Juniors Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams combined for a gritty ground attack in No. 25 BYU’s 33-25 victory against Houston in the 2014 home opener Thursday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Williams paced the offense with 139 yards rushing on 28 attempts and two touchdowns. Hill led the assault with 160 yards rushing and 200 passing yards on 21-for-34 attempts with one pass and one rushing touchdown as BYU began the season 3-0 for the first time since 2008.
“I’m glad that we continued to battle, continued to fight," head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "We had some offensive momentum in the first half, and we moved it when we needed to. Overall, it was a hard fought win. There’s plenty to work on, but a lot of things that I was pleased with.”
The junior quarterback became the 14th FBS quarterback in NCAA history to throw for 4,000 yards and run for 2,000 yards by their junior season, joining the ranks of Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow.
The offensive attack was balanced with 11 different receivers recording receptions. The corps was led by Jordan Leslie's six catches for 79 yards and Mitch Mathews' four receptions for 22 yards and one touchdown. The defense was led by Craig Bills' seven tackles along with Alani Fua's seven tackles and one tackle for loss.
Striking first on the scoreboard was the BYU defense as linebacker Zac Stout smothered the run in the backfield in the end zone for the safety.
On the ensuing drive on third down and five, Hill hit Leslie for a gain of 35 yards to the Houston 24-yard line. A facemask penalty moved the ball forward to the 11-yard line, after which Williams capitalized with an 11-yard run around the left side for his first score of the night, making the lead 9-0 after the PAT.
The red Cougars were forced to punt and the blue Cougars took over at the 6:07 mark in the first quarter for another BYU scoring drive. Williams had 16 yards rushing and Hill went 3 for 4 with 32 passing yards and 19 rushing yards. The drive culminated in a touchdown on a five-yard keeper as Hill arrived untouched in the end zone to extend the lead 16-0.
The quarter ended with Houston threatening at the BYU 24-yard line, but the red Cougars’ drive stalled and ended with a botched field goal attempt. Linebacker Teu Kautai recovered the ball for the blue Cougars.
BYU capitalized as Hill led the offense down the field for its third trip to the blue zone, ending in its third touchdown in as many chances. The 87-yard drive saw Hill hit four different receivers with Mathews hauling in a six-yard touchdown reception as he ran across the end zone toward the southwest corner.
With BYU leading 23-0, John O’Korn rallied the red Cougars with a 17-play drive for 82 yards, but the blue Cougar defense held strong, forcing a Houston 29-yard field goal to cut the score to 23-3.
Following the kickoff, BYU was intercepted on the first play of the drive with 3:05 left in the half. Houston’s Daniel Spencer pulled in the reception on the next play for a 28-yard gain to the BYU 1-yard line. After penalties on both sides, the away Cougars eventually broke into the end zone on a 7-yard pass to narrow the score 23-9.
The home Cougars took over with 1:08 left in the half. Hill then pushed the offense up field with 21 rush yards and a 38-yard pass to Mitchell Juergens up the left sideline.
After Juergens’ reception, Houston forced a fumbled and returned it 28 yards to the BYU 45-yard line. With three seconds left on the game clock for the half, O’Korn heaved a Hail Mary pass that was caught by Spencer for the 45-yard touchdown, sending the game to halftime with a 23-15 margin.
The blue Cougars held the advantage in the third quarter.
BYU steadily marched down the field on the legs of Hill and Williams. The 15-play, 53-yard drive ended with Trevor Sampson’s 26-yard field goal to extend the lead to 26-15. It was the longest scoring drive of the season, taking 6:15 off the clock.
The fourth quarter began with Houston’s drive stalling and Devon Blackmon returning the punt 16 yards to the BYU 44-yard line. Once again the blue Cougars employed their ground game, producing a quick 8-play drive capped by a 2-yard touchdown run through the middle for Williams’ second of the game. Hill and Williams each carried the ball four times for 39 and 17 yards, respectively, on the drive to stretch the lead to 33-15.
Houston countered on the next possession as O’Korn threw 6 for 7 to lead the away Cougars 68 yards down the field and into the end zone, reducing BYU’s lead to 33-22. The home Cougars took over with the ball, but turned the ball over on an interception. Houston then reduced the deficit to 33-25 when it took capitalized with a 36-yard field goal.
With 7:18 left in the game, BYU drove 35 yards before being forced to punt.
With the red Cougars on the Houston 12-yard line, the blue Cougar defense held O’Korn’s passing in check with three incomplete passes. After the punt, BYU relied once again on the ground game with Williams taking five of the six handoffs to run out the clock.
During the home opener, BYU commemorated the 13th anniversary of 9/11 and paid tribute to the military.
The Cougars continue their home stand with a matchup against Virginia Sept. 20 at 1:30 p.m. MDT. The game will be broadcast on the ESPN Networks.