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East Lansing, Mich. • Rookie head coach Kalani Sitake found the complete game he was looking for, fifth-year quarterback Taysom Hill collected another signature win against a Power 5 opponent and BYU's defense got redemption in a big way for last week's miserable showing at home.
Add it all up, and the Cougars rolled out of Spartan Stadium with one of their most significant victories in some time, a 31-14 conquest of Michigan State in front of 74,214 fans on Saturday afternoon.
"When you play college football, wins are hard to come by, so you need to celebrate them as much as possible," Sitake said. "We plan on doing that."
At least until they realize they have another P5 opponent up next on the docket, the SEC's Mississippi State on Friday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"We're going to enjoy this one for awhile," said running back Jamaal Williams, who keyed a 260-yard BYU rushing effort with 163 yards on 30 carries, and two touchdowns.
And why not? It was BYU's fifth win against a Big Ten opponent, against eight losses and a tie, and it was more overpowering than many believed it would be.
"This is a team you grow up watching on TV, so it was a special one," said linebacker Fred Warner, who tied Sae Tautu and Harvey Langi for team-high tackling honors (6).
Sitake wasn't surprised. He said all week the Cougars wouldn't be manhandled at the line of scrimmage like they were against UCLA and Utah in those two losses, and his players proved him right.
"I made the statement before that I thought we could win this game on the line of scrimmage, and our guys did a great job on the offensive and defensive lines," Sitake said.
Remember that BYU defense that gave up 692 yards to Toledo? It didn't make the trip to the banks of the Red Cedar River; Saturday's version was dominating after allowing the Spartans to drive 72 yards on 15 plays for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead on their first possession.
"Having all those close games earlier I think paid off this week," Sitake said. "Just having our guys keep fighting and keep believing in what we were doing as a team, as a unit, and the leadership took over. It is nothing I did as a head coach."
But this BYU team did have a swagger, a quiet confidence, that it rarely displayed under the old coaching staff. Stopped on a 4th-and-inches play inside the Michigan State 2 early in the second quarter, the Cougars didn't pout over questionable spots on the drive, and seized some momentum with a Rhett Almond 35-yard field goal as time expired on the first half to cut the deficit to 7-3. They then dominated the second half.
"Let's do it the whole game and see how it works," Sitake said.
He could afford to joke a bit he also mentioned not trying any controversial two-point conversions for fans and the media to harp about after the Cougars (3-3) kept the pedal down in the second half.
For the second straight week, BYU scored on all of its possessions after halftime, except for the final one, when Tanner Mangum came in to take a knee in victory formation (and burn his redshirt, surprisingly).
BYU drove 73, 70, 32 and 82 yards for touchdowns in the second half, finishing with 398 yards. They were 10 of 16 on third-down conversions, with Hill picking up several of those with his legs, but also finding center/fullback Quinn Ficklin for a crucial first down on 4th-and-1 from the Michigan State 14. Hill ran in from 12 yards out a play later to make it 17-7 with 5:48 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Williams' 8-yard touchdown run after Michael Davis' interception and 40-yard return gave the Cougars a 24-7 lead, and many Michigan State fans hit the exits.
On BYU's final scoring drive, after Michigan State went 75 yards with backup quarterback Damion Terry after coach Mark Dantonio pulled ineffective starter Tyler O'Connor and had grabbed the momentum, Hill eluded a tackler in the backfield and picked up a big first down so the Cougars could take more time off the clock.
"Taysom being Taysom, that's how I would say it," said Williams, who 62 yards three plays later to put it away.
Hill finished 18 of 27 for 138 yards and a 4-yard TD to wide receiver Colby Pearson, and also rushed for 47 yards. The Cougars also got an offensive lift from Squally Canada, who spelled Williams with 50 yards on six carries.
Meanwhile, the defense played lights out for all but two Michigan State possessions, forcing five punts and holding the Spartans to 85 rushing yards.
"Great win," Sitake said. "I am proud of the guys, and looking forward to celebrating this win and getting on to the next one."
R The Cougars rack up 260 rushing yards to even their record at 3-3.
• Having given up nearly 700 yards of offense last week, the Cougars hold Michigan State to 206 total yards, on 53 plays.
• Jamaal Williams rushes 30 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns for BYU.