Game Recap: BYU Uses Big First Half to Coast to 29-16 Win

The Brigham Young Cougars took control of the game by scoring three touchdowns in a 15:20 second span during the first and second quarters. With a 23-6 lead at halftime, the Cougars coasted in the second half to beat the San Jose State Spartans 29-16.

With quarterback Riley Nelson making his first start of the season, the BYU offense moved the ball effectively all game long. After the Cougar D stopped the Spartans on the game’s opening series, BYU promptly drove the ball 51 yards in 10 plays. Just as it looked like BYU would take a 7-0 lead, Nelson fumbled the ball inside the Spartans’ 5-yard line.

The fumble turned into a blessing in disguise as an errant shotgun snap by San Jose State went out of the end zone for a safety resulting in a 2-0 lead for BYU. BYU took the momentum of that safety to build an insurmountable lead.

After the free kick, BYU drove 56 yards in five plays to take a 9-0 lead on a touchdown pass from Nelson to Richard Wilson. It was the first of three first half TD passes by Nelson. At this point, Nelson had completed five passes to five different receivers.

San Jose State answered with a 13-play, 73-yard drive that took 6:47 off the clock, but only netted three points. That made it 9-3 at the end of the first quarter.

BYU pushed the lead to 16-3 with a 70+ yard drive of its own. The highlight was a 35-yard pass from Nelson to Wilson that set up a one-yard touchdown reception for Bryan Kariya. On the pass to Wilson, Nelson showed he can make difficult throws. The left-handed QB rolled right and had to throw the ball over two defenders who were pressuring him.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy stopped the next Spartan drive when he intercepted a pass at the BYU 30-yard line and returned it 30 yards. BYU capitalized on the turnover with a bomb from Nelson to McKay Jacobson for a 40-yard touchdown on the very next play. That gave BYU its biggest lead of the game at 23-3.

At that point, Nelson was 8 of 9 passing for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns. That translates to a pass efficiency rating of 334.2. Nelson, however, came down from the stratosphere on the next drive with his second turnover of the game.

BYU was driving for another score to put the game away when Nelson made a bad throw high and behind his intended receiver that was intercepted at the SJSU 11-yard line. The Spartans were able to turn the interception into a field goal just before halftime to close the gap to 23-6 going into the locker room.

At the break, BYU had gained 282 yards of total offense (170 passing and 112 rushing) on 33 plays. Nelson had 212 yard of that total with 42 yards rushing on 6 carries to go with his 170 passing yards. The BYU defense had limited San Jose State to 12 yards rushing.

After controlling the first half, BYU got sloppy and lazy in the second. On the first drive, Nelson made a bad decision and threw another interception. The BYU defense didn’t dominate the way it did most of the first half and allowed the Spartans a touchdown after they started the drive 96 yards away.

What was once a 20 point lead was now cut in half. It was a critical time for the Cougar offense to regain control of the game. Using a solid rushing attack, BYU took 5:37 off the clock and moved the ball into field goal range. With 32 seconds left in the third quarter, Justin Sorensen kicked his first field goal to put BYU back up by 13.

BYU and San Jose State traded field goals in the fourth quarter. Although Nelson was 0-4 with 1 interception in the third quarter, he completed four passes on BYU’s first drive of the fourth quarter when BYU needed to keep the Spartans off balance and to get one more score.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Nelson to Jacobson 40-yard TD pass following the Kyle Van Noy interception making it a 23-3 game.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Michael Alisa, running back, 15 carries for 91 yards (6.1 yard average).

Things to watch for:
  1. Will the quarterback situation be settled? Yes. Although Nelson had three turnovers, his complete body of work, and, more importantly, the complete body of work by the offense leave no doubt that he should be the starter next week and beyond. BYU had 444 yards total offense and was 8 of 11 on converting third downs.
  2. Can the Cougar defense revive itself? No. They gave up 325 yards and the pass defense was less than satisfactory.
  3. Will Matt Putnam contribute? Putnam did see the field, and his fresh legs helped him register a tackle for a loss on his very first play. He ended the game with 2 tackles in his limited role.
  4. Does BYU get a break?The Spartans were no match for BYU. The final score doesn’t show how little of a challenge it was for BYU. That is because BYU let the large halftime lead cause them to take their foot off the accelerator in the second half, which kept this game closer than it should have been.
NEXT: at Oregon State
DATE: October 15, 2011

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