He was slower than usual, running 13 times for just 16 yards, unable to escape sacks and not making many plays with his feet. He was errant, completing only 17 of 40 passes and throwing two interceptions (three, really, but a Tulsa player lining up offside inconsequential to the play erased one of them). But when it came down to crunch time, Riley Nelson made just enough plays to give BYU just enough points, and called the game-winning play on his own.
After a frustrating game offensively, the Cougars, thanks in huge portion to the defense and a solid punt return from J.D. Falslev, took the ball for the final time at Tulsa's 48-yard line. Trailing 21-17, the BYU offense did two things effectively that it had not done all game: Riley Nelson scrambling for positive yards, and running the ball between the tackles. Facing a 4th & 9, Nelson scrambled for 14 yards and a first down. With just one timeout left, Brandon Doman finally trusted the run game up the middle, and it worked. DiLuigi went for eight yards, then Kariya for five, then DiLuigi again over the left tackle for seven more, all in consecutive plays, to move BYU to the 13-yard line.
After burning the final timeout after getting sacked, Nelson scrambled to the eight-yard line, then completed a pass to Marcus Mathews to the two-yard line. Both times Tulsa players were grabbing, laying down on top of, and otherwise keeping BYU players from lining up quickly. But Nelson had something to say about that.
With the coaches calling for a spike with under 20 seconds to play, and with the running backs close to the line of scrimmage in spike formation, Nelson audibled a fake spike to his receivers. After faking the spike, Nelson waited for Cody Hoffman to turn open at the edge of the endzone and delivered the game-winning bullet with just 11 seconds left.
Despite the struggles, Nelson did deliver a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half as well, a huge boost for the Cougars headed to halftime. Rolling to his left to avoid pressure, Nelson received a huge block from a helmet-less Matt Reynolds, set his feet close to the sidelines, and fired across the middle to Hoffman, the game's MVP. Hoffman fought and stretched for the goalline, and BYU was down just 14-10 at the half.
Nelson finished 17-40 for 250 yards, 3 TD, and 2 INT on the game, 250 yards quite a bit for only 17 completions. Cougar running backs combined for 94 rushing yards on the day.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The fake-spike touchdown obviously won the game, but the aforementioned TD to close the first half was definitely the play of the game. It delivered an emotional boost and featured three great individual efforts, from Nelson, Reynolds, and Hoffman.
KYLE VAN NOY
The sophomore linebacker was simply sensational. (As was the entire defense. Tulsa's 272 total yards was its lowest total of the season. Bronco Mendenhall was masterful in his adjustments after the Golden Hurricane marched to open the game.)
When BYU needed the ball back, Van Noy forced a fumble (recovered by Tulsa), had a tackle for a loss on 2nd & 1, then rushed Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne into an incomplete pass on 3rd down.
The Hoff finished the game with 8 receptions for 122 yards, and all three of BYU's touchdowns. On a day when Riley Nelson was just short of terrible, Hoffman was there to bail him out. Like Van Noy, Hoffman is a sophomore. Let that rain down upon you like manna from the heavens.
Riley Stephenson and the punting unit was fantastic today, pinning Tulsa into tough field position for much of the game. With the defense playing well, BYU opted to punt on 4th & 8 from Tulsa's 33 with eight minutes left in the game. The Cougars downed the punt inside the one-yard line. Although a running-into-the-punter penalty would get Tulsa out of the shadows of its own goalposts, it still resulted in great field position (because of Van Noy's exploits listed above.)
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It wasn't pretty, but the Cougars pulled out another one, and have a 10-win season yet again.