By Creighton McEwen
LAS VEGAS – The BYU football team tried a few new things Saturday, Oct. 25, but still needed overtime to beat UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium and keep its bowl hopes alive.
“It”s a great win for the program to kind of get things rolling again,” said BYU sophomore quarterback Matt Berry.
The Cougars had lost two in a row and four of their last five games before winning Saturday 27-20. The win, in BYU”s first overtime game since 2000, gives BYU three conference wins along with their three losses with one game remaining, against first-place Utah.
Coaches made major changes to the Cougar offense in preparation for the game, implementing a no-huddle offense to catch UNLV off guard and to allow for the Cougars to more effectively move the ball down the field.
“We as a staff decided to go no-huddle,” said BYU head coach Gary Crowton. “We felt like [Berry] was ready and that”s why we did it.”
With only a few hiccups, Berry did well. He completed 31 of 44 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns and added another on the ground. He also threw two interceptions.
“Obviously, it”s not perfected,” Berry said. “We have a lot of stuff to work on. It worked pretty good tonight. I think everyone liked it.”
Though Berry”s longest pass completion was for 18 yards, his passes were distributed among ten receivers.
“[Berry] showed some experience today,” Crowton said. “He was very accurate and got a lot of guys involved.”
Senior Toby Christensen caught ten balls for 81 yards and both of Berry”s touchdowns. He had a bit of an easier time getting open during this game than during any other.
“I was just a little offended that all game they guarded me a linebacker,” Christensen said after the game. “That”s why they kept throwing to me. Both touchdowns were the same play.”
The Cougars also changed their play calling responsibilities for the game.
“I didn”t call any plays,” Crowton said. “It helps me see the whole game. I can get a better picture of the game.”
Crowton handed all play-calling duties to Co-Offensive Coordinator Robbie Bosco. Any and all play-calling gripes can now be directed to him.
“I don”t think we”re going to switch back and forth anymore, him calling and me calling,” Bosco said.
The game got off to a rough start for BYU. UNLV scored on its first drive of the game, a 33-yard field goal by Dillon Pieffer.
The Cougars then proceeded to turn the ball over on three consecutive drives. BYU had five turnovers during the game. The first, an interception by Berry intended for Christensen, was a ball that got caught in the wind, allowing Rebel safety Jamaal Brimmer to catch up with it.
After forcing a UNLV punt, the Cougars gave the ball back only two plays later, a fumble after a catch by junior wideout Rod Wilkerson at the Rebel 39-yard line. Pieffer added another field goal to make the score 6-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, freshman Brett Cooper fumbled, giving UNLV excellent field position once again. The Rebels needed only five plays to score, a 4-yard touchdown run by Dyante Perkins.
The Cougars made up for three consecutive turnovers with three scoring drives in a row in the second quarter. Nantkes fumbled a snap deep in UNLV territory, which Cougar sophomore linebacker Bryant Atkinson recovered for BYU. The turnover led to BYU”s first score, a 9-yard pass from Berry to Christensen.
The Cougars scored on their next drive as well with a 40-yard field goal by junior Matt Payne. After BYU forced another UNLV punt, Payne followed up with another field goal on the very next drive, a 50-yarder to end the half and tie the score at 13.
The second half started the same way the first half did for the Cougars, with another turnover. Joe Miklos intercepted Berry”s pass attempt and returned the ball to BYU”s 14-yard line. Bronco”s boys were put in a difficult spot once again, but came up big, forcing a field goal and pressuring Pieffer to miss.
The majority of the second half was wholly offensive, but not in the good way. The Cougars rarely moved the ball into Rebel territory, and when they did, something would happen. At the start of the fourth quarter, junior running back Marcus Whalen fumbled the ball as BYU was driving to take the lead.
The Cougars had three drives of negative yards in the second half, either by penalties or sacks allowed.
The first productive drive by either team in the second half came halfway through the fourth quarter by UNLV. The Rebels took the ball 63 yards in just over three minutes, capped by a 22-yard touchdown pass from Nantkes to Earvin Johnson to take a 20-13 lead.
“They guessed right more than we guessed right on their last drive of the game,” said BYU defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall. “I was disappointed in that I hated to see a touchdown go on the board in the end with the resiliency our kids had shown throughout the entire game with the turnovers and the field position.”
BYU was forced to respond with less than five minutes remaining in the game, and that”s what they did. During BYU”s final drive, Berry completed six of seven pass attempts for 53 yards. Berry then scored a 1-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds remaining in the game to tie the score at 20 and force overtime.
“I just follow [offensive lineman] Jake Kuresa,” Berry said. “That”s a win-win situation following him.”
BYU got the ball first in overtime and needed only five plays to take the ball the necessary 25 yards for the touchdown, Berry”s second 9-yard touchdown pass to Christensen.
“It was good for our confidence just to go down there and continue to make plays and not make mistakes,” Christensen said. “Whenever we do that, and don”t stupid mistakes, we”re actually a pretty good offense.”
UNLV”s chance to tie came up short as the Cougar defense came up big once again, finishing off the game with one last defensive stand and a fourth-down interception by junior Aaron Francisco.
BYU now only has three days, starting Monday, to prepare for Thursday”s game against Boise State. Boise State is high-powered offensive team that scored 77 points against San Jose State on Saturday.
“We”ve just got to go out ready to play,” Crowton said. “They”re a good football team.”