In some serious trouble after two horrendous quarters, the BYU Cougars faced more adversity Friday than they had all season but continued scratching and clawing.
And the cat fight paid off — No. 14 BYU scored 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, beating Houston 43-26 at TDECU Stadium.
BYU improves to 5-0 on the season for the first time since 2008, and for only the sixth time in program history.
It was also the first win of the season against what most would argue is a quality opponent. BYU starting quarterback Zach Wilson believes the win shows the Cougars are “a big-time team.”
“Average teams are inconsistent — they can’t finish games off,” Wilson said. “There wasn’t a moment of that. Every single play, every single drive tonight, even if something didn’t go right, every single play, every single drive was ‘hey, we’re going to execute the next drive.' The guys had the same mentality even when adversity hit, we were down, momentum shifted. So proud of these guys from battling back.”
At first, it seemed BYU’s biggest problems were from Houston’s offense, which seemed to toss aside the Cougars' defensive line and open up the door for quarterback Clayton Tune to pull out all types of plays. Houston (1-1) led by as many as 12 points in the third quarter. Tune threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns on 21 of 31 passing.
After a strong offensive performance in the first quarter, BYU seemed to slow down.
Wilson still had a great night, putting up 400 yards — a career best — and four touchdowns on 25 of 35 passing, but BYU failed to score on four consecutive drives during the Cougars' toughest part of the game.
On one occasion, at the end of the first half, BYU found itself on the Houston 2-yard line on a fourth-and-1 situation. Coach Kalani Sitake decided to go for it instead of attempting a field goal, and came up short.
“Obviously, being aggressive was the key ... ” Sitake said. “Going for it on fourth down, I think it sets the mindset for our players that we want to go and grab the win. And basically take the initiative and make things happen.”
The Cougars would not regain momentum until midway through the second half, after Houston’s failed two-point conversion. From that moment on, it was BYU’s game.
On the following drive, Wilson covered 74 yards on three passes to set up a touchdown, and then BYU followed up the dominating performance with an onside kick, recovered by Talmage Gunther to have back-to-back possessions.
BYU was unable to convert that drive, but made it clear it was still their game.
Sitake credits assistant coach Ed Lamb for the success from the special teams, which helped swing the momentum.
“We were able to pin them back and get stops on kickoffs,” Sitake said. “Ed saw something and [kicker] Jake Oldroyd liked it a lot. You know me, they’re going to get the green light. I don’t think the drive resulted in anything, but we were able to pin them deep. More than anything, it is the mindset our team has to have. We focus on being bold and aggressive. It didn’t surprise our players when we called it, and I’m glad we’re able to do things like that.”
For the second straight game, the BYU defense had to come back to seal the game, getting the key stops in the fourth quarter.
“When the game [got] tight in the fourth quarter, they whipped us,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. “... I give BYU a lot of credit. I am not down on our football team.”