Provo • Kicking and special teams blunders went a long way in deciding the outcomes of the Utah-Utah State and Utah-BYU games earlier this season. Why not the same for BYU-Utah State?
Sure enough, the battle for the Old Wagon Wheel on Friday night turned into the defensive struggle most everyone predicted, and one missed kick in particular played a huge role.
Using the stingy defense that has carried it all season, BYU prevailed 6-3 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in front of 63,086 fans, sealing the win late by running out the clock.
"I'm lucky and glad that we won," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, later adding that low-scoring games "take their toll on me as head coach, that's for sure."
The difference in the game came when BYU drove 60 yards for the contest's only touchdown in the last half-minute of the first half. Freshman quarterback Taysom Hill's 3-yard touchdown pass to J.D. Falslev completed the drive with three seconds left in the half.
Neither team scored in the second half.
Maybe former Aggie Riley Nelson really did make a deal with the devil when he led last year's 27-24 comeback win for BYU, as has been joked about in his hometown of Logan, because the Cougars (4-2) played much of the game like they were cursed: missing PATs, getting field goals blocked and costing themselves scoring opportunities with costly penalties.
"Very resilient," said Mendenhall, describing his team, but lamenting the many miscues.
But the Aggies went away feeling cursed as well, losing for the 17th straight time in Provo.
Utah State (4-2) could have tied the game with 7 minutes, 47 seconds remaining, but Josh Thompson's 38-yard field goal just slid on the outside of the left goalpost. USU still has not won a game in Provo since 1978, and failed in its bid to sweep Utah and BYU in the same season for the first time since 1974. Starting for the second-straight week, Hill did just enough to pull out another win. He rushed 19 times for 80 yards and completed 24 of 36 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown, with one interception.
But BYU's defenders were once again the big stars, holding the Aggies out of the end zone and to just 243 yards; it was the 12th straight game an opponent has failed to record more than 300 yards of offense against the Cougars.
USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton was mostly bottled up all night. He was 22-for-38 for 202 yards, but was sacked three times. USU rushed for just 41 yards.
"I was impressed with how our defense played," Mendenhall said.
The Cougars blew a golden opportunity to take control early in the third quarter, when Keeton fumbled the ball away at his own 9-yard line. But an offensive holding penalty backed BYU up, and a fake field goal try from the 8-yard line failed miserably. The Aggies were ready for it.
"One of the better defenses we've played this season," said BYU tight end Kaneakua Friel, describing the Aggies.
BYU stopped a promising USU drive in the third quarter when Preston Hadley intercepted Cameron Webb's pass after a trick play, a reverse. But BYU's best drive of the second half was also thwarted by a pick, as Tyler Fackrell intercepted Hill. The pick came after BYU's Matt Hadley came off the bench and shoved an Aggie player, drawing a 15-yard personal foul.
"It was very close," Mendenhall said, when asked if he almost started Nelson instead of Hill.
After successfully making a school-record 70 straight PATs, BYU has messed up on three of its last six, and that last one almost cost the Cougars dearly.
"I am going to have to take a hard look at [the kicking game]," Mendenhall said.
The Aggies took a 3-0 lead on a 26-yard field goal by Thompson in the first quarter.
The Cougars drove to the Utah State 17 midway through the second quarter, but Justin Sorensen's 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Paul Piakula. It was the third time in four games that the Cougars have had a kick blocked.
R In Short • BYU defeats Utah State in Provo for the 17th consecutive time.
Key Moment • Utah State's Josh Thompson misses a 38-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
Key Stat • BYU has not allowed an offensive touchdown in 13 quarters