PROVO The scoreboard at LaVell Edwards Stadium indicated the final score BYU 44, Wyoming 0 but you wouldn't have known it looking at Max Hall's face. Sitting at an interview table outside the locker room in the moments after another Cougar blowout victory Saturday afternoon, it was clear the junior quarterback wasn't completely satisfied.
Sure, the No. 14 Cougars had just recorded their second consecutive shutout, improved to 4-0 overall, and rolled to their first Mountain West Conference win of the season. But Hall expects or maybe demandsperfection.
"I was very frustrated with how we started the game today," he said. "I don't want that to happen again."
The Cougar offense sputtered in the first quarter, but it can thank its teammates on the other side of the ball for a big boost.
BYU's defense forced six Cowboy turnovers and scored a pair of touchdowns including the first TD of the game in the opening minutes on a 64-yard fumble return by cornerback Scott Johnson. Prior to Johnson's score, however, Wyoming was marching into BYU territory with relative ease. Then the defense clamped down. In the third quarter, linebacker David Nixon returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown.
"The defense was unbelievable," said wide receiver Austin Collie. "They are the reason why we're winning these football games. They keep on giving us chances to score. You can't ask for more as on offense."
"My hat's off to the defense, for shutting teams down. I'm excited and happy for them," said Cougar running back Fui Vakapuna. "When the defense executes like that, the offense takes it to another level."
In between those two defensive TDs, the offense found its rhythm, scoring touchdowns on four consecutive drives, and steamrolled Wyoming's defense.
"I was really impressed by the defensive performance and their ability to not only have great enthusiasm, but to have it result in turnovers," said Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall. "Not only do we not risk giving up big play which we have not given up the past couple of games but now they're starting to take the ball away. That was probably the biggest improvement that I saw."
All that aside, the sluggish opening minutes bothered Hall. After one quarter of play, Wyoming had outgained BYU in total yardage, 87-40.
"We just started slow, bottom line. I don't know if it's because of the games we played in the past, we were a little bit hyped up or what," he said. "But we did not start how we're supposed to and that can't happen again. A lot of that falls on my shoulders not executing right, not doing the things right early in the game. The good thing for us is the fact the guys we have on this team that respond to that kind of stuff. We held it together. We said, 'This isn't us. Let's get it going.' Then we started making plays. In the second and third quarters, we just took over the game. At that point, we didn't feel like we could be stopped. We were moving the ball like we normally move it. That's BYU football. That's how the BYU offense should run."
"It took us a while to get going. I'm not sure why," Collie said, noting that his team had to punt on its first two possessions of the game. "It definitely was evident of the way we played. We got everyone together, we regrouped and we said, 'We've got to get this thing rolling. Everybody needs to calm down and take a deep breath.' That's exactly what happened."
Mendenhall credited Wyoming for his team's slow start. "I think Wyoming did a really good job to start off," he said. "They changed their rhythm and temp early on in the game, it took a little while for us to catch up."
A week ago, the Cougars scored 35 second-quarter points in their 59-0 demolition of UCLA. They scored 20 points Saturday in the second quarter. What's with the second-quarter success?
"When the second quarter rolls around, we know exactly what the defense is trying to do against us," Hall explained. "We know exactly what they're trying to bring. We make a few adjustments, and then it's over. We take advantage of soft spots they have and how they're trying to attack us and we counter-attack. We never know exactly how a team is going to play us. It always takes us the first quarter to get into the groove of the game, then we take off from there."
For the second straight week, BYU's starters went to the bench midway through the third quarter to allow the reserves to get some valuable playing time.
"I was really grateful to have an opening win in LaVell Edwards Stadium in terms of conference play," Mendenhall said. "I think our team was methodical in the way we went about the game in terms of preparation. There were signs of improvement and certainly things that we can continue to work on. It's a very good sign for our program and a great mark to have our young players getting so much experience this early in the season, knowing that injuries can and will happen."
While the Cougars' offensive numbers were not eye-popping, BYU did establish a balanced attack, rushing for 163 yards and passing for 201 more. Harvey Unga gained 95 yards on 19 carries (he scored one touchdown on the ground and one through the air) while Collie hauled in eight passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
In the second quarter, Hall hit Collie for a highlight reel-worthy 62-yard touchdown strike that lifted BYU to a 20-0 advantage.
"It was one of the best balls he's every thrown me," Collie said. "It was right on the money. I didn't have to break one stride. It was a great throw."
But Johnson's touchdown may have been the play of the day. After taking the opening kickoff, Wyoming drove down to the BYU 31-yard line. On second-and-6, Cowboy quarterback Dax Crum threw a lateral behind wide receiver Greg Bolling. Johnson swooped in and scooped up the ball and raced untouched into the end zone.
"I didn't see the throw, so I didn't know if it was backwards or forwards," Johnson said. "I didn't hear a whistle. Worst case scenario, I pick it up and run and they call it back. I saw out of the corner of my eye coach Mendenhall waving his arms. That's kind of what made me go and get it."
Wyoming coach Joe Glenn was impressed with BYU's dominant performance.
"The Cougars were way too much for us," he said. "They're a real good football team. BYU's going to do this to a lot of teams. I'd like to see them go all the way."BYU has a bye next week. The Cougars return to action on Oct. 3 at Utah State.
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