Nelson’s 2 TDs lift BYU, spoil Leach’s return 30-6By LYNN DeBRUIN, AP Sports Writer Friday, Aug 31, 2012
PROVO, Utah (AP)—Brigham Young’s defense was tired of watching film and sick of hearing about Mike Leach’s vaunted Air Raid attack.
“It’s a slap in the face,” linebacker Brandon Ogletree said. “We were a Top 15 defense last year and I don’t want to hear about how we should be scared of anybody.”
After the way they shut down Washington State in a 30-6 victory Thursday night, perhaps some of the attention will shift their way.
BYU intercepted quarterback Jeff Tuel twice and sacked him three times while limiting Leach’s offense to 224 yards total.
Leach was coaching his first game since being fired by Texas Tech in 2009 amid allegations he mistreated a player with a concussion.
While there was plenty of buzz about his return, especially against his alma mater and on national television, the offense was a dud.
“We vacillated, I thought, between playing frantic and then we’d play overly conscientious where we’re trying not to make a mistake,” Leach said. “At some point we have to reach that happy medium where each play is separate and you just do your part on each play.”
Washington State came out throwing as expected, with Tuel starting 8 of 9. But his 10th pass was intercepted by Uona Kaveinga, and the momentum shifted to BYU before a “white-out” crowd.
BYU’s senior quarterback, Riley Nelson, then took over.
Nelson engineered a 10-play, 80-yard TD drive to give BYU a 7-0 lead. He had two big third-down completions to Cody Hoffman on the drive, for 28 and 12 yards, and found Skyler Ridley open for the 7-yard scoring pass.
“Riley is so competitive and so tough, he demands respect,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
Nelson finished 25 of 36 for 285 yards, with two touchdowns—the second a 25-yard pass to tight end Kaneakua Friel that put BYU up 24-3 late in the second quarter.
Friel also caught an 18-yard scoring pass from third-string quarterback Taysom Hill in the second quarter and finished with six catches for 101 yards.
“His grit and determination day in and day out … he’s been a real bright spot of fall camp,” Mendenhall said of Friel. “It didn’t surprise me or anyone on our team what he did.”
BYU’s defense turned the most heads.
It held Washington State to minus-5 yards rushing, and limited Biletnikoff Award candidate Marquess Wilson to four catches for 61 yards.
Tuel completed 30 of 45 passes for 229 yards, but never really could sustain anything after the first interception.
“Any time we were about to ignite or catch fire something negative would happen,” Leach said.
Leach was making his return against his alma mater, and while he never played football at BYU he gained inspiration for his spread passing attack from LaVell Edwards, for whom BYU’s stadium is named.
At one point in pregame interviews, Leach said his team looked more like BYU of old than BYU.
Not on Thursday.
The BYU Cougars rolled up 426 yards offense, nearly twice that of Washington State.
They did it despite losing Hoffman, BYU’s leading receiver in 2011, to a bruised his left quad midway through the first quarter.
“Our team is hungry and I think that showed today,” Mendenhall said.
Brigham Young had some new players step up.
BYU’s second touchdown came with Hill in shotgun formation as the wildcat quarterback. The freshman faked to the runner in motion left then scrambled right, and on his first collegiate pass found Friel wide open for an 18-yard TD. It gave BYU a 14-0 lead with 13:26 left in the half.
The touchdown catch by Ridley, a former scout team player, came on his first career reception. He was in only because Hoffman was hurt.
And Jordan Johnson, who stepped in front of Wilson and returned an interception 64 yards to set up a third-quarter field goal, was making his first-ever start at cornerback. His last start, in 2009, had been at quarterback in high school.
“We all play this game to compete,” Johnson said of going up against Wilson. “I was excited for the challenge.”
On the other sideline, Leach wasn’t having much fun.
The Air Raid attack had served him well at Texas Tech, where he was 84-43 with 10 bowl appearances. Thursday it went nowhere. The last time a Leach team failed to score a touchdown was in Texas Tech’s 12-3 loss to TCU on Sept. 16, 2006.
The man dubbed the “Pirate of the Palouse” has a $2.25 million contract but there is a ways to go to bring Washington State back to respectability in the Pac-12.
“I think as a team we’re a lost closer that we realize because the good stuff is great,” Leach said. “But then also out of the blue you’ll see the street ball out there.”