PROVO — After a string of close games this season, and heading into its showdown with TCU next week, BYU got exactly what it needed, and expected, Saturday against Idaho State.
A dominating 56-3 victory.
The Cougars scored touchdowns on eight of their 13 offensive possessions, racked up a season-high 572 yards of total offense, and held the Bengals, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent, to a mere field goal on a sunny, warm afternoon at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"It is a real step forward in my opinion," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "The outcome is what I would have hoped. We scored a lot of points on offense and didn't give up many on defense. I think we still gained momentum going into the last four weeks of the season."
BYU (6-2) won its fifth consecutive game while ISU dropped its fifth straight contest.
Quarterback Riley Nelson showed, once again, why he is the Cougars' starter — completing 11-of-17 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed seven times for 62 yards and another touchdown.
"We came in with high expectations," Nelson said. "In most aspects, we met those expectations."
Wide receivers Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo tallied almost identical numbers. Each had five catches for 71 yards, while Apo had one touchdown reception and Hoffman had two.
The Cougars wasted little time setting the tone as linebacker Kyle Van Noy blocked a punt that gave the offense the ball at the ISU 15-yard line. One play later, Nelson threw a screen pass to Apo, who raced into the end zone to put BYU up, 7-0.
The Bengals responded with a 19-play, seven-minute drive that resulted in a field goal. That would be all of the scoring for ISU.
The Cougar offense cruised for most of the game. BYU drove 99 yards in 1:54 on its final drive of the first half, capped by a 7-yard TD pass to Hoffman.
"He's so consistent," Mendenhall said of Hoffman. "He has such size and ranges and uses his body so well. If Riley puts the ball anywhere close to him, he has a knack for getting the football."
On BYU's first drive of the second half, Nelson took over on the Cougars' 9-yard line and promptly fumbled the first snap into the end zone. He picked it up and got to the 3-yard line. From there, Nelson completed a 57-yard pass to JJ Di Luigi, marking the Cougars' longest pass play of the season en route to a 91-yard drive that culminated with a 19-yard scoring pass to Hoffman.
"We were backed up I don't know how many times," Nelson said. "That drive where I fumbled in the end zone we were able to overcome that and go down and cap that drive with a touchdown. To show resiliency and sustain long drives despite the field position we were given, it's really encouraging."
At that point, BYU led 42-3, and Nelson's work for the day was done. He was replaced by backup Jake Heaps.
"I think he played about how he has been playing the past couple of weeks," Mendenhall said of Nelson. "Once you get him moving, that seems to be when bigger plays start to happen, once he's outside the pocket or avoid the rush. With that, it changes the defense's mindset because you have one more player to defend. And when he pulls it down to run it, you just don't have enough guys. That's very frustrating for an opponent. He has the ability to create that — it's inherent to who he is."
Yet Mendenhall has refused to name Nelson — who has started the last three games — the starter for the rest of the season, explaining that he's taking it week-to-week.
Not that Nelson minds.
"That's who I am. I never take anything for granted. That's what fuels me. I appreciate coach doing that for me," he said. "It keeps me from getting complacent. Not that I ever would naturally. That's not the type of person I am. But I like it. I can feel the trust and confidence my teammates have in me and my play. That's all that matters to me. … It doesn't affect me in the least. If anything, it motivates me."
BYU's offense was balanced with 282 yards passing and 290 yards rushing.
Meanwhile, the Cougar defense was solid, limiting ISU to 251 yards and coming up with three interceptions. Safety Daniel Sorensen recorded a pick-six in the third quarter on a 30-yard interception return. Later, backup cornerback Jordan Johnson had an interception that he returned 42 yards. And Van Noy was all over the field. In addition to his blocked punt, he had two sacks, three tackles-for-loss and three quarterback hurries.
"I believe we played consistently for four quarters," Mendenhall said. "Our team prepared well this week at practice. It's a unique challenge playing an FCS opponent this time of year. It showed maturity from our team and handled it well."
First-year Bengal coach Mike Kramer was impressed with what he saw from the Cougars.
"Great demonstration by BYU where they are at in their program. They've grown a lot in the last three weeks," he said. "They started out of the gate and they didn't play as effective in their first five games. Now they are much different and much improved and they showed it today."
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company