Provo • When the head coach says he learned more about his football team in the practices leading up to the game than in the game itself, well, you know what that says about the game.
As expected, the BYU Cougars got what they wanted on Saturday, and so did their Football Championship Subdivision opponent, the Idaho State Bengals.
Despite some sloppy play here and there, the Cougars rolled to a 56-3 win over the pass-happy Bengals in front of 60,043 sun-drenched, mildly interested fans, recording their fifth straight win, improving to 6-2 overall and becoming bowl-eligible while also getting benched starting quarterback Jake Heaps some much-needed confidence-building playing time.
Having pocketed somewhere in the neighborhood of $400,000 for making the three-hour bus trip to Provo, the Bengals (2-6) went home from another money game reasonably happy as well, having made just enough plays and scored just enough points Brendon Garcia's 34-yard field goal in the first quarter to show they aren't the worst team to ever play here.
"I really believed our team prepared well this past week in practice, and it is a unique challenge, especially playing an FCS opponent, at this time of the year," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "But I think our team showed a lot of maturity and handled it well. And that was a real step forward, in my opinion.
"Other than that, the outcome is what I would have hoped. We scored a lot of points on offense and didn't give up many on defense. I think we still gained momentum going into the last four weeks of the season."
The biggest momentum-gainer of all was starting quarterback Riley Nelson, who once again showed off his legs and improving throwing ability to secure the starting position for arguably the Cougars' biggest game of the year next Friday at TCU even if Mendenhall still insists the decision will be made weekly.
Nelson completed 11 of 17 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, and also rushed seven times for 62 yards and a score. He did just what he was supposed to do, turning the reins over to Heaps after leading the Cougars on a six-play, 91-yard touchdown drive on the first possession of the second half that put BYU comfortably ahead, 42-3.
"It is who I am, man," Nelson said, when asked if he cares that he's not been anointed the full-time starter yet. "I never take anything for granted. That's what fuels me. So I appreciate coach doing that for me. It keeps me from getting complacent. … I can feel the trust and confidence my teammates have in me and in my play, and that's all that matters to me."
Taking over with 7 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Heaps picked up three first downs, but was intercepted by ISU's Ryan Coleman on second-and-12. The Cougars punted after moving the ball from their 12 into ISU territory on Heaps' second chance, then scored on his third possession with 6:46 remaining in the game.
"I was just really glad that … we had an opportunity to give him some playing time," Mendenhall said. "It was fun to see him smiling, and that's a good thing."
Heaps finished 8 of 10 for 67 yards, but was also part of a couple botched handoffs and/or broken plays. All told, the Cougars churned out 572 yards, a season-high, and held ISU to 251.