One of the questions the No.13/14-ranked BYU football team hadn’t answered yet in 2020 was what would it do when they found themselves in trouble against a good opponent.
That was the case Friday night at TDECU Stadium in Houston when the blue-and-white uniformed Cougars found themselves trailing the red-unformed Cougars by 12 points late in the first quarter.
How would BYU respond?
The emphatic answer was domination on both sides of the ball.
The visitors ended the game by scoring 29 straight points and completely shut down the potent Houston offense, as BYU surged to the impressive 43-26 victory.
“I’m proud of our team and proud of our players,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “We knew that Houston would have a great game plan and would make a lot of adjustments from Game 1. I think they gave it their best shot and had a lead on us. I’m proud of the way our players were able to respond to adversity.”
The undefeated start to the season for the visiting Cougars appeared to be in serious jeopardy in the third quarter when Houston churned out a 16-play, 98-yard drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock and ended with a 5-yard TD scramble by quarterback Clayton Tune.
That put Houston’s 23rd straight point on the scoreboard as the home Cougars had all the momentum.
But BYU stopped the Houston 2-point conversion try with an interception by sophomore George Udo, which turned out to be a sign of the turning of the tide.
BYU junior quarterback Zach Wilson got the offense back on track with a five-play drive including going 4-for-4 through the air. Wilson hooked up with junior wide receiver Dax Milne for their second TD of the game, this one being a 1-yard screen pass, to narrow the gap.
“This is something we practiced in the offseason,” Wilson said. “I think what got us there tonight was that we talked about how this is a good team, one that can move the ball up and down the field and score as well as get stops on defense. We knew it was going to be a battle the whole time. We knew there could be a moment where we could be done but we had to keep the foot on the gas.”
Then it was time for the BYU special teams to come up big.
Kicker Jake Oldroyd executed a flawless onside kick that caught Houston completely by surprise. Talmage Gunther easily recovered the kick and the visiting offense had the ball back.
Although BYU wasn’t able to get points on that drive after a dropped pass and Wilson getting sacked on third down, the boldness of the decision kept the confidence level up for the blue-and-white Cougars.
“Being aggressive was the key,” Sitake said. “I think that sets the mindset for our players that we want to go and grab the win, take the initiative and make things happen.”
The next unit to step up was the BYU defense. Aided by a pair of Houston penalties, the visitors forced the first punt by the home team since the first quarter.
It ended up even better for BYU since it went off the side of the foot of the punter and only traveled 13 yards, giving the visitors tremendous field position at the Houston 23-yard line.
A pass to Milne for 13 yards, a run by Tyler Allgeier for two yards and a nifty inside forward pitch play from Wilson to sophomore tight end Masen Wake for eight yards was all the blue-and-white Cougars needed to regain the lead.
Houston had plenty of time to regain the momentum but the BYU defense forced two straight punts and then Wilson and Milne made one more big play to make it a two-score game.
With the blue-and-white Cougars facing a third-and-15 from the 18-yard line, BYU stayed with the boldness theme and went for it all. Wilson hit Milne in the corner of the end zone for the crushing TD.
“That one felt great,” Milne said. “I think Houston thought we were going to play it safe, given the situation, maybe just run the ball and try for the field goal. When I heard the play call, I got really excited because I knew it was a touchdown play. I just had to do my job and everyone else had to do their job as well. The line gave Zach time and he put it on the money. It felt good to put the nail in the coffin.”
Wilson finished the game going 25-of-35 for 400 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, while Milne had nine catches for 184 yards and three TDs.
BYU stopped Houston one final time, then Allgeier added a final touchdown on a 14-run to add to the cushion for the visitors.
It didn’t appear that a late rally would be needed after BYU put together an excellent first quarter.
After surrendering a Houston field goal on the first drive of the game, BYU quickly put a pair of touchdowns on the board: A 78-yard pass from Wilson to Milne and a 1-yard run by junior running back Lopini Katoa.
That was when Houston quarterback Clayton Tune got going, leading the red-uniformed Cougars on four straight scoring drives (three TDs and a field goal).
Wilson said that even though his squad was down, it always was confident it would come back strong.
“Average teams are inconsistent and can’t finish games off,” Wilson said. “There wasn’t a moment of that tonight. The guys had the same mentality, even when adversity hit. We were done and the momentum shifted. I’m so proud of these guys for battling back.”
BYU — which is 5-0 for the first time since 2008 — next hosts Texas State on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.