Cougars use strong first half to down Spartans


It was the coming-out party for more than just junior Riley Nelson when the BYU football team defeated San Jose State 29-16 Saturday and extended its winning streak to three games.

Welcome to the spotlight, Michael Alisa.

The sophomore running back was given a career-high 16 carries and responded by rushing for 91 yards in a game BYU controlled throughout and used the second half to control the clock.

“[The coaches] told me they would give me a few more touches just to see how I did,” Alisa said. “I told myself that I would  make the most out of every opportunity given.”

BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Alisa is impressive because of his style of play.

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BYU's Richard Wilson makes a catch and runs into the end zone for an early touchdown.
“We’ve been looking for a running back that would run over, through, slash, fall forward, get positive yards and he’s been doing that in practice,” Mendenhall said. “Very seldom was he driven backwards today and very seldom was he tackled by one player. … We’re not interested right now in the ball going around an opponent.”

Alisa’s breakthrough highlighted a big night for BYU’s running game, which amassed a total of 224 yards, 65 of which came from Nelson.

After nearly a week of speculation, Nelson was officially named the Cougars’ starting quarterback Friday and responded with an impressive, yet up-and-down performance under center. He finished with 14-for-24 passing, totaling 219 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He also had two interceptions and lost a fumble, all in Spartan territory.

Nelson zeroed in on his mistakes rather than his touchdown passes after the game, but he also said he was encouraged by the offense in general and pointed out the team didn’t have to punt one time during the contest.

“Three turnovers in the red zone was bad news and all three were my fault … [but] that really gets the team going when you see [the running backs] take it eight or nine yards a pop,” Nelson said. “In the second half, that’s what you do when you play with a lead because every game is precious.”

After opening the game with a drive deep into Spartan territory, Nelson lost the ball on a carry to the 3-yard line, but the Cougars were awarded their first points of the game one play later with an errant Spartan snap that flew out the back of the end zone for a safety.

On the ensuing possession, the Cougars started near midfield and needed only five plays for Nelson to find tight end Richard Wilson for a 21-yard touchdown and a 9-0 lead.

After the Spartans responded with a field goal, the Cougars made their way down the field again, this time getting to the end zone on Nelson’s 1-yard pass to senior running back Bryan Kariya. It was BYU’s first back-to-back touchdown drives of the season.

Sophomore linebacker Kyle Van Noy intercepted San Jose State on its next series, and one play later Nelson made them pay again with a 40-yard touchdown strike to senior wide receiver McKay Jacobson. After another Spartan field goal, the Cougars entered the break leading 23-6.

The Cougars let the Spartans back into the game to begin the third quarter with a Nelson interception deep in Spartan territory. This led to SJSU’s only touchdown drive of the game as the team marched 96 yards on BYU’s defense to cut the score to 23-13.

However, the Cougars only allowed a field goal the rest of the way and added two field goals of their own to maintain a two-possession lead. The Spartans were intercepted by senior safety Travis Uale with a little more than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, and the Cougars used Alisa to run out the clock and ice the game.

Mendenhall said Nelson’s performance combined with the win would likely solidify him as the undisputed starting quarterback for the time being.

“I was really pleased and encouraged by how [Nelson] played. … I love the energy of our football team and I love the diversity our team had in terms of number of weapons,” Mendenhall said. “It’s hard when you win two football games and he had a significant role in it to make a change. … Productivity is really what’s driving a lot of the decision.”

The team looks to extend its win streak Saturday when it visits Pac-12 opponent Oregon State.

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