Provo • The BYU Cougars are turning out to be good as gold in season openers under coach Bronco Mendenhall, even if Thursday’s performance featured a hefty portion of bad behavior that kept the visiting Washington State Cougars in the game much longer than an antsy LaVell Edwards Stadium crowd would have liked.
Using an imaginative, no-huddle offense and some opportunistic plays on defense, BYU steamrolled Washington State 30-6 in the season opener in front of 57,045 fans for both teams, but not before a string of personal fouls and other discipline-related penalties created an angst-filled first half.
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Riley Nelson, running and throwing at his best, and worst, completed 25 of 36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns as the blue-clad Cougars improved to 3-1 all-time against WSU.
If there was a downer for BYU, besides the penalties, it was that star receiver Cody Hoffman left the game in the first quarter with a quad contusion and never returned. He caught three passes for 46 yards before taking a hard hit to the left thigh on a 12-yard reception late in the quarter.
Kaneakua Friel, the tight end who won the job the last week of spring camp, caught a pair of touchdown passes in the first half and finished with 101 receiving yards as BYU rediscovered a position that has been underutilized the past few seasons.
If there was another element of the game to get nitpicky about for BYU, it was the failure to score touchdowns in the red zone. BYU settled for four field-goal attempts by Riley Stephenson — filling in for the injured Justin Sorensen — after driving to the WSU 11-, 3-, 4- and 5-yard lines. Stephenson made three of the four tries; Sorensen kicked off once in the second half.
Defensively, Uona Kaveinga and Jordan Johnson came up with interceptions for BYU and David Foote blocked a punt.
BYU continually shot itself in the foot in the first half, or it might have held new WSU coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack scoreless in the first 30 minutes.
The Cougars were penalized seven times for 87 yards in the first half alone, but had a 24-6 lead at the break.
Both WSU scoring drives — which ended with field goals — in the first half were kept alive by personal fouls, unsportsmanlike conduct and pass interference penalties on the blue-clad Cougars.
Washington State actually had its best drive on its first possession, but Kaveinga intercepted a pass tipped by Daniel Sorensen to thwart the drive.
BYU had 294 total yards in the first half to 111 for WSU.
BYU was forced to punt after Nelson was sacked on third-and-10 on its first possession, but promptly drove 80 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown, a 7-yard strike from Nelson to Skyler Ridley, a junior from Murrieta, Calif. It was Ridley’s first career catch.
On BYU’s next possession, the Cougars drove 71 yards and scored on fourth-and-1 when freshman Taysom Hill was inserted into the game. He threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Friel on his first college pass, with Nelson having lined up as a receiver.
Andrew Furney got WSU on the board with a 47-yard field goal after personal fouls on BYU’s Joe Sampson and Johnson accounted for 30 of the drive’s 57 yards.
Johnson made amends for his penalty with a 64-yard interception return in the second half.
BYU put together a 16-play drive for 65 yards, but could only manage a Stephenson field goal. After a three-and-out, BYU added to its lead when Nelson threw a 25-yard pass to Friel, giving the Cougars a 24-3 advantage and control of the game.
Washington State added another field goal as the first half concluded, a 40-yarder by Furney. An apparent WSU touchdown the play before the field goal was negated by a holding call. BYU players were flagged for taunting, pass interference and grabbing a facemask on the drive.
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