BYU moved into scoring position on its opening drive with back-to-back completions from Riley Nelson to JD Falslev for a total of 31 yards and a nine-yard run by J.J. Di Luigi. A holding penalty on Bryan Kariya and an 8-yard sack moved BYU out of field goal range.
BYU punter Riley Stephenson pinned Tulsa down deep at the 6-yard line. That helped the defense force a punt after three plays.
The Cougar offense quickly moved back into scoring range. It appeared that scoring opportunity would be lost when Nelson overthrew an open receiver and had his pass intercepted. Tulsa, however, lined up offsides and BYU got the ball back. An incomplete pass on 3rd and 4 caused BYU to settle for a 36-yard field goal, making it a 7-3 game.
The Cougar D continued to stonewall the Tulsa offense. Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne was 4 of 5 for 42 yards on Tulsa’s first dirve. With 12:09 to play in the second quarter, Kinne was just 5 of 10 for 45 yards.
The BYU offense was unable to capitalize on two chances to take the lead. One drive even started at the Tulsa 47-yard line.
Stephenson continued to pin Tulsa deep in its territory. A 50-yard pass got Tulsa out of the hole. That play was followed by a 15-yard run. In two plays, Tulsa had moved from its own 14-yard line to the BYU 14. A complete breakdown in pass coverage allowed Tulsa to complete a touchdown pass on the next play, and build a 14-3 lead.
The Cougar offense continued to struggle, including an interception by Nelson. It was a good thing that the defense returned to throttling Tulsa. BYU made a key stop on defense to get the ball back with 1:27 to play before halftime. Despite a 28-yard completion to Marcus Mathews, the Cougar O was anemic and had to punt again. Nelson was very inaccurate throwing the ball, and the Tulsa defensive front was controlling the line of scrimmage.
Stephenson’s great punting continued, and it changed the game. He got great hang time on the punt. That allowed deep snapper Reed Hornung to get down field and jar the ball lose from the Tulsa return man. David Foote was right on the scene to recover for BYU at the 17-yard line. With 25 seconds to play in the half, BYU was gifted one more chance.
Nelson and company made Tulsa pay. Nelson dropped back to pass. He scrambled and rolled left. Left tackle Matt Reynolds was knocked down to the ground early in the play and lost his helmet. Helmetless, he tracked down a Tulsa d-lineman and made a great crack back block. That block gave Nelson just enough extra time to find Cody Hoffman in the middle of the field. Hoffman made the catch and fought for the final three yards to crack the goal line.
The mood of the game completely changed. BYU was able to go into the locker room trailing by four, 14-10, but with all the momentum.
The BYU defense used some Van Noise to shutout the Golden Hurricane in the third quarter. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy had a sack on third down to end Tulsa’s first offensive drive. When Tulsa took over at the BYU 35-yard line after picking off Nelson for the second time, Van Noy made two huge plays.
Tulsa used a double pass to get to the 14-yard line. Three plays later, Tulsa was back to the 29. Van Noy made a tackle for loss for six yards, and followed that up with a 12-yard sack on third down. That forced Tulsa to try a field goal. It missed.
BYU used some conservative runs to move the ball down the field. When necessary, Nelson threw the ball to his favorite target: Cody Hoffman. On 3rd and 10, Hoffman got 20. Three more runs got another first down. Then, Hoffman got a touchdown. With 1:41 to play in the third quarter, BYU finally took the lead, 17-14.
The third quarter ended with Preston Hadley making a sack for a loss of six on a corner blitz. The play perfectly captured how BYU had taken control of the game.
Quickly, Tulsa took back control. After forcing BYU to punt the ball, Tulsa converted three third downs (3rd and 10, 3rd and 8, and 3rd and 12) to retake the lead with a 30-yard touchdown pass.
Although the next drive ended in a punt, Nelson had a 35-yard completion to McKay Jacobson that proved to be critical. That allowed BYU to down the punt at the one-yard line.
The BYU defense stopped Tulsa twice. A running into the kicker penalty on 4th-and-1 gave the Golden Hurricane a fresh set of downs. Incidentally, it was a fumble forced by Van Noy on third down that put Tulsa in position to get the first down off the 5-yard penalty. Van Noy stopped the ball carrier well short of the first down, but when the ball popped out, another Tulsa player was in perfect position to pick it up and run. A great effort by Uona Kaveinga stopped the Tulsa ball carrier just short of the first down.
Van Noy hurried Kinne on third down after the penalty on the punt to force a bad throw and a second punt. Falslev returned the punt 22 yards to the Tulsa 48. It put the offense in perfect position with 4:18 to play, trailing 21-17, to win the game.
The BYU offense, however, didn’t look ready to win. Three plays netted one yard. After being bottled up all game long, on 4th-and-9 Nelson broke off a 14-yard run. There was now 2:45 to play, but BYU was picking up some steam.
Di Luigi and Kariya combined for 13 yards on two runs. BYU was now at the Tulsa 21-yard line. On 3rd-and-5, Nelson made his second big run. He rolled left looking to pass, but decided to tuck the ball away and ran. He got the first down and was finally stopped at the seven.
Nelson completed a pass to the two-yard line, but the receiver stayed in bounds. BYU had no timeouts. Nelson rushed the team to the line quickly to get ready to stop the clock by spiking the ball. He got the snap, faked the spike, and found Hoffman in the corner of the end zone. Touchdown.
Two of Hoffman’s three touchdowns came with less than 13 seconds to play in each half. His first touchdown came with 12 seconds left in the first half. His third touchdown came with just 11 seconds to play in the game.
CO-PLAYS OF THE GAME: David Foote recovering the fumbled punt followed by the Nelson to Hoffman 17-yard touchdown on the very next play. This sequence completely changed the game and made the winning TD possible.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Cody Hoffman—8 receptions, 122 yards, 3 TD; 3 kickoff returns, 41 yards. (Kyle Van Noy and Riley Stephenson were very, very close runner ups.)
Things I watched for:
- Jake Heaps’ Absence. The back up quarterback wasn’t needed for the win. The BYU offense was out of sync most of the day, but it is hard to attach that to Heaps being gone. Tulsa’s athleticism and physicality on defense had more to do with that than anything else. Maybe Nelson was a little hesitant about ducking the head and running into guys knowing Lark had a lot less playing time than Heaps, but that also might be just due to some lingering soreness from injury back in November.
- Another career passing day? Nelson had a terrible statistical day. He finished just 17 of 40 for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns with 2 interceptions. He was dangerously close to having several more interceptions. His rushing stats reflect that he was ineffective on the ground (13 rushes for 15 yards). What makes Nelson valuable, though, is that when it matters he delivers. He came through when it mattered most and that is why BYU got the win, but he still has a lot to work on this offseason.
- Who will step up? With Michael Alisa out with an ankle injury, no running back stepped up and filled the void. Joshua Quezada did see a lot more action, but he finished with only 24 yards on 9 carries (2.7 yards per carry). As a team, BYU had 40 rushes for 93 yards. I guess, it could be said that Hoffman was the one who stepped up. He allowed BYU to survive without a run game.
- Record Tracker. Cody Hoffman got the 28 kickoff return yards he needed, and then some to become the new single season record holder. He raised the bar from 865 yards to 879. Next up, the career kickoff return yards record. Hoffman needs about 300 yards to get that and has two years to do it.
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