PROVO — BYU entered the 2012 season with a bevy of battle-tested seniors and proven playmakers.
But in Thursday night's season-opener against Washington State, a few new and unheralded players emerged in a big way during BYU's convincing 30-6 victory before a crowd of 57,045 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"It was a nice way to start the season," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "Our team is hungry, and that's what I think we showed tonight."
Senior quarterback Riley Nelson, at the controls of BYU's fast-tempo offense, completed 25-of-36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. BYU's highly touted defense clamped down on Mike Leach's famed "Air Raid" offense, limiting Wazzu to just 224 yards of total offense.
The Cougars wearing blue did not surrender a touchdown. It was the first time a Leach-coached team failed to score a TD since 2006.
Those performances weren't necessarily unexpected. But there were a few somewhat surprising developments.
One of the biggest storylines of the night was this — BYU may have finally found a productive tight end in junior Kaneakua Friel, who caught six passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
"He has been a bright spot during fall camp," Mendenhall said of Friel. "It didn't surprise me or anyone on our team by what he did tonight."
And with star wide receiver Cody Hoffman out most of the game with a quad contusion, junior Skyler Ridley hauled in six passes for 54 yards. He scored BYU's first touchdown of the season, which also marked his first catch as a Cougar.
Then there was freshman third-string quarterback Taysom Hill, who saw several snaps in the red zone and threw a touchdown on his first pass attempt in his BYU debut.
Sophomore cornerback Jordan Johnson, making his first career start, held WSU's star receiver, Marquess Wilson, in check (four catches, 61 yards) and returned an interception 64 yards.
And, finally, placekicker/punter Riley Stephenson, who handled kicking duties in place of an injured Justin Sorensen, booted three field goals.
BYU started slowly early on, as its offense was forced to punt on its first drive, then the defense allowed WSU march to the BYU 24-yard line before linebacker Uona Kaveinga intercepted a pass by Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel.
On BYU's ensuing series, Nelson completed a 28-yard pass to Hoffman, which seemed to ignite the offense. Hoffman was injured on the drive and did not return. But even without Hoffman, BYU started to look sharp offensively. BYU scored its first touchdown of the season when Nelson hit Ridley in the back corner of the end zone to put the Cougars on the scoreboard first, 7-0.
The next time BYU got the ball, it faced fourth-and-one from the WSU 18-yard line. Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman replaced Nelson with Hill, who promptly rolled out and found a wide-open Friel in the end zone with 13:26 left in the second quarter, propelling BYU to a 14-0 advantage.
Back-to-back personal foul penalties on cornerback Johnson and safety Joe Sampson put Washington State in scoring position on its next possession, and WSU capitalized when Andrew Furney booted a 47-yard field goal to make the score 14-3.
BYU answered with a 16-play drive that took 6:13 off the clock, culminating with a 28-yard field goal by Stephenson.
After pinning WSU deep in its own territory, BYU took over at the WSU 46-yard line and four plays later, Nelson connected with Friel, who bulled his way into the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown, giving BYU a 24-3 lead with 1:43 remaining in the second quarter.
More BYU penalties helped WSU drive into BYU territory in the waning seconds of the first half. A WSU receiver caught a leaping touchdown pass from Tuel with five seconds remaining, but it was negated by a holding penalty. WSU settled for a field goal as the half ended, and BYU led 24-6 at intermission.
WSU squandered a 63-yard kickoff return by Teondray Caldwell to start the second half. At the end of that possession, Johnson picked off a pass and returned it 63 yards to the WSU 9-yard line. BYU settled for a 21-yard field goal to go up 27-6.
Stephenson struck again later in the third quarter when he drilled a 31-yard field goal as BYU claimed a 30-6 lead.
Neither team scored in the fourth quarter.
BYU returns home next Saturday when it hosts Weber State at 1 p.m.
EXTRA POINTS: BYU was whistled for 10 penalties for minus-112 yards while WSU was penalized eight times for minus-73 yards. BYU running back Michael Alisa gained a game-high 54 yards on 13 carries. Freshman Jamaal Williams had six carries for 17 yards in his BYU debut. BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy had two sacks and two tackles-for-loss.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company