HONOLULU – Trailing by three points after a tight and tense first half, BYU bore down in the second half of its final regular-season game.
The Cougars ripped off 28 unanswered points in the third quarter to pull away from Hawaii, and they coasted from there en route to a 41-20 win Saturday on the islands.
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson, returning to the field for the first time since getting injured against Idaho three weeks earlier, made a host of brilliant plays. BYU’s defense locked down in the second half and many guys starred in the Cougars’ big win.
Here’s how BYU graded:
OFFENSE: In his first game in three weeks, Nelson was, well, Nelson. He played with moxie, he took chances and in general he made lots and lots of plays. Hawaii’s defense did a good job of limiting Nelson’s opportunities to rush the football, so the junior signal-caller stayed in the backfield and did most of his damage through the air. Nelson racked up a career high in passing yards with 363, and he finished with three TDs and no INTs. Freshman Ross Apo, meanwhile, scored a pair of TDs and Cody Hoffman hooked up with Nelson for a truly highlight reel 38-yard TD reception in the third quarter. BYU’s O-line didn’t do a great job of blocking Hawaii’s pass rush in the first half but improved in the second half. GRADE: B+
DEFENSE: The Hawaii Warriors had some success throwing the football on BYU in the first half, converting on several long third-and-longs, en route to a pair of touchdown drives and a halftime lead. In the second half, however, BYU bore down and completely shut down Hawaii. BYU’s defensive front put pressure on Hawaii, and the secondary was all over the Warriors’ receivers. Defensive back Joe Sampson continued to emerge — punctuated by a fumble recovery for a touchdown when BYU began to surge in the third quarter — and so many other guys (Matt Putnam and Preston Hadley among them) also made plays. GRADE: B+
SPECIAL TEAMS: BYU kicker Justin Sorensen struggled early on — his two missed field goals in the first half meant the Cougars trailed at halftime instead of leading — but the Cougars were otherwise just fine in this area. Not many opportunities to do something spectacular, but no major problems, either. GRADE: B-
COACHING: One need only look at any of the absolutely picturesque shots of Hawaii ESPN2 showed when coming back from breaks to understand how hard it can be to stay focused when playing Hawaii at Hawaii. BYU’s coaches, however, did a nice job of keeping their players dialed in, and after a rough-and-tumble first half, the Cougars took off and ultimately took it to the Warriors. GRADE: A-
OVERALL: BYU did a brilliant job of taking some shots early before cruising past the Warriors. The Cougars stayed calm and composed after some things didn’t go their way in the first half, and they responded extremely well to blow out Hawaii and finish the regular season with nine wins. GRADE: B+