The BYU football team managed yet another comeback Friday, defeating the Utah State Aggies to improve to 3-2 on the season as junior Riley Nelson led the team to two fourth-quarter touchdowns against his former school.
Utah State has now lost three games this season where the Aggies led in the final minute; Utah State fell to defending national champion Auburn in the final minute and succumbed to Colorado State in overtime last week.
“It was kind of an epic battle to see who could make one more play than the opponent,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
He also described the teams as “evenly matched,” something he said he prefers as compared to past years. BYU has now beaten Utah State in 27 of the last 31 meetings.
Tight end touchdown
The tight end touchdown catch drought has finally ended. After the Cougars went a full season in 2010 and the first four games of 2011 without a tight end getting in the end zone, BYU ended that streak none too soon when sophomore tight end Marcus Mathews made the game-winning grab with 11 seconds to go. Mathews had a big day, catching six passes for 45 yards.
Mendenhall said he saw significant progress in the offense.
“When the will catches up with the execution, then you start having a chance to be a very good team,” Mendenhall said. “This was a huge step forward in making critical plays, especially on the offensive side … without the defense forcing any turnovers or anything [out of the ordinary] on special teams.”
Pounding the rock
BYU’s running game continued to improve this week as the Cougars went for exactly 200 yards on the ground. It was BYU’s first 200-yard game of the season. The balanced rushing attack was spearheaded by Nelson and senior running backs JJ Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya with 11 carries each. Quezada was close behind with 10 carries and sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps added three of his own, including a rushing touchdown in the first quarter. Nelson led the team in both passing and rushing yards.
Nelson attributed his success to playing without pressure and the fact he’s been in situations like this before.
After coming back from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit against Utah State, BYU has trailed at halftime in all three of its victories this season. At halftime in the other wins, the Cougars trailed 3-0 and 10-3 to Ole Miss and UCF, respectively.
“We just started putting things together and making drives, and you could tell that all of us were playing with a little bit more heart out there [in the second half],” senior wide receiver McKay Jacobson said.
Quirky stat line
After Aggie running back Robert Turbin scored on the first play of the game with an 80-yard romp, the Aggies didn’t hand the ball to him again until there was less than two minutes left in the first quarter, and Turbin finished the half with only two additional carries. At halftime he had three rushes for 91 yards.
Utah State safety McKade Brady was ejected in the first quarter for his hit on Ross Apo. Brady had transferred to Utah State from BYU, where he ran track. Officials ejected Brady for leaving his feet on the hit. Apo, who was taken out against UCF because of a concussion, would eventually return but only had one catch for six yards in the game.