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Cincinnati • The latest chapter of his first year as head football coach at BYU left Kalani Sitake apologizing to some Cougar fans, but for all the right reasons this time.
In the ninth game of the season, the Cougars finally played a non-exciting college football game, for once. They posted a workmanlike 20-3 win over Cincinnati that had many in the crowd of 37,522 at historic Nippert Stadium leaving early expect for the thousands of BYU fans whose hearts finally weren't tested by another nail-biter.
"Some people said it wasn't all that exciting. But that's my kind of excitement. I will take the win any way we can get it," Sitake said. "After the first eight, and how close all of those were, I think this is kind of a letdown for some of the fans. But I hope we have more of these games."
The Cougars improved to 5-4, while Cincinnati fell to 4-5. The Bearcats had their 30-game win streak in nonconference games, dating back to 2002, snapped on a picture-perfect fall afternoon in the Midwest.
The Bearcats struck first, driving 59 yards for a 23-yard field goal on their opening possession, then were hardly heard from again, thanks to a BYU defense that rose up after the first quarter. They finished with 295 yards, but only after a meaningless 57-yard late drive to the BYU 19.
"Good game," Sitake said. "I mean, our defense did a great job after that first drive, just kind of regrouping and playing assignment-sound football."
After freshman Austin McChesney, who later left the game with a sprained knee, picked off Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel and returned the interception 37 yards, the Cougars held the home team to three straight three-and-outs, and the BYU offense finally got going.
Starting quarterback Taysom Hill struggled for most of the first half, and it appeared the coaching staff might be considering a change when sophomore Tanner Mangum warmed up on the sidelines with just over seven minutes remaining in the second quarter.
But Hill led the Cougars on a 13-play, 92-yard touchdown drive that took more than six minutes off the clock and resulted in his own 8-yard TD run.
Hill acknowledged that the sluggish start was "a little bit" frustrating.
"But I am not trying to take anything away from Cincinnati. They played us hard and played us well, so kudos to them."
Sitake said "Taysom was going to be in there the whole time" and there was no thought given to giving Mangum a shot.
The big play on that drive was a flea-flicker pass from Hill to Jonah Trinnaman for 43 yards, a trick play set up because the Cougars were pounding the Bearcats with the run and offensive coordinator Ty Detmer noticed their safeties were creeping up to stop it, Sitake said.
"We have been working on that for a while," said senior receiver Nick Kurtz, who had four catches for 33 yards. "I didn't think we would actually do it."
Hill rewarded the coach's confidence in him be engineering another long drive to open the second half. The 12-play, 70-yard drive that featured a healthy dose of Jamaal Williams (25 carries, 92 yards) and Squally Canada (nine carries, 41 yards). Hill's pinpoint pass to Colby Pearson for 13 yards on third-and-6 prolonged the drive and it ended with Canada's 1-yard TD plunge.
Combined, the two TD drives sandwiched around a Cincinnati kneel-down to end the first half took 12:34 off the clock.
"When we can slow it down like that, and we have the lead, it is tough to beat us," said Hill, who was 12 for 25 for 130 yards passing with one interception. He added 12 carries for 75 yards and was never sacked.
"I have said it before: We have to establish the line of scrimmage," Sitake said. "Once we were able to settle down and stop the run, and get some run yards ourself … look at [the scoreboard], they got 96 yards rushing and we got 207, that's the difference in the game."
For good measure, the Cougars clinched it with a 16-play, 60-yard drive in the fourth quarter that used 9:41 and ended with Rhett Almond's second short field goal, a 19-yarder, with 1:39 left in the game.
R The Cougars keep the ball for nearly 38 minutes and grind out a defensive struggle against Cincinnati.
• Jamaal Williams gains 92 yards on 25 carries and surpasses the 1,000-yard plateau for the second time in his career.
• BYU holds Cincinnati to just nine yards in the second quarter to seize control.