PROVO — There were plenty of impressive offensive statistics accumulated by BYU during the Cougars' 59-21 thumping of UNLV Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium — 291 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns, 320 yards passing and a pair of touchdown passes.
But the number that the Cougars (5-1, 2-0) seemed to be most pleased with was zero -- as in zero turnovers.
"It was one of our best all-around games because we didn't have any turnovers," said quarterback Max Hall.
"It was one of those things where we've strived and talked and talked about it, knowing that one of our weaknesses has been turnovers," said running back Harvey Unga, who rushed for 149 yards and three TDs. "To come out here and not turn over the ball, to move the ball efficiently, it's a great feeling. It's one of those things that you couldn't ask for anything more."
The Cougars, who remained No. 18 in the Associated Press poll and moved up one spot to No. 19 in the coaches' poll, return to the road Saturday when they visit San Diego State (2-3, 0-1). The Aztecs had a bye last weekend.
BYU's offense rolled in Las Vegas, albeit against a porous Rebel defense. Still, it was a performance the Cougars are hoping to replicate throughout the rest of the season.
"We executed very well, we ran the ball well and we threw it well," Hall said. "It's fun to play football when you play like that, you execute right and your guys are playing very physical. As long as I can get us in the right play, execute and not do anything that's going to hurt us, we're tough to stop."
"(Eliminating turnovers) has been an emphasis since week one, but we've still struggled with it," said tight end Andrew George, who caught three passes for 61 yards. "This week, we managed not to turn it over at all, which has been our goal."
Wide receiver O'Neill Chambers, who nearly scored a touchdown on a 97-yard kickoff return, said he liked the way his team played on both sides of the ball.
"I would say it's our best performance. But we do good all the time. We just had minor mistakes other games, little tweaks. We didn't have those tweaks (Saturday). Our defense came up with some interceptions and turned the game around for us."
Aside from a giving up a 75-yard touchdown pass and a 94-yard kickoff return for a TD, BYU played its most complete game of the season.
Safety Scott Johnson recorded the first two interceptions of his career and the Cougar defense had three picks in all, including an acrobatic one by linebacker Jordan Pendleton in the first quarter that set up BYU's first touchdown of the night. He was able to gather in a pass that UNLV QB Omar Clayton was trying to throw away near the sideline.
"That was a critical play," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "I thought for sure he was out of bounds just from how close the quarterback was from the sidelines. Jordan did a nice job of stretching and keeping a foot in."
The defense limited UNLV's spread offense, which gave BYU's defense trouble last season in Provo, to 45 yards rushing. The Rebels threw for 292 yards, but scored only two offensive touchdowns.
"The whole defense came out to play because UNLV is a dangerous team with their spread set. In the past we've struggled with that," Johnson said. "We showed we can line up and cover guys a little bit better and not have as many holes. I think part of that goes to the D-line. They didn't let the quarterback scramble as much as he was able to last year."
That one long UNLV touchdown pass to Michael Johnson in the third quarter was the result of a blown coverage, Johnson explained. "We fixed that. We were able to cover that play the next time they ran it."
Now that the regular-season has hit the midway point, the Cougars are mostly satisfied with what they've accomplished so far this season. However, that the only blemish on their record -- a 54-28 setback to Florida State at home -- still troubles them.
"That Florida State game was a frustrating game," Unga said. "They're a great team and all, and they came out to play their game. But I wish we could go back and play that game again."71 comments on this story
"We would have liked to have won that one against Florida State, but I think we're happy with where we're at," Hall said. "We have a good opportunity ahead of us to go and try to win a conference championship. We're playing good football right now. Things are bright ... Our goals are to win the conference championship, win the state championship and go to a bowl game and win. All of our goals are still ahead of us. We've just got to go get them."
After the UNLV game, Mendenhall reported two minor injuries. Johnson sustained a ankle sprain and fullback Manase Tonga suffered a knee sprain. "Neither look too severe at this point," Mendenhall said.
Cougars on the air
No. 18 BYU (5-1, 2-0) at San Diego St. (2-3, 0-1)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
TV: The Mtn.
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM