HONOLULU — BYU's victory over Hawaii last Saturday at Aloha Stadium was kind of like a microcosm of its season.
The Cougars started slow, but finished strong.
BYU (9-3) has won eight of its last nine games and is headed to the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 30 to face Tulsa.
Against the Warriors, the Cougars overcame a spate of first-half miscues before scoring 28 third-quarter points and earning a convincing 41-20 win.
Is BYU moving closer to reaching its potential?
"This was another step. There's still more room (for improvement)," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "We'll try to squeeze every bit out of our bowl preparation to make that happen."
Quarterback Riley Nelson started his first game since suffering lung and rib injuries against Idaho on Nov. 12. The Cougars rolled up 530 yards of total offense, and Nelson completed 25-of-37 passes for a career-high 363 yards and three touchdowns.
Of course, he received a lot of help.
Cody Hoffman had seven catches for 123 yards and a 39-yard, one-handed touchdown grab, marking his fourth 100-yard game this season and the fifth of his career.
Including 60 yards on two kickoff returns, Hoffman accumulated 183 all-purpose yards, moving him from 12th to 8th on the BYU single season all-purpose yards list with 1,662 yards. Hoffman surpassed the alumni flag bearer on Saturday, former Cougar running back Homer Jones (1979-80), who previously occupied the No. 8 spot with 1,624 yards in 1979.
Apo now has nine touchdowns this season, and is tied for 17th on the BYU all-time receiving touchdown list. Only Austin Collie (15 in 2008), Jonny Harline (12 in 2006), Todd Watkins (9 in 2005) and Reno Mahe (9 in 2001) recorded as many in one season since 1993.
Meanwhile, BYU's defense held Hawaii to 299 yards of total offense, but got burned on a 79-yard touchdown pass from quarterback David Graves to Trevor Davis late in the second quarter.
"I made a poor call as a play-caller that went for the distance," Mendenhall said of that play. "It wasn't the players' fault. Hawaii made a better play-call than I did."
At halftime, the Warriors led 13-10. Mendenhall acknowledged he made some adjustments in the second half, which helped the Cougars outscore Hawaii 31-7 over the final 30 minutes.
"We played more conservatively," he said. "Once we got an idea of what they were doing in the second half … we felt like we were right onto their game."
Placekicker Justin Sorensen struggled, missing his first two field goal attempts — including a 38-yarder that smacked the left upright — before hitting a 33-yarder with 39 seconds left in the first half, snapping a streak of five consecutive missed field goals. He added a 36-yarder in the fourth quarter.
A reporter from a Honolulu newspaper asked Mendenhall why he opted not to score in that situation.
"I don't know why you would do anything else," the coach said. "The game was in control. I respect the game of football. I respect the University of Hawaii and coach (Greg) McMackin. There was no need to score any more points. It was just the right thing to do."
For Mendenhall, the trip to Hawaii was a resounding success, and not just because of the favorable outcome.
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