Provo • The offense still sputters, chugs and blows a gaskets every now and then. The defense looks stout one minute, then gives up mind-boggling big plays to wide open receivers the next.
And quarterback Jake Heaps still hasn't found his groove, overthrowing wide-open receivers on some occasions and underthrowing others at critical junctures.
But none of that matters right now to the beleaguered BYU Cougars, who crawled off the mat after getting humiliated by their biggest rival last week and found just enough grit and a few fortunate bounces to hold off Central Florida 24-17 in front of 59,874 at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Friday night.
"We all needed it," coach Bronco Mendenhall said, choking up a bit in the postgame news conference. "Again, it wasn't easy, but we found a way. And that's important, especially at this stage of the season."
Meanwhile, the Knights (also 2-2) went away wondering what might have been in their first meeting with BYU. They won the yardage battle 399-260 but suffered three costly turnovers and some special teams breakdowns to lose out on pulling off a mild upset thousands of miles away from home.
"We get out there and turn the ball over. We had our opportunities and we just didn't take advantage of it," said UCF coach George O'Leary.
It's difficult to single out the biggest play of a game that featured many, but BYU sophomore Cody Hoffman's 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter tied the score at 17-17 and swung the momentum in the home team's favor after UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey's second TD run of the game had given the Knights a touchdown lead.
"It elevates us beyond belief and it stings on the other side," Mendenhall said of BYU's first kickoff return for a TD in 13 years.
Other game-changers: BYU recovered a muffed punt by UCF's J.J. Worton at the 7, but the ball was moved back to the 22 for excessive celebration. Three straight runs by Bryan Kariya resulted in what turned out to be the game-winning TD.
Then there was Joe Sampson's interception of a ball tipped by Kyle Van Noy with 2 minutes, 55 seconds remaining at the BYU 4 after more blown coverage led to a 58-yard completion for the Knights.
"Timely turnovers by the defense that were forced kept the points to where we had a chance to win," Mendenhall said. "Then glimpses of our running game starting to emerge there in the second half [was big], running for power and moving the ball for first downs."
The Cougars churned out 127 rushing yards against the nation's No. 2-ranked defense, a huge step up after getting just 11 in that 54-10 loss to Utah last week.
They needed every one of them, too, because Heaps struggled with his accuracy and the passing game foundered for much of the game.
He finished completing just 16 of 34 passes for 133 yards, and threw a costly interception in the first quarter that led to UCF's first touchdown and a 10-3 lead at halftime for the visitors.
"It was really hit and miss, to be blunt," Heaps said of his own performance. "My performance wasn't that great, but we got the win."
Part of the reason for the offensive woes was that the only player who had scored touchdowns for the Cougars before Friday's game, receiver Ross Apo, left the game in the first half with a mild concussion and did not return. But eight other receivers caught passes, and Bryan Kariya (52 rushing yards), J.J. Di Luigi (38 yards) and Josh Quezada (26 yards) moved the ball just enough on the ground.
"I saw progress overall as a team," said Mendenhall. "We have not arrived yet, but I was very happy with the victory. It was hard fought against a good team, and a positive day overall."
Then again, anything looks good when you are coming off a 54-10 disaster.
"This was a team victory," said linebacker Jameson Frazier. "I can't say the defense pulled this one out, because that's not true."
R With BYU's offense struggling again and its defense giving up big play after big play, special teams rescue the Cougars.
Coming up short
UCF's futile long drives during the second half:
62 Missed field goal