Las Vegas » Having started the 2009 college football season with an eye-opening upset of Oklahoma, the BYU Cougars finished it Tuesday night with another performance they hope will garner the national attention and respect they and their conference mates so desperately seek.
Matched in the Las Vegas Bowl against a nationally ranked opponent for the first time in five visits to their home away from home, the No. 15 Cougars dominated No. 16 Oregon State of the big, bad Pac-10 44-20 in front of 40,018 windblown and shivering fans at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Handling wind gusts up to 55 miles per hour much better than shell-shocked and mistake-prone OSU, the Cougars spotted the Beavers an early first-quarter touchdown, then reeled off 37 unanswered points to improve their Vegas Bowl record to 3-2 and send the winningest group of seniors in school history out in spectacular fashion.
"We just made another statement for our program and our conference," said BYU quarterback Max Hall, the game's MVP after throwing for 192 yards and three touchdowns. "This is a win that will be remembered for a long time, I think."
It was reminiscent of BYU's 38-8 Las Vegas Bowl pounding of Oregon in 2006, only this time the opposing coach had nothing but praise for BYU after the Cougars -- aided by the wind, in part -- held the Beavers to their second-lowest scoring output of the season.
"BYU's balance made a big difference," said OSU coach Mike Riley. "They outplayed us. They handled the wind better. We are disappointed it wasn't a more competitive game, for sure."
The Beavers didn't blame it on being flat, either, after coming up three points short of making it to the Rose Bowl.
"Emotionally, we were ready for this game," OSU lineman Gregg Peat said. "We got beat. That's it."
Said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, who said the Cougars -- No. 14 in the final BCS standings -- deserve a top-10 ranking: "Our program is on its way to continued national respect."
The Cougars (11-2) appeared to be in trouble early, especially after their first three running plays netted minus-8 yards, and with the wind howling the way it was.
After a 22-yard punt into the wind, Oregon State took over and drove 37 yards in four plays to take a 7-0 lead.
But something suddenly clicked for BYU's offense, and it drove 84 yards in 14 plays into the teeth of the win that Mendenhall called "fierce and unrelenting."
Harvey Unga's 1-yard TD plunge gave the Cougars a swagger they would enjoy the rest of the way. The Cougars gained just 292 yards, but they were 8-for-13 on third down, a stat Riley called the difference in the game, along with turnovers.
"I think that [touchdown drive] turned the momentum of the game, and Oregon State never got it back from there," Mendenhall said.
The Cougars' defense bottled up OSU's explosive Jacquizz Rodgers practically the entire game, holding him to 63 rushing yards.
"We just played fast," said BYU defensive coordinator Jaime Hill.
Trailing 23-7, the Beavers gambled on their first possession of the second half with a fake punt, but it didn't work and the Cougars took over at OSU's 32. On third-and-goal from the 17, Hall threw a touchdown pass to Pitta, and the rout was on as OSU fans headed to the exits.
The Cougars took a 37-7 lead with 12:51 remaining in the game on a 15-yard TD pass from Hall to Manase Tonga, who later scored on an 18-yard run.
OSU tacked on a few meaningless touchdowns to save a measure of respect -- at least to those who just caught the final score and a highlight or two on ESPN.
"We got smacked in the mouth early, but we responded," said senior offensive lineman R.J. Willing. "All the seniors played the games of their lives. What can I say?"
After BYU's long TD drive, the game turned even more when Rodgers fumbled a lateral, the first fumble of his career, and linebacker Matt Bauman returned the miscue 34 yards for the first TD of his career.
Bauman's touchdown "changed the whole game," Hall said. "I think it deflated them."
In Short » BYU improves to 3-2 in the Las Vegas Bowl with a dominating win over the Pac-10's Oregon State.
Key Moment » Trailing 7-0, BYU drives 84 yards into the wind for a game-evening touchdown and never trails again.
Key Stat » Wind gusts up to 55 mph alter both teams' game plans.