PROVO — Virginia gave BYU its best shot.
It wasn’t good enough.
The 4-0 Cougars found plenty of ways to sneak past and overpower their guests from the ACC, who led 16-13 at the half, but could not match BYU’s strike force scoring off chunk plays Saturday in LaVell Edwards Stadium.
In defeating the Cavaliers, a team fresh off a win over ranked Louisville, Bronco Mendenhall saw his No. 21 ranked and undefeated team race by talent it may not see again the rest of its schedule.
Like the win over Houston, Mendenhall saw his team make plenty of mistakes. It didn’t matter.
BYU scored 41 points on just 60 plays.
Virginia had the ball almost exactly twice as long as the Cougars.
BYU’s defense should have crumbled with fatigue or just gotten tired.
One of these days, BYU will put together a complete game. Saturday wasn’t that day.
“Once we got the lead, we never fell behind,” said Mendenhall.
Virginia scored a touchdown in the final two minutes aided by two BYU pass interference calls to avoid a 41-26 spanking that finished with an eight-point difference instead of 15.
For much of the BYU-Virginia game, the Cavaliers’ defensive and offensive line appeared to win most of the battles. But the Cougars found enough big plays to neutralize all that, including Virginia’s outstanding speed.
Consider: Virginia ran 102 plays to BYU’s season-low 60. The Cavaliers outgained the Cougars 519 to 332 in total offense, had fewer penalties (BYU 12 for 133, Virginia 8 for 86) and quarterbacks Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns completed 35 passes to Taysom Hill’s lowly 13. Virginia also converted 10 third downs to BYU’s six.
But those are only stats.
The Cougars outscored Virginia 28-17 in the second half in a four-touchdown barrage that included a 99-yard kickoff return by Adam Hine and 50-yard bomb from Taysom Hill to Mitch Juergens.
“It opened up and I just took it,” Hine said of his kickoff return.
“Anytime you can score like that it’s big,” said Juergens.
Added Mendenhall, “That was the difference. Once they got within eight, we answered with Taysom and Adam."
The Cougars now take a week off to prepare for Utah State. Once again, they showed there is room for polish and more intelligent play.
“I love that we have things to work on but I also love that we are undefeated,” Mendenhall said.
When it really counted, BYU defenders rose up and Hill found timely plays to hurt Virginia.
BYU’s two other second-half touchdowns came on a tow truck-like play in which Hill dragged Virginia safety Anthony Harris the last 5 yards of a 9-yard run. Jamaal Williams added a 2-yard scamper to put the Cougars up 27-20. It was then Juergens and Hine blew the game open.
You can’t tell by the numbers, but BYU’s defense bled yards but held Virginia to just a long field goal before that touchdown in the closing minutes in the second half. BYU posted a plus-two advantage in turnovers against a Virginia team that led the nation with 13 take-aways.
Another huge factor Saturday was the punting of Cougar Scott Arellano. He had five punts for 275 yards, an average of 55 yards per punt. Time and time again, Arellano pinned Virginia inside its 10-yard line and forced a long field on the Cavs.
BYU’s fourth win of the season could be capsulized in one sentence. It came when Arellano came into the press interview room after the game.
“I never knew this room existed, I’ve never been here before,” he said.
No player on BYU’s team has been 4-0 before.
And I can’t remember the last time BYU scored 41 on 60 plays and gave an opponent 102 tries to do something about it.
“I never had a question that we were not going to win that game,” said Hill.
“This team will scratch and claw, we have that in us.”
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].