BOISE, Idaho -- Boise State's offense wasn't getting the job done, so the defense got in the act.
Senior nose tackle Mike Atkinson intercepted a pass early in the third quarter and returned it 36 yards for the game's first touchdown, and the defense also snuffed a two-point conversion late in the game to propel the 24th-ranked Broncos to a 7-6 win over BYU on Thursday night.
With 3:37 remaining, BYU backup quarterback Taysom Hill's two-point conversion pass was knocked down by linebacker JC Percy, ending the Cougars' chances of a comeback win.
"It was neat to finish that way after (the defense) had a great performance," said Percy, who finished with a game-high 12 tackles.
Hill had scored on a 4-yard run to cut the Broncos' lead to single point.
While the Boise State offense may have sputtered, the Broncos' defense had its way with the Cougars (2-2). Boise State (2-1) intercepted quarterback Riley Nelson three times before he was pulled in favor of Hill. Nelson finished 4-for-9 for 19 yards and had a passer rating of minus-4.5 when he was removed by coach Bronco Mendenhall because of an undisclosed injury.
Mendenhall said after the game that Nelson, if healthy, will start next week against Hawaii.
BYU finished with 200 yards of total offense, 95 of which came on its fourth-quarter scoring drive.
"The last drive I was able to make my reads and the throws," Hill said. "We were able to score and give our team a chance to win. At the end of the day, we had an opportunity to win."
Mendenhall said he went for the two-point conversion because he felt the Cougars had momentum.
"I would have done the same thing," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said.
The defense bailed out a struggling Boise State offense that couldn't take advantage after Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe recovered a fumble on the BYU 1 in the third quarter. BYU's defense stuffed four running plays.
"It's tough sledding in there," Petersen said. "We've got to go back and spend some time on goal line and the red zone."
Boise State was able to move the ball until it got to the red zone. Running back D.J. Harper gained 112 yards on 36 carries. Quarterback Joe Southwick hit 15 of 25 passes for 145 yards, but the Broncos were held without an offensive touchdown for the second time in three games this season. It was the first time Boise State didn't score a touchdown in a home game since joining Division I-A (now the Football Bowl Subdivision) in 1996.
"It's not all just Joe," Petersen said. "We've got some work to do across the board."
The first half was dominated by the defenses, as neither team was able to score despite each having a solid chance.
Boise State missed a 33-yard field goal in the opening quarter, and BYU moved to the Boise State 1 before a chop-block penalty and an interception ended the threat.
The Broncos managed only 155 yards of offense in the first half, while the Cougars had just 68 yards of offense and were hurt by five penalties for 50 yards. BYU also converted just one of six third downs and also lost a fumble in the opening half.
BYU linebacker Brandon Ogletree, who along with Ezekiel Ansah and Daniel Sorensen led the Cougars with eight tackles apiece, said the loss was disappointing, but he wouldn't blame his team's lack of offense.
"It's a team game," he said. "You don't win or lose as an offense and defense. That's just how it shakes out sometimes."
NOTES: Boise State played without starting center Joe Kellogg, who had an undisclosed injury. Junior Matt Paradis started in his place. ... BYU became the first team to record a sack this season against Boise State when it took down Southwick late in the second quarter. ... BYU receiver Cody Hoffman caught three passes to extend his streak to 23 games with a reception. ... Boise State was held scoreless in the first half for the first time under Petersen. The last time the Broncos didn't score in the opening half of a game was the 2005 MPC Computers Bowl against Boston College. ... Thursday night's game was just the third football meeting between the schools. Boise State won the previous games in 2003 and 2004. ... The crowd of 36,864 was the largest in Bronco Stadium history.