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PROVO -- BYU suffered its third loss in a row against a strong Nevada team on Saturday 27-13, giving the Cougars their first three-game losing streak in a single season under Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall and their first three-game losing streak since 2004.
LaVell Edwards Stadium was buzzing with fans as they filtered into their seats, excited and hopeful for a big turn-around game from the Cougars. However with the Nevada Wolfpack up 24-13 going into the end of the third quarter, many of those filled seats had started to thin out. A three-game losing streak isn't popular amongst fans, but Coach Mendenhall feels that he can see the team growing in the right direction.
"I think we are improving," Coach Mendenhall said. "I was pleased with Jake (Heaps') first start and his effort. I thought we ran the ball effectively also. Our defense played well and gave us a chance to stay in the game."
The statistics from this game clearly tell the story. Nevada had 239 total rushing yards, which came through a steady and rhythmic march up and down the field. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry and used their rushing game to wind down the clock and extend their drives. Nevada was able to complete 9 of 17 third down conversions and 3 of 4 fourth down conversions which were all crucial to their offensive possessions. There were a number of third down conversions which were over five yards that BYU failed to prevent.
"There are a lot of things we can improve on and there are a lot of things we did well," said senior defensive end Vic So'oto. "It's just about putting those things together."
The defense did step up their performance in the second half and held Nevada to only three points in the third and fourth quarters.
Like the Florida State game, BYU couldn't make the crucial plays which needed to happen to change the momentum of the game, both on offense as well as on defense. It is apparent that BYU is still missing that explosive element in their offense needed to put more points on the board.
One of the clearest examples of this, and perhaps the largest turning point of the game came within the first 10 minutes of the third quarter. BYU started with the ball after halftime, and had two crucial possessions which established the tone of the offense in the second half.
Their first possession came at the start of the half. After a 39-yard kickoff return by McKay Jacobson, BYU was able to make it across the 50-yard line into Nevada territory. After a completed first down pass by Heaps to fellow freshman running back Joshua Quezada, Heaps then threw three incomplete passes in a row, forcing BYU to punt.
On BYU's ensuing drive, they were able to take the ball downfield to the Nevada 16-yard line. The score at this point was 24-10, and a touchdown by BYU would put the game within reach, especially with the strong adjustments that the defense made during halftime. BYU faced third down and had four yards to go. Heaps threw an incomplete pass to running back Bryan Kariya. With the Cougars facing fourth down, they decided to go with a hurry-up run play which Nevada adjusted well to and prevented BYU from gaining the first down.
"It was a play we had tremendous confidence in," Mendenhall said. "It was supposed to be ran a little quicker. They added another player to the outside and prevented Kariya from getting to the corner."
Heaps finished the day 24 for 45 for 229 yards, but admitted he missed several throws that prevented the offense from finishing off drives with points.
"The only finger you can point is at me," said true freshman Heaps. "I had opportunities and plays I could make and throws I just didn't make. Offensively we battled and made some great plays. We drove the field and had our way with the defense, but just couldn't finish."
To Heaps point, there were several bright spots for the Cougars. They won the turnover battle (2-0) and had only one penalty for five yards. Also running back JJ DiLuigi continued to be BYU's primary playmaker getting 67 rushing yards and a touchdown on 15 carries and 56 yards through the air on eight receptions.
And freshman receiver Cody Hoffman joined Jacobson as Heaps' primary targets on the outside. Hoffman had four catches for 74 yards including two highlight catches. Jacobson had four catches for 44 yards.
As BYU looks ahead to Utah State next week, it will be interesting to see what changes and adjustments are made. As far as the mentality of the team, Mendenhall says that they are still in good spirits.
"Any time you face adversity it's difficult," Mendenhall commented. "One thing I took away is the support of this team battling together to improve. Regardless of the outcome that's the biggest thing to take away. I like the direction they are going and that they are going to be hungrier week by week. It's continuing to bring them together. I like our team, but we have a ways to go."