By Jeremy Twitchell
On any other day, a 33-point victory might have seemed a distant dream.
On any other day, BYU racking up 526 yards and 49 points might have seemed impossible.
For that matter, on any other day, a kicker picking up a blocked field goal and scampering 24 yards down the sideline for a first down would have seemed downright ridiculous.
But in Saturday”s 49-16 victory over San Diego State, the Cougars proved that this day belonged to them, and they would do as they pleased with it.
Head coach Gary Crowton said his team played well, but gave much of the credit for the win to students in the stands.
“The student fans were very loud,” Crowton said. “They got after it. The players could hear them and it just kind of got them excited. We had a good group there and I just want to thank those students for their participation in helping us win this football game. It was something that was evident to our players.”
BYU wasted little time taking control of the game, as quarterback John Beck connected with Todd Watkins on a 68-yard touchdown bomb on the Cougars” second play.
Watkins, who had a good 10 yards on his defenders, said he didn”t expect the play to work as well as it did.
“I was looking around and the only person I saw was the ref, and that kind of surprised me,” he said.
However, the momentum from the quick start seemed to evaporate as the half went on, and the Cougars managed just a pair of field goals and nursed a 13-3 halftime lead.
At halftime, Crowton told his players to stay calm, keep playing their game, and it would all come together.
“I just told them, ”We”re real close. Don”t feel your way through. Be aggressive, don”t get frustrated and keep focused and the plays will come,”” Crowton said.
His players responded, amassing 23 points in the third quarter and 13 more in the fourth to secure BYU”s first blowout win since the now-distant 2001 season.
Beck, who said having the previous week off gave his shoulder some much-needed rest, the wide-open offense was a result of the team”s effort in practice this week to improve its run fakes.
“One thing we worked on in practice was really selling our run fakes on the play action,” he said. “We”ve noticed in past games that we would start on it but we weren”t meshing too well, and because of that, the secondary was able to detect that and drop quicker. If we could just get [the safety] to step up two steps, it”s over because Austin [Collie] and Todd, I mean, you just can”t keep up with those guys.”
Playing off those fakes and behind the much-improved offensive line, Beck completed 15 of 25 passes for 313 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. Watkins finished with three catches for 135 yards and a touchdown, while freshman phenom Austin Collie caught three passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns.
On the ground, Curtis Brown routinely ran over, around and through the Aztec defense en route to 106 yards and a touchdown, becoming just the third Cougar ever to compile four straight 100-yard rushing games.
Running backs Fahu Tahi and Eric Watterson added touchdowns as well, balancing out the three touchdowns scored through the air.
Kicker Matt Payne said this was the most complete game he”s seen BYU play in a long time.
“This is the best I”ve seen all three phases play since 2001,” Payne said. “I think we”re on the right track.”
The defense was stellar as well, clamping down on San Diego State”s most dangerous weapon, receiver Jeff Webb, and limiting him to just three catches for 47 yards. The Cougars also intercepted quarterback Kevin O”Connell twice, setting up 10 points.
The Cougars struggled at times to prevent O”Connell from picking up yards on the ground, but showed they were willing to give him small running gains in order to prevent big passes.
“San Diego State is a good football team,” Crowton said. “They scare you a little bit because they have some really talented players. We knew defensively that we couldn”t let them get over the top because of their receivers, so we were going to let them milk it down the field a little bit and not be overly aggressive early.”
The strategy worked as the Aztecs were held to three points for most of the game, adding a pair of touchdowns late in the fourth quarter when the game was well in hand.
“I felt like this was a game where everything kind of came together,” cornerback Micah Alba said. “It was real fun out there. Coach gave us a good game plan and we were able to execute it.”
In a game where everything seemed to go right for BYU, no effort was more encouraging than the one turned in by the offensive line. The unit, which was downright ineffective in early games, dominanted in this one.
“Our backs and our throwing game, it”s all due to those five guys up front,” Beck said. “I think that”s why we”re seeing such good things, is because those big guys up front are just working their tails off.”
The win improves BYU”s record to 5-4 and moves the Cougars to within one win of qualifying for an invitation to a bowl game. One more win would also ensure BYU its first winning season since 2001.
The Cougars will have a golden opportunity to get that crucial win next week when the New Mexico Lobos visit Provo in a 10 a.m. game.
“I”ve seen a little bit of New Mexico, and they”re getting better,” Crowton said. “The defense is really quick. I think they have the most quickness in our conference right now, defensively. This will be a tough, hard-nosed game.”