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BYU football: Offense awakens to eke out win over Nevada

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BYU's Jamaal Williams, second from left, tries to run through Nevada's Kaodi Dike (16) and Markus Smith (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Reno, Nev., on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

By Jay Drew

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Nov 30 2013 08:19PM
Updated Nov 30, 2013 11:23PM

Reno, Nev. • Bronco Mendenhall did not want to elaborate on what he said or did in the locker room at halftime, but the normally staid, calm and stoic BYU football coach admitted to one overriding emotion during the break of Saturday’s regular-season finale at Nevada.

"I was furious," Mendenhall said.

It worked.

Having been held scoreless in the first half by a Nevada defense that was giving up 35 points and 506 yards a game, the Cougars found their mojo after Mendenhall’s tirade in the last 30 minutes and escaped Mackay Stadium with a 28-23 win to finish the regular season with an 8-4 record.

"It wasn’t pretty," BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy said of the halftime locker room scene, with Nevada leading 7-0 and BYU players looking comically undisciplined and like they had gorged on way too much Thanksgiving turkey.

Sparked by Jamaal Williams’ 66-yard sprint for a touchdown on the second play of the second half, the Cougars rolled up 342 of their 492 total yards after halftime to avoid the upset at the hands of a 4-8 Nevada team that mustered a hearty effort without having anything for which to play, other than pride.

"I was maybe as mad as I have been as the coach at BYU," Mendenhall said. "I didn’t like the way we were playing. I didn’t like [that] they were expecting it to happen. … And the leadership of the team took that message.

"That was really the difference. I just presented it and they took it over, and we played better."

Basically, BYU’s much-maligned offensive line took over the game, after killing three first-half possessions with holding penalties and a plethora of costly mistakes.

The Cougars rushed for 394 yards, 292 in the second half.

"There was stuff said in the locker room that will stay in the locker room," captain JD Falslev said.

The Cougars were penalized 10 times for 87 yards in the first half and totaled 14 yellow flags for 142 yards, but only after playing a bit more cleanly in the second half. Turns out, that was enough, but not by much.

Williams finished with 219 yards on 15 carries, after getting just three carries in the first half. Taysom Hill completed 14 of 18 passes, but for only 98 yards, with TD throws to Kaneakua Friel and JD Falslev.

But Hill ended the Wolf Pack’s upset hopes with his tough runs, including a 35-yarder for a TD with 6 minutes, 40 seconds remaining on third-and-10 that made it 28-17 and finally gave the Cougars some breathing room.

"I think that [comeback] showed a lot of character," said Hill, who rushed 26 times for 154 yards. "Honestly, I don’t think a lot needed to be said [at halftime], because that’s who we are. We are not going to come down and lay an egg. We are going to come out and battle. I always knew we were going to win that football game."

After Hill’s 35-yarder — a designed draw with a pass option — Nevada took advantage of two more Cougar miscues, a roughing-the-passer penalty on Van Noy that negated Uani Unga’s interception and a pass interference penalty on freshman cornerback Michael Davis, to score with 2:42 remaining. However, Van Noy, who otherwise had a forgettable game in his homecoming game, picked off the two-point conversion pass.

The Cougars then recovered a pooched onside kick and ran out the clock.

"The second half we actually chose to play, and try the way I know they are capable of, and that’s what I have taken away from it, and I am taking it as a success," Mendenhall said. "Eight wins are hard to get. I don’t care who you are playing or what situation."

drew@sltrib.com

Twitter: @drewjay

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