With the 14-13 win over Ole Miss on Saturday, the BYU football team has now won its last five season openers under coach Bronco Mendenhall after losing its first two with him at the coaching reins. The team also completed its largest comeback of the Mendenhall era, coming back from being down 13 points; the previous comeback record held by a Mendenhall-led team was at New Mexico in 2005 when BYU erased an 11-point deficit. Mendenhall is also now 15-1 in his last 16 games decided by seven points or fewer.
The two teams’ defenses outscored offenses in the game.
Despite returning all five offensive linemen and their top three running backs, Ole Miss only managed 64 rushing yards against BYU’s defense.
Sophomore linebacker and hero of the game Kyle Van Noy became the first player to record two defensive touchdowns at BYU in 16 years. His other defensive score was a 44-yard fumble recovery at Colorado State last season.
BYU’s offense had scored in 22 straight quarters before being shut out for the first three against Ole Miss. The last time the Cougars were shut out for three quarters was in 2003 when they ended the game with no points and lost 3-0 to Utah.
BYU has now gone 14 straight games without a touchdown catch from a tight end, after not recording any last season.
Despite giving up the most points in school history last season and finishing last in the NCAA in red zone defense, the Ole Miss defense stiffened up on Saturday, holding BYU to a single offensive touchdown despite six Cougar trips into Ole Miss territory, two of which were in the red zone.
Offense? Positive signs
Minus his pick-six early in the third quarter, BYU quarterback Jake Heaps actually had a much better second half. After starting the game going only 11 for 22 for 74 yards through the first 30 minutes, he bounced back to complete 13 of 16 passes for 151 yards in the second half. Strangely, Heaps’ touchdown pass to wide receiver Ross Apo with almost 10 minutes remaining would be his last pass attempt of the contest.
For as much as the offense struggled Saturday, Heaps managed to get the ball to several targets. Ten players caught passes from Heaps, including four wide receivers, four running backs and two tight ends. Senior running back JJ Di Luigi had the most catches with five.
Backup quarterback Riley Nelson entered the game twice during the second half to run the option, pitching the football once and keeping it himself the second time for a 6-yard gain.
Breaks bounce the Cougars’ way
The Cougars caught a break with the weather Saturday because of Tropical Storm Lee brewing nearby in the Gulf Coast; the temperature didn’t exceed the high 80s, and the sky was overcast throughout the game.
“It was perfect football weather,” Di Luigi told KSL Radio during post game interviews.
On the Rebels’ last scoring drive, Ole Miss had a chance to make a touchdown rather than a field goal when wide receiver Nickolas Brassell failed to pull in a perfect 43-yard pass in the end zone. The ball slipped through the sprinting receiver’s hands, and Ole Miss settled for three points later in the drive, setting up the Cougars’ comeback.
Injuries on both sides
The Rebels lost star senior running back Brandon Bolden to an ankle injury in the first half. He is expected to be out several weeks. All three Rebels’ running backs left the field at some point with injuries.
Linebacker Brandon Ogeltree, fullback Zed Mendenhall and running back Josh Quezada each left the game with injuries. Mendenhall called these players “three of the most physical players on our team” in a post game interview with KSL Radio. The seriousness of their injuries is not yet known.
“The players that were leaving weren’t leaving on accident … it was physical out there,” Mendenhall said.
A sign of things to come?
The 14-13 final score is identical to the result in BYU’s opener against the Oklahoma Sooners two seasons ago, and the contest itself bore several similarities to that landmark win. These include several defensive stands by the Cougars, missed offensive opportunities in the red zone, and even injuries to marquee players on both offenses (running back Harvey Unga — he was ruled ineligible before the game — and Sooner quarterback Sam Bradford in 2009; Quezada and Rebel running back Brandon Bolden in 2011). That season, the Cougars went on to finish 11-2.
Two full sections of BYU fans filled the stadium and could be heard over the home crowd after the Cougars’ first touchdown, chanting “BYU! BYU!”
Not exactly Powerade
Several Cougars resorted to drinking pickle juice on the sideline in order to stay hydrated; a quirky tip the staff picked up from some old pioneer journals, according to ESPN.