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BYU Football back in the win column after beating UNLV

The Cougars beat the Rebels 31-21, continuing their dominance over UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Poinsettia Bowl - BYU v Wyoming Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Joe Critchlow’s solid quarterback play and Squally Canada’s career-high night have got to be the most important headlines coming out of BYU Football’s 31-21 win over UNLV Friday.

Cougar Nation was left wondering who would start at quarterback up until it was practically game time — when Kalani Sitake told Greg Wrubell that Beau Hoge was not able to go, and Joe Critchlow would be the guy, with Kody Wilstead playing behind him. With Critchlow’s playing time being limited at best, and with him being a true freshman, it seemed that Cougar Nation collectively crossed their fingers. And it worked.

Calm, cool, and collected were some words I saw used to describe “our little baby redheaded QB.” And I can’t disagree, especially in the first half. On the night, Critchlow threw for 160 yards and he was 14/22 passing with an 81.8 QBR. He averaged 7.3 yards per throw. He threw for just one TD, to Aleva Hifo (another would-be TD pass was declared out of bounds). Critchlow threw for 119 of his 160 yards before halftime, and the Cougs relied much more heavily on the run game in the second half. Because why wouldn’t they with the night Squally Canada was having?

For the first time in his career, Canada ran for more than 200 yards. Two hundred and thirteen to be exact, on 25 carries, averaging 8.5 yards. His longest rush was an impressive break for 54 yards. Canada was rewarded for giving the Cougs such great field position and punched it in for a TD on that same possession, right after half time. The Cougars also scored right before halftime, claiming some important mid-game momentum. The offensive line cannot go unnoticed here, nor the amazing blocking by some position players like Brayden El-Bakri and Tanner Balderree. Much credit to those guys in the trenches for giving Canada the space he needed.

Defense kept the Cougars in the game early, while it was still tied at zero. DE Corbin Kaufusi ended UNLV’s first drive with a monster sack that led to a missed field goal by the Rebels. Then UNLV went three and out, and on their drive after that, BYU FS Zayne Anderson snagged an interception in UNLV’s end zone. Offense was able to get on the field and get seven points off of that great defensive play. BYU’s offense did not turn the ball over all night.

While UNLV was able to find answers, and keep the score relatively close, the game was only tied once (at seven, late in the second), with the Rebels trailing by at least one possession, if not two, for the majority of the game. An interception by the banged-up, but still giving it his all Fred Warner with 1:45 left to go in the game sealed the victory for the Cougs. Warner made a great read at UNLV’s 26 and ran it all the way back to the 3 where the Cougars got into victory formation.

To sum up the rest of the scoring — the Cougars’ first seven points came on a beautiful one yard rush from Brayden El-Bakri. Austin Kafentzis also found the end zone after some [finally] successful wildcat QB and some nice running back play. His TD run was 11 yards and came late in the third quarter. Rhett Almond got BYU’s lead back to two possessions with a 28 yard FG with about five minutes left to play.

It should also be noted that Matt Bushman was a very reliable target for Critchlow, hauling in five passes for 52 yards. Aleva Hifo was BYU’s leading receiver with six catches for 58 yards. Micah Simon, Talon Shumway, and Brayden El-Bakri tallied one reception each.

BYU (now 3-8) will be back in Provo Saturday to take on the UMass Minutemen, which may not be as easy a task as some may assume. While UMass has a 2-7 record, they gave Mississippi State a run for their money last week, while the Cougars cannot say that they did the same. That game will kick off at 1 p.m. MST and be broadcast on BYUtv and ESPN3.