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Provo • Ranked nationally after whipping Texas on its home field, BYU went into Thursday's nationally televised contest against Houston looking for some style points.
The blue-clad Cougars left the game just happy to have held on for the win.
Frittering away a huge first-half lead, No. 25 BYU escaped with a 33-25 victory in front of 57,630 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium to improve to 3-0 on the season. It is the first time since 2008 that BYU has been undefeated through three games, but it wasn't easy.
"The game a year ago was much like this," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "Man, those guys are hard to shake."
The Cougars led 23-0 before Houston scored the final 15 points of the first half and it was game on in the last 30 minutes. Last year, BYU took a 14-0 lead before Houston stormed back.
"We just came off the gas, just a little bit," said BYU running back Jamaal Williams.
It almost cost the Cougars the game, and it certainly damaged their reputation in the eyes of national voters. BYU was dominant early, then hanging on by its toenails at the end. Maybe all those voters switched over to the NFL game.
Quarterback Taysom Hill was again the hero for the Cougars, beating Houston with his legs by rushing 26 times for 160 yards and a touchdown. Hill was just OK through the air, completing 21 of 34 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown.
Hill was intercepted twice, however, miscues that allowed Houston to keep the game closer than it probably should have been.
"Look, we just got to clean it up," Hill said.
"Turnovers and a few critical penalties at the wrong time, or the game probably looks different," Mendenhall said.
Williams added to BYU's 323-yard rushing total, picking up 139 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.
BYU's defense was stout when it had to be in the second half after giving up a Hail Mary touchdown pass on the final play of the first half. Houston finished with 325 yards, BYU with 523.
But the Cougars had 11 penalties for 98 yards, including several that thwarted drives or prolonged UH possessions.
"I was discouraged a little bit today that we weren't cleaner in critical times," Mendenhall said.
Houston had to punt the first three times it had the ball in the second half, and BYU's offense finally got back on track after the lull. A 15-play, 53-yard drive righted the home team, but BYU had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from Trevor Samson. The Cougars had a first-and-goal at the UH 10, but a holding penalty put them in the hole.
That wasn't the first time a penalty thwarted a promising BYU drive, or prolonged a Houston drive.
Williams' second TD run of the game, a 2-yarder with 11:47 left, gave the Cougars a 33-15 lead, but Houston wasn't finished.
It pulled to within 11, 33-22, with a pretty drive culminated by a 15-yard touchdown reception by Deontay Greenberry. Trevon Stewart then intercepted Hill, and Houston took over at the BYU 27.
Kyle Bullard's 36-yard field goal made it a one-score game, 33-25.
The red-clad Cougars got the ball back with 2:49 remaining, but punted after three incompletions. BYU then ran out the clock to get the unsatisfying victory.
"We have a series of nine more one-game seasons," Mendenhall said.
The blue Cougars dominated the game through the first quarter and a half, and took a 23-0 lead when Hill threw a 6-yard touchdown strike to Mitch Mathews.
Then the bottom dropped out for the home team, as a series of crazy events resulted in Houston getting back into the game and taking all the momentum into halftime.
"To be able to start 3-0 … I am very excited, very happy about it," Hill said.
O In Short • BYU cruises to a big early lead, endures a late Houston scoring burst in the first half, and holds on to beat UH for the second straight year.
Key Moment • Houston scores 12 points in the final three minutes of the first half to get back into the game.