Coming off a bye week, and before that, a win against Middle Tennessee State, BYU was looking to start a new win streak and become bowl eligible. Back at home, the Cougars were in blackout uniforms, attempting to rekindle the fire that was lost during their four game losing streak. The thousands of empty blue seats, however, canceled out the effect of said blackout. But, the fans were still loud and the atmosphere was good on a freezing night in Provo. After an atrocious October, this team will have to convince fans that it’s worth it to come out and watch them play in the cold. Tonight was a step in the right direction.
Those who showed up were treated to a first half that was much more competitive than anticipated. UNLV scored first, hitting a 46-yard field goal. BYU responded quickly with a 30-yard TD toss out of the backfield to Jordan Leslie. After the Leslie TD it took both teams a little while to get things going again offensively. BYU receivers were open often throughout the first quarter and into the second, but Christian Stewart couldn’t connect. Finally, with just under 7:00 left in the 2nd Quarter, Stewart found Mitch Mathews on a deep ball for a 48-yard gain. That play set up a Paul Lasike Touchdown, putting BYU ahead 14-3 with 6:18 left in the half. BYU’s momentum was short-lived, however. Shaquille Murray-Lawrence of UNLV sliced up the BYU defense, cutting back and forth, all across the field for a 68-yard TD run. After the UNLV touchdown, the Cougars fumbled the kickoff. This gave the Rebels an opportunity to get right back in the game. Blake Decker hit Keith Whitely on a screen pass that went for 21 yards, but UNLV was unable to convert the TD in the redzone. UNLV settled for a field goal, making it 14-13. This was the closest it got from then on. BYU responded on the next drive with big plays by Mitch Mathews, who finished with 120 yards and a TD, and Alge Brown. This set up a 4-yard touchdown run for Paul Lasike, putting BYU up 21-13 heading into halftime.
After a three and out on their first drive, BYU got the ball back and marched 88 yards down the field to score a touchdown. Paul Lasike had a 39-yard carry on the drive, setting up Devin Mahina’s TD. BYU played good defense on the following UNLV drive, but Devon Blackmon muffed the punt, giving UNLV the ball in the red zone. After QB Blake Decker was rocked by the BYU defense, and forced to leave the game, the Rebels were unable to move the ball effectively. They settled for a field goal, cutting the Cougar lead to 38-16. A failed onside kick gave BYU the ball with good field position, but a sack forced the Cougars to a 3rd and long. Terenn Houk caught a 22-yard pass that left BYU 2 yards short of the 1st down. The Cougars went for it but their 4th down attempt failed, giving UNLV the ball back around midfield. The Rebels were unable to get anything going and failed on their own 4th down attempt. On BYU’s next drive Christian Stewart scrambled for a 25-yard gain. A couple plays later Stewart connected with Paul Lasike, who found the end zone for the 3rd time on the night. Stewart also had a good night, finishing with 325 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. UNLV was able to put together a scoring drive later in the third, capped by a Devonte Boyd TD, making it 35-23 BYU with 1:57 left in the quarter. BYU’s offense responded and Christian Stewart hit Jordan Leslie for a 35-yard gain, immediately followed by an 8-yard TD strike to Mitch Mathews. This put BYU up 42-23, which would be the final score.
BYU looked good in their first home win since September 30th against Virginia. Despite some early defensive struggles and miscues, The Cougars had control of the game. Christian Stewart has adjusted well to his role of starting QB. He still needs to develop touch on the long ball, although with 3 games left in his career it’s unlikely we’ll ever see that happen. However Stewart finishes it’s hard to blame the poor October run of form on him. He’s proven to be elusive when facing pressure and accurate on midrange passes. He clearly understands the offense and has the support of his teammates. Paul Lasike was very good as well, finding the end zone on 3 separate occaisions. After the game Mendenhall addressed Lasike’s improvement, even saying that they’ll feature Paul more on offense. BYU will have a chance to finish the year on a 5 game win streak, counting the Miami Beach Bowl, which they qualified for with this win. Without a conference championship to play for, the independent Cougars will have to find consolation in a strong finish and a bowl win. After tonight’s performance it’s clear that BYU has overcome the disappointment of losing Taysom Hill and a chance at the playoffs or a New Years 6 Bowl. BYU has found a new purpose: to be at their best at the end of the season. While the excitement won’t be as high, BYU fans will be able to watch their Cougars bounce back and finish strong. That would be huge for a team that had major injures across the board, and went winless in October. They’re well aware that they won’t be a part of the national picture this year, but a strong finish could build momentum and confidence going into a tough 2015 schedule.
By: Daniel Cutler