Call it a tale of two halves, or more appropriately, a tale of two quarterbacks. Jake Heaps led the team to ten points on the first two drives of the game, but then proceeded to gain only 3 points on the next five drives. BYU went into halftime trailing against Utah State 14-13. In the third quarter, Utah State added a touchdown, and Riley Nelson entered the game for BYU. He revitalized a team that I described at halftime as “uninspired.” The defense buckled down, the receivers were diving toward the ball and making catches, and blockers were making blocks. The team was playing to win, instead of just playing. On the final four drives, Nelson led a charge that netted 234 yards and two PASSING touchdowns, the final one coming with just 11 seconds remaining, to put BYU up 27-24 and capping the improbable comeback win.
Here’s a look back at what worked and what didn’t in the Cougars’ win.
Doman. The offensive coordinator stayed up in the box again, and even without being on the field, he could tell that a change needed to be made. Doman called down to Bronco and said the team needed a spark to win the game, and that Riley would add some different energy than they currently had, when they were stalling. It was a game-changing, game-winning decision.
Heaps. Nelson. Riley came in with only 5:08 remaining in the 3rd quarter, but he ended the game with better stats than Heaps. Riley went 10/14 passing for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns, while also rushing 11 times for 62 yards, making him both the leading passer and rusher for the team. Jake ended up 11/25 for 107 yards. More than just the stats though, was the leadership. Some of Bronco’s comments after the game: (paraphrased) “Riley is a fierce competitor…unconventional. In the spring game he rallied his side in overtime. I admire his natural, competitive, get it done mindset. The team respects his unselfish mindset, and that brought the spark to the team.”
Receivers. Eight different players recorded catches, and were led by Cody Hoffman, with 4 receptions for 68 yards and 1 TD from Nelson. Mckay Jacobson had a crucial 40-yard grab from Nelson during the final drive of the game, and Marcus Mathews caught the game-winning touchdown off of a tipped pass with 11 seconds remaining. The TE’s have made great plays when they’ve been thrown the ball; I’m not sure why they aren’t getting it more.
The Rush Attack. BYU was able to run the ball effectively, amassing 200 yards on the ground, with nearly even carries by Nelson, DiLuigi, Kariya, and Quezada – and each had at least 40 yards.
Special Teams. Hoffman had a couple of good KR’s, with a long of 33 yards, but an average of only 22.5. The only real note is that Sorensen was 2/3 with field goals, missing a 47 yarder on Nelson’s first drive. He was good from 23 and 29 yards in the first half.
Bronco D. After an inauspicious start, where the defense gave up an 80 yard touchdown run on the Aggies’ first play from scrimmage, the defense buckled down for the next few drives, holding Utah State to a mere 31 yards and thee punts. Once the Cougar offense started to sputter, the defense let up, allowing long touchdown drives right before and right after the half. The defense held Utah State to a three and out right before Riley Nelson came in on offense, and from that time, the Aggies only managed a field goal. Brandon Ogletree’s remarks about Nelson: “He’s one of the hardest workers I know. He’s gritty, he’s tough. He’s had a tough road, and stayed with it. It’s inspiring. You saw the way the team rallied around him.”
What we know about Utah State (1-3, 0-0 WAC)
Utah State is just three plays from being 4-0. The only other team that has had a worse, “what could have been” start to the season is Toledo. The Aggies gave up late leads against Auburn, Colorado State, and again at BYU. They just have to learn how to finish. Up next for Utah State is a a home game against 3-1 Wyoming, whose lone loss came against then #9 Nebraska. In the new, Boise-less WAC, these Aggies will be a force to be reckoned with.
What we know about BYU (3-2)
Expectations were at a season low around halftime of this game. Riley came in and completely revitalized the entire team, and in fact, he led the team to that win. Jake Heaps was anointed the starter beginning with Riley’s injury last season, but his inability to improve is calling into question how solid his “starter” title is. When asked who would start next week, Bronco said the coaches would have to think about it. The Cougars will host 2-3 San Jose State next week, and the coaches apparently have a decision to make.