FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It was an early East Coast kickoff at Gillette Stadium Saturday — 10 a.m. Mountain Time — and it appeared that BYU was sleepwalking through the first quarter.
The Cougars trailed UMass 10-0 in the opening minutes for this late breakfast-time showdown at Tom Brady's place, the home of the New England Patriots.
But by the end of the quarter, BYU woke up — then put the hammer down on the Minutemen, by scoring 35 unanswered points in a 35-16 victory before a crowd of 14,082.
For the Cougars, who hadn’t won a game since Oct. 13, it was a crucial win.
BYU halted its two-game losing streak, earned a measure of revenge for last year’s embarrassing loss at home to the Minutemen, evened up its record (5-5) and stepped one win closer to bowl eligibility.
It just took the Cougars a little while to put things together.
“It’s unfortunate because we’ve been in that position before and not have it work out. But our guys buckled down,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “They got sick of not performing well and turned it around. I was really pleased.”
By scoring five touchdowns, it was an offensive performance BYU desperately needed after scoring only one touchdown in its previous two games.
“We were just confident in our ability to do something in this game. We’re finding our identity as an offense,” said quarterback Zach Wilson, who completed 14 of 22 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns. “We’re starting to figure out what path we’re going to be taking. A fumble to start the game and a couple of stalled drives. I don’t think it brought anyone down. The whole offense was, ‘Hey, let’s go.’ It was good to rebound from that.”
BYU gained 388 yards of total offense. The Cougars ran for 221 yards, with 154 of those coming in the second half. Matt Hadley led the way with 11 carreis for 69 yards and one touchdown.
Things didn’t start that well, however.
On UMass’s opening drive, following the opening kickoff, a facemask penalty on third-and-long gave the Minutemen new life, and they ended up kicking a field goal on a drive that took 7:03 off the clock.
Apparently, BYU simply pushed the snooze button because, on its first play from scrimmage, Aleva Hifo fumbled on a jet sweep. UMass cashed in with a touchdown to take a 10-0 advantage.
At that point, the Minutemen (4-7) had run 21 plays for 98 yards and the Cougars had run one play for minus-4 yards.
Then came BYU’s wake-up call. The Cougars produced two big plays on consecutive snaps — a 36-yard run by Wilson and then a 25-yard reception by Dallin Holker. One play later, BYU got on the scoreboard when Wilson connected with Talon Shumway to cut the deficit to 10-7.
The Cougars scored again late in the second quarter when Wilson threw another TD pass to Shumway for 15 yards. That staked BYU to a 14-10 halftime advantage.
“Even though we scored, we were still hungry to score more,” Wilson said. “It was good going into halftime with a lead.”
At the end of the first half, UMass missed a field goal that could have cut the deficit to one point.
In the third quarter, BYU took over on its own 25-yard line and Squally Canada promptly gained 25 yards on first down. That was followed by a 40-yard flea-flicker from Wilson to Neil Pau’u, who made a diving grab.
“I saw one of our guys streaking right down the middle,” Wilson said. “It was a great catch by Neil. It was a great team setup for the trick play.”
Three plays later, Hadley scored from two yards out to put the Cougars up 21-10.
Later in the third period, Wilson engineered a 62-yard drive that culminated in a three-yard run by Hifo to make it 28-10.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Cougars added to their lead on 10-yard TD run by Hifo. And with 12:47 remaining, BYU was ahead, 35-10.
The Cougars looked like a much different team in the second half.
“We felt like we could put it together. Defensively, we settled in a little bit. Offensively, we knew we could get some plays,” Sitake said. “We made some mistakes. We knew what the mistakes were. At halftime, we tried to get all 11 guys doing their jobs, nothing more than that. We did that in the second half. I felt like for the most part it was really sound in all three phases.”37 comments on this story
Going into the game, BYU’s offense had given up 12 sacks in the previous two contests. Against UMass, the Cougars did not surrender a single sack.
And the offense scored touchdowns.
“I’m glad we were able to sustain some drives on offense, and then we put together more in the second half,” Sitake said. “If we can do that for a full 60 minutes, I think we’ll be a really explosive offense.”
BYU hosts New Mexico State next Saturday in its home finale. A win next week would clinch bowl eligibility for the Cougars.