Kragthorpe: BYU defense delivers yet another big performance
Six to three?
This stuff is not exactly what ESPN executives had in mind when they signed an eight-year contract to televise BYU's home games, citing the Cougars' tradition of wide-open, entertaining football.
Yet if defense was an afterthought to the network, it certainly is at the forefront of BYU's 2012 season.
In a tense, riveting game that hardly was as boring as the score might suggest, the Cougars fought off Utah State for a 6-3 victory Friday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
BYU thrived again with a phenomenal defensive performance. The latest effort was required to win, thanks to the Cougar offense's failure to convert scoring opportunities into points.
No problem. Six points were sufficient as coach Bronco Mendenhall's No. 5-ranked defense answered everything USU could offer, repeatedly coming up with key plays and benefiting from a missed field goal attempt in the fourth quarter.
"I was very impressed again defensively with how our kids played from beginning to end," Mendenhall said.
BYU has gone 13 quarters without allowing an opponent's offense to score a touchdown, dating to the third quarter of a loss to Utah. The Cougars held USU's capable offense to 243 total yards, including 41 rushing yards.
This victory answered any suggestion that the Cougars (4-2) could fall into an 0-for-October slump, facing a challenging schedule that includes top-15 teams Oregon State and Notre Dame, plus a visit to Georgia Tech.
Conversely, the loss was devastating to USU (4-2), as the Aggies fell short in their bid to beat both Utah and BYU in the same season for the first time since 1974.
The BYU defense's consistent work "gives us a chance in every game," said Mendenhall, who acts as his own defensive coordinator. "That's just the way this particular season is going."
BYU linebacker Brandon Ogletree made seven tackles, defensive lineman Ziggy Ansah was a disruptive force with three tackles for loss, and the Cougar secondary kept USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton from connecting with deep passes, clearly a key component of USU's game plan. On USU's last possession, which ended with a punt, linebacker Uani Unga produced a sack of Keeton.
BYU held the Aggies to 112 total yards in the first half, taking a 6-3 lead. The Cougars rose up to stop a USU drive that reached the 1-yard line, forcing a field goal. BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy stuffed running back Kerwynn Williams for a 2-yard loss on a third-and-goal play from the 1.
The Cougars bottled up Williams in the opening half and allowed Keeton to hurt them only intermittently.
The key sequence of the half came after BYU failed to move the ball and USU called a timeout with 1:08 remaining, hoping to add to a 3-0 lead. But the Aggies went three plays and out and Mendenhall used two timeouts to get the ball back, enabling quarterback Taysom Hill to launch a drive that ended with his 3-yard pass to JD Falslev with three seconds remaining.
On the first series of the second half, defensive lineman Russell Tialavea's fumble recovery gave BYU the ball at the USU 9. But the Cougar offense stalled and a fake field goal play failed miserably.
The defense forced another turnover later in the third quarter, deep in BYU territory. Preston Hadley's interception on a trick play kept the Aggies off the scoreboard.
After an interception of Hill, the Cougar defense was asked to respond again. The Aggies moved to the BYU 15, but settled for a 38-yard field goal attempt by Josh Thompson that sailed wide left, barely.
That was all the good fortune the Cougar defense needed.