PROVO, Utah – They played with tempo. They played with confidence. They moved the ball up and down the field, in short bursts, long bursts, by pass and by run.
Yes, Brigham Young’s offense looked the way Washington State wished its own group could have. And didn’t.
The Mike Leach era began in the most disappointing of fashions Thursday night, as BYU simply dominated in every phase of the game, beating the Cougars at what they hoped would be their own game in a 30-6 opening-night laugher before 57,045 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Stellar defense was not necessarily an expectation from either team. But exciting offense was, at least, and BYU was the only team that played any.
The home-team Cougars even held WSU out of the end zone, something few thought possible of a Leach offense.
That put the onus on WSU’s defense. It did not respond well.
Riley Nelson completed 25 of 36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, leading a quick, no-huddle attack that kept WSU on its heels and led BYU to an early – and insurmountable – lead.
Nelson’s finest play came late in the first half, with BYU facing a second-and-3 at WSU’s 25-yard line. Nelson was pressured by freshman defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao, scrambled out of the pocket and lofted a pass to tight end Kaneakua Friel at about the 10-yard line, just over the reach of cornerback Daniel Simmons.
Friel hauled it in, gathered his bearings before trucking a WSU defender en route to an easy score.
BYU led 24-3 at that point, a somewhat manageable deficit for an offense led by Leach. Just not this one, on this night.
It only got worse.
A 63-yard kickoff return by freshman Teondray Caldwell hinted at a momentum shift to open the second half, WSU trailing 24-6 with the ball at BYU’s 35-yard line.
Then quarterback Jeff Tuel was sacked. Then WSU was called for holding. And after a 16-yard completion to Marquess Wilson, Tuel tried to force a throw across the field that was picked off by BYU cornerback Jordan Johnson, who returned the ball 64 yards to WSU’s 9-yard line.
BYU settled for a field goal, but Washington State was so deflated by that point that it didn’t matter.
Tuel completed 30 of 44 passes for 229 yards and threw two interceptions. All told, the Cougars mustered just 224 yards of total offense, an average of 37 yards per play. They rushed for minus-5 yards as a team.
BYU was stopped on its first possession and WSU was driving soon after, but an interception by BYU linebacker Uona Kaveinga led to BYU’s first touchdown, a 7-yard pass from Nelson to an undefended Skyler Ridley in the back right corner of the end zone. An 18-yard pass from backup, wildcat quarterback Taysom Hill to Friel on Brigham Young’s next possession made it 14-0.
BYU’s defensive backs dropped back and forced WSU to try to beat it with underneath passes. But after their first possession, Leach’s crew couldn’t move the ball.
Pass protection was an issue, as Tuel was sacked three times and hurried several others. And special teams continue to be a problem, as Michael Bowlin had a punt blocked and booted another just 16 yards.