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PROVO -- Execution across the board was key to the Cougars'23-17 victory over Washington Saturday.
BYU opened the season in a back and forth battle against the Huskies and minus a few miscues, the offense, defense and special teams did enough to beat an athletic and explosive Washington team.
The first half pitted quarterbacks against quarterback, with both teams showing their high caliber offensive leaders. Jake Locker exemplified why he such a threat, with his ability to take control of the game in one play. Starting with their first drive he led the Huskies down the field with a mix of pass plays and quarterback keepers. The drive concluded with a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.
However, Washington's offense seemed to take a predictable tone as the game progressed, allowing BYU's defense to bottle up Locker and the Huskie offense.
Meanwhile, BYU showed why their quarterbacks, despite their inexperience, have to be taken seriously. Junior Riley Nelson completed 11 of 17 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns, including the eventual game-winner to running back J.J. DiLuigi. True freshman Jake Heaps completed 13 of 23 passes also for 131 yards. Most impressive was how comfortable and effective both quarterbacks were running the offense. After both quarterbacks settled down they took command of the offense in their individual ways.
"Both quarterbacks played well, our running backs played well and made plays when we needed them," BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "They [Nelson and Heaps] both look poised and confident regardless of the drive. Both quarterbacks played to their strengths and did a good job."
The difference in style was apparent, but the offense ran so smoothly it seemed as though Mendenhall could place just about anybody in at quarterback and it would yield similar results.
The running game also proved effective- led by DiLuigi who ran 13 times for 69 yards. As a team the Cougars ran for 146 yards on 33 carries.
Whatever questions critics may have had about the Cougar's inexperience or lack of size and athleticism were also answered. There were concerns about how the defense would last all four quarters against such a dominant offensive power like Locker, projected to be the first pick in the next NFL Draft. But the defense stepped up and fulfilled their roles.
"It looked like we played with more energy," commented Mendenhall. "It looked like we were handling the pace at a better level than our opponent."
Special teams also played a big role in the Cougar's victory. Sophomore punter Riley Stephenson pinned Washington deep in its own territory multiple times and a bad snap gave BYU two points when Washington's punter threw the ball out the back of the end zone.
Mendenhall mentioned in a pregame interview how the deficiencies in size and speed would be made up for by execution of assignments and the defense looked to do that perfectly when they needed to, holding the Huskies to a scoreless second half.
"I was proud of our team tonight," said Mendenhall. "It was a complete victory. Our offense played well enough to win, our defense played well enough to win, and we won the field position battle, forcing Washington to come out of their own end zone."
The Cougars aren't done facing the athletic quarterback-type. Up next: Tim Jefferson and the Air Force Falcons in Colorado Springs, Colo. Jefferson threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more against Northwestern State in the Falcons' 65-21 win.