BYU is developing this dangerous fondness for second halves of football games.
The Cougars scored on five straight possessions in the second half Saturday to turn a close game into a 62-34 win. It was the second straight week that BYU has saved its best for last.Offensively, this was not the hyper-emotional team that beat Miami, nor the lackluster team that waited until the fourth quarter to beat Washington State. This was a businesslike, perfectly tuned machine that scored nine of the 10 times it had the ball from the middle of the first quarter to the end of the fourth. And get this - with no turnovers.
The Cougars also did it while having the ball just 21 minutes, compared to nearly 39 minutes for the Aztecs.
"They can control the ball all they want," said halfback Matt Bellini, "it just doesn't take us as long to score."
"BYU is the ultimate in offensive football right now, because of their amazing execution," said SDSU Coach Al Luginbill.
Quarterback Ty Detmer summed it up this way: "We scored at will on them."
Detmer, making the most of an appearance on national TV whether he cares about the Heisman Trophy or not, was, according to Coach LaVell Edwards, "near-flawless." Detmer picked apart the San Diego State defense, completing 26 of 38 passes (68 percent) for 514 yards and three touchdowns.
Detmer's primary targets were tight end Chris Smith, six catches for 162 yards; wide receiver Andy Boyce, seven catches for 143 yards; and halfback Matt Bellini, nine catches for 119 yards. Those and other receivers were frequently wide-open against the Aztecs' man-to-man defense, but it didn't bother Detmer when they weren't. He repeatedly hit receivers who were on the run and less than a step ahead of defenders with pinpoint passes.
It didn't look like it was going to be that kind of day at the start. BYU stalled on its first two drives, the second of which featured a real rarity - three straight incompletions by Detmer.
The SDSU defense was also stalling at this point, and there was still no score when BYU got the ball at the 8-minute mark. Five plays later BYU was at the Aztec 8-yard line, and Peter Tuipulotu ran a draw play up the middle for the first score. The point-after attempt failed, however, leaving the score 6-0.
BYU's next drive was no dawdler, covering 87 yards in three plays and 63 seconds. It consisted of a 21-yard pass to Bellini, 15-yard run by Mike Salido, and 51-yard pass to Boyce. It was BYU's longest pass play of the season, and combined with a successful two-point conversion play made it 14-0 BYU.
On the first play of the second quarter BYU scored again, Stacey Corley's 17-yard run capping a 56-yard, seven-play drive. The Cougars were up 21-0 and appeared to be heading for blowout land.
That's when the defense took a siesta. "Maybe we got a little lax, knowing we had them by 21 points," said Y. tackle Rich Kaufusi.
San Diego State mounted a 12-play drive that ended in a six-yard Dan McGwire TD pass to Jimmy Raye, and it was 21-7. Then the Aztecs pulled a fast one. They apparently had noticed that the front line of the BYU kick-return team was dropping back too soon, so they burned them with an onsides kick, which they recovered.
"That onsides kick really changed the momentum around in that second quarter," Edwards said.
McGwire took the SDSU offense 45 yards in nine plays for a touchdown, this time a two-yard run by Curtis Butts, and it was 21-14 BYU.
Kaufusi said the Aztecs confused the Cougar defense in the second quarter bychanging their blocking schemes and having McGwire taking a shorter drop beforepassing.
The Cougars must have been causing the SDSU defense similar confusion, because they put on another blitzkrieg drive, taking all of three plays and 34 seconds to travel 80 yards and net a touchdown. The clincher: Detmer to Boyce, 17 yards, 28-14Cougars.
Once again, no one told the Aztecs they were supposed to be dead - or at least dying. They scored 10 more points in the second quarter to make it 28-24 at the half. McGwire had completed 14 of 21 passes for 151 yards in the second quarter alone, and this was starting to look like another one of those "The Team That Scores Last Wins" affairs.
But for the second week in a row, the BYU defense came out of the locker room . . . shall we say, repentant? "We had to come out and shut them off defensively right at the start," Edwards said, and that's apparently what he told his team at halftime.
SDSU took 18 plays to drive to the BYU 18 on the opening possession of the second half, then settled for a field-goal attempt - that missed. BYU immediately scored, making it 35-24, and then the Cougar defense made back-to-back plays that effectively settled this game.
On third and two at their own 28, tackle Pete Harston slipped through a crack in the SDSU line and smothered halfback T.C. Wright for a four-yard loss. On fourth down, Cougar safety Derwin Gray fired in from the right side of the line and blocked Jason Savorn's punt, which after a scramble was poked out of bounds at the 1-yard line. On first down, Bellini scored over the middle and BYU led by 17.
Gray said the block didn't come from a called play, but from something he'd noticed on previous punts - they weren't making much effort to block him. "I knew if I got a fast start on them that I could blow past them," he said. "After the first couple of steps I knew it was mine."
"I was stunned on that blocked punt, because they didn't even have a rush on," Luginbill said. "We just blew an assignment."
The Aztecs got within 14 a couple of times after that, but never seemed that much of a threat because BYU was doing whatever it wanted to do offensively.
At one point in the third quarter, Detmer threw three straight times to Bellini on the right side - all complete - for a total gain of 24 yards. "They kept playing the same defense, so we kept running the same play," Detmer said.
Fullback Mike Salido said the BYU coaches noticed in game films that SDSU had a tendency to come out of the huddle slowly, and that the offense exploited that. On his 23-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter, Salido said, "We just caught them by surprise. They were too slow coming up to the line."
But while his players may have felt confident, Edwards said he didn't feel good about this one until the very end. "I didn't feel like we had any breathing room until there was about three minutes to go," he said. "It was a nail-biter for me all the way."
McGwire ended up with 361 yards on 32 of 59 passing, but most of those yards came on five- to 10-yard sideline patterns that did little damage. Most of his attempts to beat BYU deep were overthrown. McGwire did get a Cougar Stadium record, for most passes attempted.
The Aztec running game, which SDSU Coach Al Luginbill had said was the key to making their offense work, averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, after averaging 5.8 yards per carry in two previous games.
The bad news for BYU is that starting defensive backs Tony Crutchfield and Norm Dixon are both hurt. With another strong passer coming up next week in Oregon's Bill Musgrave, it may mean the BYU defense will not be able to afford a mid-game snooze.
Ty Detmer - Completed 26 of 38 passes (68 percent) for 514 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
BYU receivers - Chris Smith had six catches for 162 yards; Andy Boyce snagged seven catches for 143 yards; and Matt Bellini had nine catches for 119 yards.
Dan McGwire (SDSU) - Completed 32 of 59 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns.