line goes, so goes the Hall-led passing game.

Grade: A-minus

Look-back – Defense

1. Kudos to the defense for holding Corey Lewis to 42 yards rushing on 18 attempts. However, the unit also gave up 81 yards on 11 carries to QB Pat Grace. Although both players were largely contained, Grace’s ability to slice upfield on the read option should concern the coaching staff about containing Husky QB Jake Locker next week.
2. Matt Ah You and Coleby Clawson had strong showings and David Nixon was, well, David Nixon. These guys and fellow linebackers So’oto, Bauman and Doman need to crank up their play next week if the Cougars hope to stop Locker.
3. The D-line racked up four sacks and the bulk of the credit for stopping Lewis goes to these front-liners. They delivered the goods as advertised and made the young Cougar secondary look much better than it really is right now.
4. That said, the secondary did manage to shut down the Panthers’ leading receiver, Johnny Gray — who didn’t catch any passes. The defense only yielded 10 of UNI’s 17 points, so all things considered, look for the ‘D’ to build on this experience and turn it up on the road next week.

Grade: B

Look-back – Special teams

1. The punting game looks solid. CJ Santiago had a 42-yard average on three punts; two of his attempts landed inside the enemy 20.
2. True freshman O’Neil Chambers didn’t disappoint, almost breaking off two kickoff returns. He totaled 99 return yards on three attempts, including a 50-yarder.
3. Mitch Payne was 5-of-6 on extra points. True freshman Justin Sorensen handled the kickoff duties and only allowed one return on seven boots.

Grade: B-plus