This game a year ago was like this. Those guys are hard to shake. They keep clawing back. —Bronco Mendenhall
PROVO — Midway through the second quarter, the No. 25 BYU Cougars were cruising along with a 23-0 lead Thursday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
But something happened on the way to blowing out the Houston Cougars.
Stuff like penalties, turnovers, struggles in the passing game, stalled drives, and a Houston Hail Mary just before halftime.
But in the end, the blue Cougars held off the red Cougars, 33-25, before a crowd of 57,630.
Not exactly a star-spangled finish for BYU.
"We started out great and let off the gas a little bit," said BYU running back Jamaal Williams, who rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns. "We've got to hold on the whole game and not let them come back. ... We made too many mistakes."
BYU improved to 3-0 on the season while Houston fell to 1-2.
“This game a year ago was like this,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said, referring to BYU’s 47-46 win at Houston. “Those guys are hard to shake. They keep clawing back.”
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill ran for 160 yards and a touchdown and completed 21 of 34 passes for 200 yards and a TD.
Houston quarterback John O’Korn completed 30 of 52 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns.
BYU outgained Houston in total offense, 523 yards to 325.
On BYU’s opening drive, Hill threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Devon Blackmon, but the play was nullified by an illegal formation penalty.
BYU did score moments later on a safety by linebacker Zac Stout, then built on its lead on the ensuing possession when Williams scored on an 11-yard touchdown run to make it 9-0 for BYU.
With 3:24 remaining in the first quarter, Hill scored on a 5-yard keeper and it was 16-0.
BYU stretched its lead to 23-0 after Hill connected with Mitch Mathews on a 6-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone, and it sure looked like BYU was going to run away with the game.
But Houston responded with a 17-play, four-minute drive and got on the scoreboard, 23-3, with a 29-yard field goal by Kyle Bullard.
Then the wheels started to come off for BYU.
First, Hill threw a pass that was tipped high in the air near the line of scrimmage and fell into the arms of Joey Mbu.
BYU appeared to have stopped Houston’s offense on a third-and-16 situation, but a personal foul by Manoa Pikula kept the drive alive. O’Korn ended up throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to Deontay Greenberry, and cut the deficit to 23-9, as the PAT failed.
On BYU’s next drive, with time in the first half running out, Hill found Mitchell Juergens for a 38-yard completion, but Juergens was stripped of the ball and safety Adrian McDonald scooped it up and gave Houston possession at the BYU 45-yard line.
One play later, O’Korn scrambled in the backfield with time expired and threw a Hail Mary pass that was hauled in by Daniel Spencer for a touchdown. Houston missed its second PAT of the half and the two teams went to the locker room at halftime with BYU leading 23-15.
Houston clearly had the momentum going into the third quarter, and BYU’s first drive of the second half stalled. It ended when punter Scott Arellano’s fake punt on fourth-and-1 fell short.
Later in the quarter, BYU had a 15-play, 53-yard drive that chewed 6:15 off the clock, capped by a 26-yard field goal by Trevor Samson that gave BYU a 26-15 advantage.
However, penalties once again haunted BYU. The most egregious one was a personal foul on freshman center Tejan Koroma that nullified a 16-yard reception by Adam Hine. Koroma was ejected from the game for swatting at a Houston defender.
“I was disappointed that we weren’t cleaner at critical times,” Mendenhall said.
Early in the fourth quarter, BYU put some more distance between itself and Houston on a drive that featured a 23-yard scramble by Hill, culminating with a 2-yard Williams touchdown. With 11:47 remaining, BYU was on top, 33-15.
Houston answered quickly, as O’Korn completed a 15-yard TD pass to Greenberry to slice BYU’s lead to 33-22 with 9:09 left.
Not long after that touchdown, Houston’s Trevon Stewart intercepted Hill in BYU territory and Houston cashed in on a 36-yard field goal.
At that point, Houston trailed, 33-25.
In the final seven minutes, BYU’s offense held on to the ball, and BYU’s defense kept Houston in check to preserve the victory.
BYU hosts Virginia on Sept. 20 at 1:30 p.m. MDT.