Of all the classic BYU football games, one thing sets apart the dominating win over the San Diego State Aztecs in 1979 from the others. It has grown into a tall tale.
Notwithstanding the fact that this game was nationally televised with Al Michaels and former Notre Dame coaching legend Ara Parseghian calling the game, the details of the beginning of the game have gotten fuzzy over time. It is remembered as the game where Cougar quarterback Marc Wilson did nothing but throw touchdown passes to start the game. Just how many? Well that depends on who you ask. Most recently, Robbie Bosco, who quarterbacked BYU to the 1984 National Championship, said during the BYU Football Media Day Wilson's first five passes were touchdowns.
Others will tell you four. It was actually three, but what most impressed me as I recently watched the game for the first time (thank you very much BYUtv) is how no one ever mentions the great help Wilson received so that his first three passes could be touchdowns.
As I heard the stories over the years, I had always imagined these were spectacular plays of 70 or 80 yards. I mean, BYU threw the ball every down back then, right? More often than not, a team has to drive three quarters of the field to score. To have one extremely long scoring play in a game is rare, so to imagine three or four in one game all coming back-to-back-to-back was mind blowing.
Therefore, in true Blue Cougar Football fashion, here is not only a detailed recap of this classic game, but one that spreads the praise to all deserving parties.
BYU came into the regular season finale with a perfect 10-0 record and a number 10 national ranking. San Diego State was 8-2 with its only losses coming in games in which they had 11 and 7 turnovers. The winner would claim the WAC championship and get to play in the Holiday Bowl.
After forcing San Diego State to punt on the game's opening drive, Homer Jones ripped off a 41-yard run for BYU. That moved the ball to the Aztec 25-yard line. That set up touchdown pass number one. With pressure from a blitz in his face, Wilson threw a bomb to Dan Plater to put BYU up 7-0 just 1:42 into the game.
On that touchdown pass, Wilson set a new NCAA record for most passing yards in a season.
Cougar defenders Pulusila Filiaga and Glen Titensor teamed up for a sack on San Diego State's next possession, and on third down Glen Redd intercepted the ball and returned it to the Aztec 24-yard line.
On first down, Wilson did throw an incomplete pass, however, it didn't count in the official stats. BYU was called for an illegal shift. That moved the ball back five yards. Wilson was then sacked for a 12-yard loss back to the 42-yard line. On 2nd and 27, Wilson dropped straight back and threaded the needle between three defenders to complete a pass to Bill Davis at the 22-yard line. From there, Davis ran in for the touchdown.
Trailing 14-0, San Diego State knew it needed to do something with the ball on its next possession to stay in the game. The Aztecs had a good drive going, but another Cougar sack on 3rd and 10 ended it.
The ensuing punt put the ball back in Wilson's hands at the BYU 43-yard line. He found Eric Lane with his next pass. Lane caught the ball at the San Diego State 40-yard line and raced for the end zone. He crossed the pylon just before being pushed out.
That made it 21-0 with 6:48 to play in the first quarter. Remarkably, Wilson's official stats were 3 of 3 passing for 124 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Really sensing the pressure now, San Diego State drove into BYU territory. Gary Kama registered a sack and a tackle-for-loss to force a punt on 4th and 29.
After BYU lost four yards on a first down run, San Diego State pressured Wilson and forced an intentional grounding penalty. That moved BYU all the way back to its own 3-yard line. The drive ended in a punt.
San Diego State made a change at quarterback at this point, which wasn't a big deal. They had been using two signal callers for a good part of the season.
The first quarter ended with BYU having just 3:19 time of possession, but the Cougars held a 153 to 55 yards advantage in total offense.
With the new quarterback, San Diego State converted a 4th and 10 with a pass play that moved the ball to the BYU 18-yard line. The Aztecs were finally in scoring position.
It didn't last long.
Ed St. Pierre sacked the San Diego State quarterback back at the 27-yard line. On 4th and 15, Kama tipped the ball, which enabled Redd to get his second interception of the game. He returned it to the BYU 23-yard line.
Jones had another long run on first down, but a holding call brought it back. BYU kept it on the ground and Lane ran the ball out to the 35. After an off sided penalty moved the ball back five yards, Jones then got another carry and took the ball all the way to the Aztec 46-yard line. That's when Wilson found Scott Phillips on a quick out. Phillips beat an Aztec defender to the corner and then raced down the sideline for a 46-yard touchdown.
That pushed the lead to 28 points, and gave Wilson five completions on six attempts and four touchdowns.
