SAN DIEGO Call off the search party. BYU's offense, reported missing in action most of this season, is alive and kicking not to mention passing and running after all.
It was found Saturday night at a stadium the Cougars helped make famous for high-scoring, thrilling shootouts. BYU, which began the week with one of the most anemic offenses in the country (having scored 34 points in its last three games), erupted against San Diego State and earned a wild 44-36 victory.
Who saw this coming?
Strangely enough, the Cougars' offensive fireworks came against the Aztecs' highly touted "Dark Side" defense, which entered the game ranked No. 4 in the nation in total defense. In the end, BYU rolled up a season-high in total offense with 418 yards. Running back Rey Brathwaite gained 144 yards, including a 95-yard touchdown, on 19 carries while quarterback John Beck completed 17 of 26 passes for 180 yards and two TDs.
Go figure. Apparently, it took a meeting with "The Dark Side" for the Cougar offense to see the light finally.
Not that the Cougars solved all their problems in one night, as they did lose three fumbles. But it was a very encouraging sign.
BYU (3-3, 2-1) and SDSU (3-3, 0-1) produced an old-fashioned barn-burner in front of a crowd of 31,137 at Qualcomm Stadium, reminiscent of the types of games these two teams used to stage on a regular basis during their days as members of the Western Athletic Conference.
It sure seemed like old times with offenses scoring at will at times and defenses looking clueless at times. Still, the defenses did combine to score three touchdowns of their own.
The Cougars desperately needed a victory and they got it, halting their two-game losing streak.
All week in practice, coach Gary Crowton stressed the importance of finishing drives, and his team obliged. All week, the Cougars talked about having a break-out game. They delivered.
Still, BYU opened the game in inauspicious fashion when, on the second play from scrimmage, Beck fumbled the ball. It was scooped up off the turf by Brook Miller, who rumbled 44 yards for a touchdown, just 54 seconds into the contest.
The Cougars got on the scoreboard with 3:56 remaining in the first quarter when Beck ran in for a four-yard TD, marking their first rushing touchdown in 30 quarters, dating back to last season. It was also the first rushing TD allowed by San Diego State this year.
On the first play of the Aztecs' next possession, quarterback Adam Hall threw a 70-yard touchdown strike to wideout Jeff Webb.
During practice this week, defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall focused on slowing down freshman running back Lynell Hamilton, who was averaging 119 yards per outing. He finished with 74 yards on 22 carries.
While the Cougars did a good job against Hamilton, they couldn't say the same about SDSU's passing game. Webb lit up the BYU secondary, racking up 253 yards on 10 catches and scoring three touchdowns.
The second quarter was zany. By the time it was over, the Cougars had put up 24 points in the period. Keep in mind that entering the night, BYU had scored 12 points in second quarters all season.
The Cougars' scoring spree began with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Beck to running back Fahu Tahi. It was Tahi's first TD of the season and his first in four years.
Two series later, BYU found itself on its own five-yard line. On first down, Beck handed off to Brathwaite, who sprinted 95 yards for a touchdown, setting a school record. That gave the Cougars a 21-14 advantage.
Webb caught his second TD, a 24-yarder, to tie the score, but BYU answered with a 39-yard field goal by Matt Payne to reclaim the lead, 24-21.
On the ensuing series, the Cougar defense got into the act when James Allen knocked the ball loose from Hall. Bill Wright grabbed the ball and carried it for a couple of yards before fumbling. But Colby Bockwoldt picked up the ball and lumbered 13 yards for a TD.
The first-half show wasn't over, though, as SDSU's J.C. Mejia booted a 39-yard field goal as time expired. At intermission it was BYU 31, SDSU 21.
Early in the third quarter, Jernaro Gilford blocked Mejia's 54-yard field goal attempt. When SDSU got the ball back, Hall threw a lateral to wide receiver Wesley Williams that hit the ground and was recovered by Cougar safety Jon Burbidge in Aztec territory.
Three plays later, Beck threw an eight-yard pass to Tahi. Later in the quarter, Payne drilled a 47-yard field goal to lift the Cougars to a 41-24 lead.
Of course, the Aztecs didn't go away. They scored on another TD pass from Hall to Webb (55 yards). In the fourth quarter, Beck was attempting a pass when the ball slipped from his hand and hit the ground. Defensive lineman Aloalii Lealofi took advantage and scored to cut the Aztecs' deficit to 41-36.
BYU all but sealed the victory by putting together an eight-play, 55-yard drive that chewed up 3:52 off the clock, capped by Payne's 19-yard field goal.
NOTES: BYU's all-time record against San Diego State is now 21-6-1. The Cougars haven't lost at San Diego State since 1988 … Going into Saturday's game, SDSU had won its last three conference openers … BYU hosts Colorado State on Thursday (8 p.m., ESPN2) while SDSU visits Utah on Saturday.