"They dug us into a hole and we couldn't get out," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
The Cougars (6-5) will try to move on to next Saturday's meaningless game at 1-9 New Mexico State (1:30 p.m., ESPN3). Mendenhall will once again face questions about why he stayed with quarterback Riley Nelson so long against the Spartans, when it was obvious the senior was hurting in the fourth quarter.
Nelson's most costly mistake was throwing into coverage and getting picked off by Jimmy Pruitt at the SJSU 5-yard line with around 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. But he also missed several open receivers late in the game.
"He took another hard shot, and the guy is very resilient," Mendenhall said. "We had [backup James Lark] ready because Riley was hurting. We weren't sure how and if [Riley] was going to be able to continue and he just kept recovering and recovering."
Pressed on why he didn't replace Nelson, Mendenhall said: "He gave us a chance to win the game."
Even athletic director Tom Holmoe was frustrated after the Cougars lost by a touchdown or less for the fourth time this season.
"We all know football must get better," Holmoe noted on Twitter.
This time, BYU's vaunted defense had to share the blame for the loss, although it did shut out the Spartans in the second half. But in the first quarter and a half, SJSU quarterback David Fales carved up the Cougars with ease, throwing three touchdown passes on his first three drives before BYU safety Daniel Sorensen ended the streak with a big interception.
"We just were not concentrating very well on our assignments," Mendenhall said. "… They had three big plays to start the game and then we decided to play and concentrate. Give San Jose State credit for the way [it] started the game."
Despite looking mediocre, or worse, at the start of the game, BYU moved up to No. 3 in the country in total defense (from No. 4) and is now giving up just 273.5 yards per game. San Jose State had 364 yards, but only 69 in the second half.
But that's small consolation for a team that is 6-5 and seemingly had the pieces in place in early September to win more games.
BYU at New Mexico State
P Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Online • ESPN3