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All eyes were on Tanner Mangum against Cincinnati on Friday night, looking to see if the only quarterback in the fold who could keep up with the Bearcat offense actually would. Turned out, he could and would and did, lurching along at first, but leading BYU to a 38-24 victory.

If he hadn't, there's no guessing the depths the Cougars might have plumbed, losing to one of the few quality — such as it was — programs left on the schedule. If September was a gauntlet for BYU, featuring the big names, what remains has to be defeated to give the season meaning.

Going 10-2 wouldn't be spectacular, but it would be a significant step up from three straight 8-5 efforts, none of which inspired the fan base or gave the program any kind of bounce.

Now, there's still a chance. Next up: Wagner. After that, San Jose State and a bye. Then, Missouri and Fresno State, and the season-ender, against Utah State.

It was obvious here that Mangum, who hit 5 of 15 passes in the first half and 14 of 17 in the second, was initially bothered — "limted," was the way Bronco Mendenhall put it — by that bum hammy, tweaked in last week's win over East Carolina. And, yet, he managed his business, using that gifted right arm to give the Cougars enough of what they needed to win.

Specifically, they needed both a 53-yard touchdown heave from the quarterback midway through the fourth quarter and, after that, the defense to hang on for dear life to win. A check filled both boxes.

Generally, what they needed was fuel to gain yards — a lot of yards — and put up points — a lot of points — to fly past one of the country's most prolific offenses. They ended up with a modest 449 yards, 22 first downs, and those 38 points, while the Bearcats underachieved, getting 341, 21, and those 24.

The BYU offense figured it couldn't rely completely on its defense — although, the D. held up better than expected — as that side of the ball, the nation's 79th-ranked outfit, struggled early but finished strong.

Mangum's running was limited, as was his rolling out of the pocket, but he got help in the form of Algie Brown and Francis Bernard. The big backs banged away for a combined 148 yards and three TDs, as the Cougars' run game did what it has done so often this season — hammered away until cracks in the opposing defense opened.

As Mangum attempted to organize his efforts and his offense, nothing much was working. The whole offense, at least initially, seemed hamstrung. Mangum's arm was OK. He spiraled the ball tightly, but not efficiently, all while the Cougars' run game temporarily went AWOL.

Things got better later.

Almost nobody at LaVell Edwards Stadium knew any of the Cincinnati players by name or by game, the Cougars never before having played the Bearcats. But everybody had sort of a vague notion that the visitors had lots of go in their O. And that notion was confirmed out of the gate, tempered at the end.

Cincy's attack did exactly that — attack BYU's defense, scoring on its first drive — a field goal — and on its second drive — a touchdown, throwing and running over/around/through the Cougars. That second Bearcat possession was an imaginative, smoothly operated thing of beauty that covered 92 yards.

BYU turned around twice, and it was down 10, then, turned around a couple more times, and was down 17-3. The first quarter ended with Cincinnati gaining 205 yards against the Cougars' 19.

With BYU's receivers getting pushed around — a problem that has plagued the Cougars on occasion this season — and dropping passes, they finally pushed back, making themselves available as targets, leading to a 76-yard touchdown drive, halving the deficit, and making big plays thereafter.

BYU equalized, scoring on its first possession of the second half, a drive punctuated by Mangum's 19-yard pass to Nick Kurtz. As mentioned, the defense stiffened. But untimely mistakes, including penalties — too many to mention — hurt the Cougars. Cincinnati capitalized, regaining the lead, 24-17, near the end of the third. BYU tied it again at the 10:24 mark. Mangum's long TD pass and a Francis Bernard score put BYU up for good.

"We just keep playing," Mangum said afterward.

"Our team is resilient," Mendenhall added.

Both were right.

And, so, with their season teetering between brighter hues of new significance and darker shades of old familiarity, the Cougars, on defense and on offense, gathered themselves, toughened up, made their moves and earned their hope. Wagner, beware.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.