PROVO, Utah — Riley Nelson threw for two touchdowns in his first start in four years and BYU’s defense shut out Washington in the second half as the Cougars won 23-17 on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
Washington’s Jake Locker passed for 266 yards, but missed passes on two fourth-down conversion attempts in the final period that could have put the Huskies ahead.
Nelson and Jake Heaps, who are sharing BYU’s quarterback duties, both finished with 131 yards passing.
Locker threw for one touchdown and ran for another and Erik Folk kicked a career-best 54-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter to give the Huskies a 17-13 lead.
Locker finished 20 of 37 for 266 yards with no interceptions, but could not quite get the Huskies in the end zone in the second half.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Huskies went for it on fourth-and-2 from the 23. Locker tried to throw deep but Jermaine Kearse was well covered on the play and couldn’t get to the ball.
Washington got deep into Cougars territory again late in the final period, Locker’s pass on fourth-and-6 from the 26 was tipped by BYU lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna and bounced harmlessly to the ground with 1:51 left.
Nelson was able to run out the clock in his first start since he was a freshman at Utah State in 2006. He finished 9 of 13 and Heaps, the prized recruit out of suburban Seattle who chose BYU over Washington, was 12 for 21 for 122 yards in his college debut.
The two alternated series throughout the game. Two of Nelson’s drives started inside Washington territory and he was able to lead short touchdown drives on both.
Nelson converted on third down with a soft pass over the middle to J.J. DiLuigi, who had about 10 yards between him and the nearest Washington player. He scored easily to put the Cougars up 23-17.
Nelson also had a 9-yard TD pass over the middle to Joshua Quezada early in the second quarter that put BYU up 13-7 when Nelson ran in the 2-point conversion.
Mitch Payne kicked two field goals for the Cougars.
Chris Polk ran for 92 yards on 16 carries for the Huskies.
The Huskies gave the Cougars back two points on a bungled punt with 4:30 left in the first quarter on a bad snap that was several feet over punter Will Mahan’s head and rolled all the way back into the end zone. Mahan ran it down and tossed it out the back of the end zone for a safety, which cut Washington’s lead to 7-2.