FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — BYU inched closer to bowl eligibility with its fifth victory of the season, beating Massachusetts 35-16 on Saturday at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.
The Cougars (5-5) fought through some first-quarter struggles to score 35 straight points in the win over the Minutemen (4-7).
BYU showed significant improvement in the red zone, scoring five touchdowns on possessions that reached the UMass 20. That included two Talon Shumway touchdown catches, as well as three rushing touchdowns in the second half, two from Aleva Hifo and one from Matt Hadley. The only time the Cougars reached the red zone and didn't score was on their final drive, when BYU knelt the ball to end the game after reaching the UMass 20.
The Cougars also were much better on third down, converting 6 of 12 in the game. Three came on BYU’s second touchdown drive of the game. BYU didn’t give up any sacks as well, after allowing seven last week against Boise State.
Early on, the numbers didn’t look pretty for the BYU offense. The Cougars had minus-4 yards and a turnover to 98 yards and 10 points for UMass through the first 10:48 of the game, as BYU lost a fumble on its first play and the Minutemen ate up the possession on its first two drives, scoring a touchdown and field goal.
But the BYU offense bounced back with a four-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that was sparked by a pair of chunk plays — a 36-yard Zach Wilson carry and a 25-yard Dallin Holker reception — and ended with a 4-yard Shumway touchdown grab.
Several other chunk plays — like a 40-yard flea flicker to Neil Pau’u — and a strong rushing day helped the Cougar offense recover and blow past UMass, as BYU rushed for 221 yards. BYU finished with a 6.16-yards-per-play average and 388 total offensive yards.
Wilson, the freshman quarterback, had a good day, completing 14 of 22 passes for 167 yards and the two touchdowns to Shumway. He added eight carries for 53 yards, including a 36-yard run that set up BYU’s first score, before giving way to fellow freshman Jaren Hall late in the game.
The Cougar defense came up big, helping the BYU offense get on track by holding down a normally potent UMass offense. BYU had four sacks in the game, including two by Rhett Sandlin on a solid day for the reserve senior. The Cougars also held UMass to 102 rushing yards, with a 2.8 per-carry average.
In between giving up 95 yards to UMass in the first quarter and 86 on a late touchdown drive with the victory in hand, the Cougars allowed the Minutemen just 104 yards for the better part of two and half quarters.
UMass was also held to 183 passing yards, including 85 yards for Andy Isabella, who entered the game leading the country in receiving yards and had much of his yards come on the Minutemen’s final drive of the game.
BYU was also stout on third down, holding UMass to five conversions on 15 attempts while also keeping the Minutemen from converting a fourth down in the second quarter inside Cougar territory.
For the most part, BYU’s special teams weren’t in the spotlight Saturday, and that was a good thing.
One week after the Cougars dealt with a handful of special teams miscues, BYU was quiet in that facet of the game while keeping UMass from doing anything of substance on special teams. Windy conditions helped keep either team from doing much in the return game, and the Minutemen missed their lone field goal attempt.
If there was one nitpicky thing, BYU punter Rhett Almond averaged just 34.8 yards per punt. UMass, conversely, averaged only 37.6.
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It was a relatively clean game for the Cougars, as they had just two penalties for 20 yards in the game. UMass itself had one penalty for 10 yards.
For BYU, though, the final three quarters of the game showed promise for a team that has been struggling with mistakes the past few weeks that have kept them from potential wins.
With two games left in the season and needing just one win for bowl eligibility, the win sets the Cougars up with a solid chance — especially with 3-7 New Mexico State next on the schedule — to return to the postseason after a year hiatus.