It was almost Utah State’s first win in Provo since 1978.
But another thrilling finish at LaVell Edwards Stadium prevented the BYU Cougars from dropping the second straight game to the Aggies, who suffered another heartbreaking loss in a game they easily could have won.
Here are five main reasons BYU pulled out a shocking 27-24 win Friday night:
No panic: It would have been easy for BYU to get down and out after Robert Turbin shocked the Cougars early with an 80-yard TD run on the first play of the game. The Cougars could have turned their chins down after wasting two great red-zone scoring chances in the first half. When Utah State took a 24-13 lead and seemed able to do whatever it wanted on offense, BYU could have packed it in.
When JJ Di Luigi put the ball on the ground late in the game to end what appeared to be BYU’s final offensive drive, the Cougars' defense came up with a big stop. And lastly, when Utah State pinned the Cougars at their own 4-yard line with less than three minutes to go and then sacked QB Riley Nelson near the goal lone, BYU gathered itself together and got the job done.
A new look at quarterback: Is Jake Heaps’ job as starting quarterback in jeopardy? It would be shocking to BYU fans, and unjust to Nelson, if the transfer from Utah State isn’t taking first-string snaps this week in practice.
Before Nelson came into the game the Cougars looked as if a first down in the second half would be a huge accomplishment. However, suddenly, with a quarterback that could scramble and run, the Aggies had their hands full.
In basically less than one quarter, Nelson threw for 144 yards and two TDs and rushed for another 62. He also added visible energy to BYU’s defense, which finally started to feel like its efforts would not go to waste.
Even before Nelson took over he had BYU’s biggest play with his fourth-down run inside the 10 in the first half that led to BYU’s first touchdown. The former Aggie was the Cougar who did the Aggies in.
BYU’s bend-but-not-break defense: Even though the Aggies racked up huge rushing numbers, 284 yards to be exact, and had a four-headed monster that proved difficult for BYU to stop most of the game — freshman quarterback Chuckie Keeton, and running backs Turbin, Michael Smith and Kerwynn Williams — the Cougars still only allowed Utah State into the end zone three times.
All of the big plays, until late, were on Utah State’s side of the ball. Still, the Cougars, mainly because of the outstanding play of linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Uona Kavienga, made key stops in key situations.
USU's failure to finish: Is there a bigger snake-bitten team in college football? This now makes it three games the Aggies have lost that they seemed to own.
Do you blame the Aggies, or is it just bad fortune? Well, a little of both. Utah State was poised to finish this game off when it forced Di Luigi to fumble. However, after calling plays that confused BYU, and after nearly three quarters of good execution, the play-calling suddenly went south and the execution went with it.
The defense, knowing Nelson was likely to run at least on every other play, still couldn’t stop him. It allowed BYU to keep its final drive alive with poor tackling. It allowed BYU to convert on key plays in that final drive. The Aggies just gave BYU life when they could have taken any hope away.
And, we don’t know what would have happened had BYU had to live with that final holding penalty and settled for one or two more final chances, because of a fortunate deflection that ended up in Marcus Mathew’s hands in the end zone.
Big coaching move: With so much hype surrounding Heaps, it’s been tough for BYU coaches to look any other direction. But when it was looking like the Cougars were going to get stung again, coach Bronco Mendenhall did what a good coach does — make a tough decision in a tough time. The Cougars never would have won this game had Heaps stayed in and Nelson on the bench. Fortunately for BYU, Mendenhall had the guts to do what was best for the team.