LOGAN — There was a time when BYU used to crush Utah State on a regular basis.
While the two previous meetings between the schools produced a pair of nail-biting, three-point Cougar victories in Provo, it seemed like old times Friday night at Romney Stadium, as BYU claimed a 31-14 blowout victory over the favored Aggies.
Who saw that coming?
BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy set the tone with a pick-six on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Quarterback Taysom Hill threw for a career-high 278 yards. Wide receiver Mitch Mathews caught three touchdowns passes. And USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton left the game in the first quarter with a leg injury.
That proved to be a recipe for disaster for the Aggies.
“I’m really sad to see Chuckie get hurt,” said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. “I could tell right at the beginning, just by the sound that he made, that it wasn’t going to be good. I’m hopeful that he can return and lead his team.”
It must have seemed like a recurring nightmare for USU, which has now lost 13 of the past 14 games to the Cougars. The last Aggie win came in 2010, when USU fans rushed the field to celebrate a 31-16 triumph.
There would be no celebrations in Logan Friday night after a game in which BYU never trailed and was comfortably in control midway through the third quarter.
“This win means a lot to us,” said senior wide receiver JD Falslev, who hails from nearby Smithfield.
Hill completed 17 of 31 passes as the offense rolled up 438 yards.
“It helps when we throw on first and second down, which is what we did tonight,” said Hill. “Utah State had a very good scheme, but we executed better than they did.”
“He played very, very well,” Falslev said about Hill. “If we block for him, and we catch the football and run the football, Taysom is Taysom, and he’s going to make plays for us.”
BYU improved to 3-2 on the season, while USU fell to 3-3.
It was a game projected to be a defensive struggle, and it didn’t take long for Van Noy to make an impact.
Ten seconds into the contest, Van Noy plucked a Keeton pass out of the air and strolled into the end zone to lift BYU to a quick 7-0 lead.
“He timed it well,” Mendenhall said of Van Noy’s big play. “Rather than knock it down, he happened to catch it. I’ll go for that every time.”
Hill called Van Noy’s heroics “huge,” adding that it took some pressure off the offense early. “There’s always that anxiety you feel to be the first one to score. Kyle’s pick was not only big for us as far as momentum, but it also shook up Utah State. To start a game like that is not easy. Right from the beginning, we had the momentum and gave us a lot to build off of.”
Still, the Cougar offense had a turnover on its first series, too, as Hill fumbled the ball, which was recovered at the BYU 15-yard line. Three plays later, Keeton connected with Travis Van Leeuwen for a 7-yard touchdown to tie the game.
BYU answered as Justin Sorensen booted a 27-yard field goal, capping a 14-play, 67-yard drive that put the Cougars ahead, 10-7.
On the Aggies’ ensuing drive, BYU linebacker Uani Unga leveled Keeton on a hit that injured the USU QB. Keeton did not return, and he was replaced by backup Craig Harrison.
Mendenhall didn’t know much about Harrison going into the game.
“We never even mentioned his name,” Mendenhall said of Harrison. “We spent all week thinking about Chuckie.”
Early in the second quarter, the BYU offense put together an impressive four-play, 81-yard drive that featured a 44-yard run by Jamaal Williams, followed a 30-yard touchdown pass from Hill to Mathews as the Cougars jumped to a 17-7 advantage.
The score remained that way until halftime.
“He’s been a complement to Cody (Hoffman),” Mendenhall said of Mathews. “Mitch has been practicing and practicing while Cody’s been recovering and (dealing with) other issues. His hard work and diligence has paid off.”
BYU promptly took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 75 yards down the field for a touchdown, as Hill connected with Mathews again — this time from 6 yards. Romney Stadium turned eerily quiet as the Cougars seized a 24-7 edge.
Hill and Mathews struck again with 5:52 remaining in the third quarter as they hooked up on a 43-yard touchdown pass as BYU’s lead ballooned to 31-7.
By the start of the fourth quarter, Aggie fans started heading for the exits.
USU scored with 1:34 left in the game on an 8-yard pass from Harrison to Donald Butler.
BYU hosts Georgia Tech next Saturday, while Utah State entertains Boise State.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company