Boise, Idaho • It probably wasn’t the kind of exposure BYU wanted when it agreed to move the first showdown of its planned 12-game series with Boise State to Thursday night so it could be televised nationally by ESPN.
But the Cougars provided a dramatic finish, if nothing else.
In one of the worst offensive performances in school history, the Cougars’ monumental problems at quarterback were exposed, and they were edged 7-6 by the 24th-ranked Broncos in front of the largest crowd in Bronco Stadium history, 36,864.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, one of the most conservative coaches in college football, gambled with 3:37 remaining after the Cougars scored the contest’s only offensive touchdown, a 4-yard run by Taysom Hill, to get within a point. Mendenhall decided to go for two, but Hill’s pass to the end zone, intended for Cody Hoffman, was knocked down by BSU’s J.C. Percy.
Mendenhall said he decided to go for two because the Cougars had offensive momentum, having driven 95 yards on 11 plays to get to the end zone. He also said starting quarterback Riley Nelson, who was benched in favor of Hill in the third quarter, will start a week from Saturday against Hawaii if he is healthy enough.
Hill and linebacker Spencer Hadley said the team was in favor of going for two, although BYU’s defense had held, and would hold, Boise State out of the end zone the entire game.
“My vote was for two, so I’m not upset about that at all,” Hadley said.
Hill, a freshman, credited Boise State’s defense for stopping the play called by offensive coordinator Brandon Doman.
“It was basically a field flood. So we rolled out and wanted to get the ball out to J.D. [Falslev] in that motion, and Boise State covered it well,” Hill said. “They didn’t bite on it, and sat on it with that flat defender, and you know, they made a good play.”
With BYU (2-2) out of timeouts, Boise State (2-1) was able to run out the clock and extend its streak of victories against Utah college teams to 20.
The Cougars finished with just 200 total yards, and 95 of those came on their final possession. Before that, five turnovers did them in, four of which were committed by Nelson.
“Riley was our starter, but he got banged up a little bit, which created an opportunity for me to go in and play. We will see what happens from there,” Hill said, when asked if he wants to take over the starting position.
Boise State finished with 261 yards and did not score an offensive touchdown for the second time in three games.
While the BYU offense was nothing short of a disaster for all but a short stretch in the first half and the last drive, the defense played well enough to deliver a win. Boise State was stopped five times on fourth down, with coach Chris Petersen showing no faith in his field-goal kicker several times.
Led by Hadley, Uona Kaveinga, Brandon Ogletree and Kyle Van Noy, BYU’s defense gave the offense a chance with a tremendous goal-line stand in the third quarter, stopping the Broncos on four consecutive plays inside BYU’s 5-yard-line.
“Let’s put it this way: I will never forget the guys who were on the field during those four plays,” Hadley said. “Something like that sticks with you forever.”
Losing the way they did will stick with the Cougars a long time as well.
The Cougars got away with two turnovers in the scoreless first half — one probably cost them points — but disaster finally struck on their first possession of the second half when Nelson’s third-and-6 throw was picked cleanly by Boise State’s Atkinson. He eluded Nelson’s tackle attempt close to the goal line for the pick six. Before he was pulled, Nelson was 4-for-9 for 19 yards. He lost a fumble to go with the three interceptions.
“I was getting a few more reps this week in practice,” said Hill. “Like I said, Riley was a little banged up. We knew Riley would play as much as he could go this week, and when he had enough, I was able to go in and get some reps. It was very helpful come the second half.”
In the first half, the Cougars apparently were set up with a first-and-goal at the 2. However, a penalty for a chop block moved them way back to the 18, and Nelson was intercepted on the next play.
Storylines Going nowhere fast
R In Short • BYU falls 7-6 to Boise State when a try for two points fails with 3:37 remaining in the game.
Key Moment • Taysom Hill’s two-point conversion pass to Cody Hoffman is knocked down by Boise State’s J.C. Percy.
Key Stat • BYU’s defense holds BSU’s offense to 262 yards and no points.