The stout Cougar defense forced another punt on San Diego State's ensuing possession. Viewers were starting to wonder if the Aztecs would be shutout. Then, they received a gift. Wilson threw an interception on the first play of the BYU drive. That gave San Diego State possession just 38 yards from the end zone.
A big pass play moved the ball to the BYU 15-yard line. Tim Halverson had a nice pass break up at the goal line, but it was only delaying the inevitable. Eventually, San Diego State got first and goal at the 3-yard line, and on 3rd and Goal from the one the ball carrier barely made it across the goal line.
It was now 28-7 with 7:05 to play in the first half.
BYU looked poised to put more points on the board after Phillips caught another pass and shook off a tackle to take it to the San Diego State 49-yard line. However, BYU was unable to convert a 3rd and 5 and had to punt.
Bill Schoepflin got the ball back for BYU with an interception. Again, it appeared BYU was going to get its fifth touchdown of the game. A pass interference penalty on San Diego State moved the ball to the Aztec 23-yard line, but a deflected pass intended for tight end Clay Brown was intercepted at the 13-yard line.
San Diego State was unable to do anything with the ball and punted to the BYU 9-yard line. The Cougars were content to run out the clock and take a 28-7 lead into the locker room, but San Diego State called a time out with 1:21 to play hoping to get a stop on 3rd and 1 and force a punt.
That plan backfired.
Eric Lane ripped off a 26-yard run to pick up the first down. He then took it 52-yards to the house on a run in which he broke five tackles. Lane now had 7 carries for 106 yards. It was a five play (all runs), 90-yard scoring drive for BYU that made it 35-7 with 49 seconds left in the first half.
Wilson finished the half with 193 passing yards, and BYU had 366 yards of total offense with just 8:53 time of possession.
BYU started the second half with a good drive. Wilson completed a 20-yard pass to the BYU 35-yard line to convert a 3rd and 10. Another 20-yard pass play coupled with a facemask penalty on San Diego State moved the ball to the Aztec 30-yard line. The drive ended without points, however. While rolling to the short side of the field, Wilson threw into a lot of traffic, and his pass was intercepted at the 3-yard line.
Schoepflin intercepted his second pass of the game a few moments later. This one he returned 26 yards for a touchdown.
That play opened the flood gates of the second half.
Halverson intercepted another San Diego State pass on the next possession. He returned it to the San Diego State 23-yard line.
The Aztecs halted BYU's momentum for a small moment with a 10-yard sack, but a 17-yard completion to Brown set up a manageable 4th and 6. Wilson found Homer Jones to pick up the first down and moved the ball to the 5-yard line. Jones ran the ball in from there on the next play.
The San Diego State meltdown wasn't over yet. On their next possession, the Aztecs would turn the ball over again. The San Diego State quarterback fumbled, and Titensor recovered for BYU at the Aztec 19-yard line.
A pass interference penalty on first down moved the ball to the 4-yard line. Wilson scrambled and ran the ball in from there.
Just like that, BYU's 35-7 halftime lead had ballooned to 56-7.
The big highlight of the third quarter for the Aztec faithful was seeing it's mascot, which at the time was a big yellow chicken wearing a San Diego State jersey, pick up the BYU kick off that went out the back of the end zone and return it the length of the field.
Wilson took a seat at this point. His final stats were 13-21, 278 yards, 4 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and 207.4 pass efficiency rating. It ended his string of nine straight 300-yard passing games.
In the fourth quarter, backup BYU quarterback Royce Bybee had a pass deflected by a defensive lineman. It was intercepted at midfield. San Diego State was able to turn that turnover into points with a 23-yard touchdown pass.
BYU was able to put together one more scoring drive. Scott Phillips did most of the work on the drive, including a 33-yard run to the Aztec 8-yard line on 4th and 2. However, Steve Carlsen got the touchdown on a 2-yard run on 4th and Goal.
That made it 63-14, which would be the final score, but it was very close to being worse. The third string Cougar offense was just three yards away from scoring another touchdown when time expired.
Although it wasn't the entire reason for the loss, San Diego State was snake bit with turnovers again. Five interceptions and a fumble did a lot to help BYU overwhelm the Aztecs. However, no one stepped up for San Diego State during the game. It was so bad that when it was time for the ABC broadcast crew to select the Chevrolet Players of the Game for each team they chose a senior offensive lineman and justified it as a legacy award.
The monumental win gave BYU its first perfect regular season in school history, 11-0, and moved them up one spot in the polls to number nine.
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