The BYU Cougars rewarded the standing room only crowd at Lavell Edwards Stadium on Friday night with an absolute barn burner that kept almost all of the fans at their seats until the final whistle. The Cougars (2-3) came into this contest desperately needing a win after dropping their last three games in a row by less than a single score each.
The Toledo Rockets (3-1, 0-0 MAC) brought their undefeated record to Provo and nearly escaped with their dreams of an undefeated season intact. Instead, however, the Cougars would continue to rally in a game that saw eight lead changes, nearly 1,300 yards of combined offense and 108 points between the two teams, winning by a final score of 55-53 on a 19 yard field goal by Rhett Almond as time expired.
The fireworks began on the game’s first play, where Taysom Hill threw a perfect strike to Jonah Trinnaman, hitting the junior in stride for a 75 yard touchdown on a go-route that showed the tantalizing potential of Trinnaman as a deep threat. Hill finished 11 of 21 passing for 248 yards and no interceptions. He only ran for three yards on six carries, but had his most important carry of the game on an 11 yard gain with 26 seconds left down the right sideline to set up the game winning field goal. The tightrope run was eerily similar to Luke Staley’s game winning run down the same sideline against Utah in 2001.
The star of the night for the Cougars, however, was senior running back Jamaal Williams, who put on a highlight reel that should really help his draft stock in addition to single-handedly rewriting the BYU single game rushing record books.
In a game where BYU’s defense gave up over 500 yards passing and 52 points, the Cougars kept pace not by slinging the ball all over the field as well, but by allowing the bruising and explosive Williams to run roughshod over the outmatched Toledo defenders. Williams would finish the game by breaking the Lavell Edwards Stadium single game rushing touchdown record with five scores on the ground (a sixth was negated by a questionable holding call on left tackle Andrew Eide). He would also break Eldon Fortie’s 54 year old single game rushing record of 272 yards, set against George Washington University in 1962. Williams bettered Fortie’s mark by 14 yards, finishing with 286 yards and five touchdowns on 30 carries an impressive 9.5 yard per carry average.
Earlier this week we published an article stating that this was Jamaal Wiliams’ team, and he went on to show and prove today that he is the engine that drives the team. The Cougars initially jumped out to a hot start using the long pass play, some long runs by Williams and a Dayan Lake interception to jump out to a 21-7 lead early. But then the offense stalled as they tried to establish the passing game in the second quarter and would go into halftime tied at 21-21 with the Rockets, who were certainly moving the ball like their namesake.
At halftime, the Cougars recommitted to getting Williams involved, and even though BYU allowed a Toledo score after halftime to fall behind 28-21, they were able to tie the game again with a 48 yard Williams scamper down the left sideline. After a Toledo Field goal to retake the lead at 31-28, Williams again responded, this time with a 62 yard run to pay dirt, giving BYU a 35-31 lead.
Late in the fourth quarter, Williams would tack on his final score to give BYU a 52-45 lead, and the Cougar fans began to worry if they’d left too much time on the clock for Toledo with exactly three minutes left to play.
Toledo drove down the field with help from a pass interference penalty on BYU Senior cornerback Michael Davis, but the Cougars were able to rally and force a fourth down, where Logan Woodside hit Jon’vea Johnson for an 18 yard gain and a first down. BYU coach Kalani Sitake was livid on the sidelines, and the replays clearly showed that Johnson had stepped out of bounds on his own before catching the first down, and by rule it should have been an incomplete pass.
This mistake by the referees came back to bite BYU hard, as the Rockets scored two plays later on a touchdown run by Kareem Hunt. Then it got really bad when an aborted snap on the two point attempt was somehow converted by Woodside for the lead.
However, BYU still had 1:12 on the clock, and Hill proved that he could still engineer a hurry-up drive, and marched the Cougars right down the field into field goal range for the Almond game winner, aided by a questionable face mask/horse collar personal foul against Toledo on a sideline tackle of Williams.
Despite the Cougars getting the victory, there were definitely some disturbing depth issues exposed in the secondary tonight. Likewise, the linebacking corps struggled while missing standout Butch Pau’u, who was sidelined with an MCL sprain.
Toledo’s Woodside finished 30 of 38 with 505 yards passing and five touchdowns, although he did throw two costly interceptions that were both converted into scores for the Cougars. The front was also decidedly less stout than in previous games, giving up 186 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to Toledo’s backs. Hopefully Pau’u can get healthy soon, as well as standout freshman cornerback Troy Warner, as they will likely be needed next week against Michigan State.
However, any game that you win is a good game, and it’s time for Cougar Nation to breathe a sigh of relief and get some rest for next week when the Cougs go to Lansing to try to hand Sparty the upset.
Highlights of the game can be found here.