Game Recap: Double Deja-Vu in BYU Win Over Utah State

The Brigham Young Cougars rallied to beat the Utah State Aggies 27-24 as backup quarterback Riley Nelson threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the final one coming with 11 seconds to play.

For more than three quarters, the game was a bad deja-vu for BYU. The Cougars were playing an in-state rival. They fell behind 7-0 very, very early. BYU fought back to take a 10-7 lead, and had a chance to extend that lead to 17-7. The Cougars, however, couldn’t extend the lead, and their opponent capitalized and regained the lead 14-10.

This is how BYU’s game against Utah started two weeks ago. That game ended an abomination. The script above was followed against Utah State. In fact, the two games continued to mirror each other as BYU struggled offensively in the second half, while Utah State continued to score. Trailing 21-13, BYU missed a field goal. It appeared that miss knocked the life out of BYU, as the Aggies drove 66 yards on the Cougar defense and kicked a 21-yard field goal to extend the lead to 24-13.

That is when BYU’s night of deja-vu ended, and Utah State’s case of deja-vu began.

Utah State was 1-2 on the year coming into the game against BYU, but the Aggies easily could have been 3-0. In the season opener at Auburn, Utah State led 38-28 late in the fourth quarter. Auburn came back and scored in the final minute to win 42-38. Last week, Utah State led Colorado State in the fourth quarter. The Rams rallied to force overtime by scoring 11 fourth quarter points. Utah State ended up losing in two overtimes.

After Utah State opened the 11 point lead over BYU, BYU sent former Utah State quarterback Riley Nelson into the game to relieve starter Jake Heaps who was just 11 of 25 for 107 yards. Nelson immediately brought life to the Cougar offense. Using his feet to pick up yardage on the ground and buy time in the pocket, Nelson took BYU 60 yards in 8 plays and finished the drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Cody Hoffman.

Utah State ripped off a 53-yard run on its first play after the touchdown. The BYU defense quickly stiffened. They forced Utah State into a 3rd down and 6 situation. Utah State tried a swing pass, which had been successful earlier in the game. This time, middle linebacker Uona Kaveinga made a great play on the ball and met the Utah State receiver two yards behind the line of scrimmage.

The Utah State field goal unit came onto the field. Rather than attempt a 48-yard field goal, Utah State faked the field goal and threw a pass to their 6’7” tight end. Daniel Sorensen was in perfect position to break up the play.

With Nelson still at the helm, the Cougar offense continued to move the ball. In 3:30, BYU moved the ball from its own 30-yard line to the Utah State 26. J.J. Di Luigi was given the ball on 3rd and 2. While fighting for the first down, Di Luigi fumbled the ball. Utah State recovered with 3:53 to play.

The Aggies tried to run out the clock using their rushing attack that had racked up over 280 yards on the night. The Cougar D would not allow it. Jameson Frazier stopped the Utah State quarterback for a two yard loss on third down to force a punt. Utah State caught a break as the punt rolled nearly 30 yards all the way to the BYU 4-yard line.

Trailing 24-20 with just one timeout and 2:36 to play, Nelson needed to drive BYU 96 yards to win the game. Make that 98 yards. Nelson was tackled for a loss of two on the first play of the drive. BYU methodically worked to get a first down. Once that was accomplished, the Cougars set their sights on the end zone.

BYU picked up 19 yards in two plays to move the ball out to the 34 yard line. That is when Utah State called a time out to stop the clock with 1:01 to play. Two plays after the timeout, Nelson was scrambling for his life in the pocket. Finally, Nelson heaved a pass way downfield. Senior wide receiver McKay Jacobson broke for the ball and caught it for a nice 40-yard reception at the Utah State 26-yard line.

One play later, BYU was really knocking on the door as Nelson rushed to the 13-yard line on a quarterback draw. Once again, Utah State stopped the clock, this time with only 15 seconds, by calling timeout. Following the timeout, Nelson dropped back to pass. He spotted Di Luigi running across the middle of the field at the goal line. The Utah State defender tipped the ball, but Marcus Mathews was coming across the field from the other direction about five yards deep in the end zone. He just kept running and caught the ball for the game winning touchdown.

In 9 plays, Nelson drove BYU the length of the field to hand Utah State its third loss of the season due to blowing a fourth quarter lead.

PLAY OF THE GAME: 13-yard game winning touchdown pass from Riley Nelson to Marcus Mathews that Mathews caught after it was tipped.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Riley Nelson, 10 of 14 for 144 yards and 2 TDs, 11 carries for 62 yards.

Analysis of the "things to watch for" in the game preview:
  1. Getting burned deep. Whatever the game plan was, it didn’t work very well. Utah State rolled up 284 yards rushing. However, the defense never got burned for a deep pass. Utah State’s longest completion was 24-yards, and it was just a screen pass where the receiver ran the 24 yards after he caught the ball. While it is impossible to know, you can’t help but think that the game didn’t get out of hand partially due to the defense not allowing any really long pass plays.
  2. Improved passing game. Heaps was very inefficient still. Nelson balanced things out. The offense had to make plays to win this game, and they did. Three of the biggest plays were pass plays.
  3. Active Defensive Line. The Cougar defensive line dropped back down to just 10 tackles on the night, which might explain a lot about why Utah State was able to run the ball so effectively. Production needs to be higher from this group.
  4. Trap Turbin. BYU let Robert Turbin get loose for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of the game. He gained 43 yards on his other 8 carries, which is a 5.4 yard average. BYU did not do a very good job stopping him. This was the rare exception where BYU was able to win anyways.
  5. Revenge factor. I really didn’t see anything that made me think that revenge was on the minds of the BYU football players. Interestingly, BYU didn’t come to life and play like they wanted to win the game until Riley Nelson, who transferred from Utah State, started playing. I have to believe that Nelson was playing with some added fire and passion because this was Utah State.
NEXT: vs. San Jose State
DATE: Saturday, October 8, 2011

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  1. Are planning posting an opinion piece on the Quarterback situation? Should Nelson get the start now? Will Riley be able to perform well when teams are able to prepare all week for him? Does Heaps still get a shot? Either way Nelson is a nice ace to have up the sleeve in a tight spot. In my opinion, it was evident that Nelson commanded a respect from the team that Heaps doesn't get for whatever reason. Everyone seemed to elevate their game when Riley came in, but that could have been because of game situation. I'd be interested in your thoughts.


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