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Provo • The pass sailed over the middle toward Houston's wide-open receiver, and here came BYU safety Craig Bills, separating the ball from the visiting Cougar player on the first scrimmage play of Thursday night's game.
That was a good start. And in the end, BYU's defense was asked to make one last stop.
The home team delivered, as Houston quarterback John O'Korn fired three straight incompletions to halt a drive that potentially could have tied the game, and BYU's offense proceeded to run out the clock.
Some crazy stuff occurred in the middle of this game, and No. 25 BYU's 33-25 victory at LaVell Edwards Stadium required a lot more work than it should have for a team with ambitions of going unbeaten. But the ultimate result has to be viewed as acceptable - even if the game left BYU with "plenty to work on," as coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
Statistically, BYU (3-0) dominated the game with 523 total yards to Houston's 325. BYU's inability to close out the game prior to the last few minutes was mildly disturbing, and so were a bunch of costly penalties - one of them resulting in freshman center Tejan Koroma's third-quarter ejection.
Yet the BYU defense was revved up from the start, with linebacker Zac Stout producing a safety for the game's first points, and that group came through whenever the outcome was in doubt. The defense's third-quarter effort enabled the offense to get some traction, as BYU stayed in front.
In between, well, there was considerable weirdness - with BYU causing some percentage of its own troubles. A late-hit penalty after a third-down stop kept a Houston touchdown drive alive and then BYU allowed a 45-yard TD pass on the final play of the first half.
Meanwhile, the offense was giving up a batted-ball interception and a fumble and committing a flurry of penalties, and Scott Arellano was stuffed on a fake-punt run as BYU showed some capability of losing all of its 23-0 lead.
That's why the defense's third-quarter performance was so important. The defense responded to that fourth-down stop at the BYU 45-yard line with a three-and-out sequence as BYU linebacker Jherremya Leuta-Douyere hurried O'Korn into a third-down incompletion.
Alani Fua's sack short-circuited Houston's next drive, and the visitors also went three-and-out on their third possession of the half, which stretched into the fourth quarter. It helped that BYU's offense put together long drive to close the third quarter, even if it resulted only in a field goal.
Houston did put together a touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter, and really could have threatened BYU after intercepting a Taysom Hill pass at the BYU 27-yard line.
But the BYU defense remained solid, forcing a field goal that cut the lead to 33-25. And Houston failed to take advantage of its final opportunity, starting from its 17-yard line in the last three minutes, while gaining only 92 total yards in the second half.
"When you pass the ball a thousand times, you're going to complete some," said BYU cornerback Rob Daniel. "I think [the secondary] held up pretty well."
The summary of this episode is that BYU definitely was ready to play, answering some questions about its ability to respond only five days after an emotional win at Texas. And the homestanding Cougars did what they had to do in the end.
The middle portion of the game certainly left some questions about BYU's ability to play consistently for 60 minutes against an inferior opponent, but winning counts for something, right?
And there were some satisfying aspects of this game for BYU.
Hill produced another nice game with 200 passing yards and 160 rushing yards, including a clutch keeper on a third-and-1 play on BYU's clock-killing drive. Running back Jamaal Williams also was outstanding, with 139 yards and two touchdowns.
If we learned anything Thursday, it is this: For as long as BYU remains unbeaten, there will be some scares, some uneven performances and some critical moments along the way. It's all about playing through those key sequences, and coming through when it matters. BYU did that against Houston. Virginia's next.