Provo • With temperatures for the 8:15 p.m. kickoff in the 20s and dropping quickly, a lot of BYU football fans stayed away from Saturday night’s home finale at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Tough to blame them.
As expected, however, the Cougars gave the hearty fans who braved the bitter cold conditions plenty to cheer about — in the first half, at least — rolling to a 52-13 win over Idaho to improve their record to 6-4 and become eligible for their eighth-straight appearance in a bowl game.
BYU accepted an invitation to the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20 in San Diego, and the bowl’s representative promised “70-degree temperatures and sunny skies” in a brief ceremony after the game to the two or three thousand fans still shivering in the seats. Officials reported the attendance as 61,091 tickets sold, but probably 20,000 or so of those ducats went unused.
This one was over, competitively, well before halftime, and thousands of fans did not return for the second half.
“It was fun,” said senior defensive end Russell Tialavea. “We had a lot of fun watching the other guys play, too.”
In his final home game, BYU quarterback Riley Nelson found the going easy against Idaho’s porous defense, completing 19 of 31 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns — all to Cody Hoffman.
“Overall, it was a good day,” Nelson said.
With BYU leading 42-7 at halftime, Nelson played the first series of the third quarter before giving way to fellow senior James Lark, much to the delight of some in the crowd who began calling for Lark early in the second quarter.
Lark’s 2-yard touchdown pass to walk-on Cody Raymond and Justin Sorensen’s 21-yard field goal with 1:50 remaining accounted for BYU’s only points in the second half.
Freshman Jamaal Williams rushed 10 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns, all in the first half.
Hoffman caught nine passes for 108 yards and the three TDs while also playing just one series in the second half.
Seldom-played seniors Robbie Buckner and Simote Vea made memorable moments for themselves on Senior Night, with Buckner getting an interception and Vea a fumble recovery. Buckner started at field corner in the place of sophomore Jordan Johnson, who sat out for disciplinary reasons, Mendenhall said.
Idaho had just 225 yards of offense and was punting with around 10 minutes remaining before an offsides penalty allowed the Vandals (1-9) to keep the ball. They finished with 273 yards against a BYU defense that was allowing 263 yards per game, fourth-best in the nation.
The Cougars had 537 yards. They scored on their first three possessions to build a 21-0 lead just 11 minutes into the game, as Williams picked up touchdowns on runs of 9 and 10 yards and Hoffman caught a 6-yard pass from Nelson.
Suspense then focused on whether the Vandals would score or not, and they answered that rather quickly with a six-play, 70-yard drive for a TD. Logan Bushnell threw a 33-yard TD pass to Mike Scott.
After forcing the only BYU punt of the first half, Idaho quickly gave away the momentum, however. A bad snap sailed over Bushnell’s head and popped into the waiting arms of Cougar linebacker Spencer Hadley, who stepped into the end zone for the easiest touchdown of his life.
It was the Cougars’ first defensive touchdown of the season.
The Vandals then decided a fake punt was a good idea from deep in their own territory, and it failed miserably.
Another 6-yard TD pass to Hoffman made it 35-7 early in the second quarter.
The Cougars finished off the half with a five-play, 58-yard drive for a score, another Hoffman TD catch.
R In Short • BYU scores touchdowns on its first three possessions and rolls past woeful Idaho on Senior Night.
Key Moment • Spencer Hadley gets a scoop-and-score in the first quarter to give BYU a 28-7 lead.
Key Stat • Cody Hoffman catches three short touchdown passes in the first half.