PROVO — Yes, BYU’s defense is that good.
So is Utah State’s for that matter.
In a game that pitted two of the nation’s top defenses, it was the Cougars who eked out a 6-3 victory over the Aggies on Friday night in front of 63,086 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“We played against a tremendous defense, obviously,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said. “... But, we did not play well enough on the offensive side of the ball to have a chance to win the football game.
“The numbers will speak for that, the way we played will speak for that from A to Z. We didn’t throw it well enough, we didn’t take advantage of opportunities well enough, we didn’t catch it well enough. From A to Z, we were not good enough.”
This is the second straight season the Aggies have lost by three points to the Cougars in Provo.
“This year is more frustrating by far just because we’re a different team this year,” said USU wide receiver Matt Austin, who led the Aggies with seven catches for 72 yards. “I feel like we’re the best team in Utah — still are — we just didn’t execute the way we wanted to.
“This loss hurt way more than last year. We knew it was going to be a close game, two tough defenses on both sides of the ball.”
BYU (4-2), ranked fifth in the nation in total defense coming in, limited USU (4-2) to just 243 yards of total offense — only 41 on the ground.
“To be able to take the run game away from us — 24 carries for 41 yards — I think we can rush the football pretty good, and for them to be able to do that is a great accomplishment,” Andersen said. “They play hard, they’re sound, they are very good players.”
The Cougars’ defense held its 12th opponent in a row to less than 300 yards. The D also hasn’t allowed a touchdown in 13 straight quarters.
“We knew coming into it that their defense was really good and our defense was really good,” USU linebacker Kyler Fackrell said. “I think at the end of the day, their defense just made a few more plays.”
Preston Hadley sure did.
The senior linebacker recorded his first career pick for the Cougars when he intercepted a pass thrown by USU wide receiver Cameron Webb near the goal line late in the third quarter.
“I might have lost a couple of years of my life because of the stress,” Hadley said of BYU’s first win scoring six points or fewer since 1946.
Fackrell returned the favor for the Aggies when he intercepted a pass by BYU quarterback Taysom Hill midway through the fourth quarter.
USU drove the ball to the Cougars’ 15-yard line, but that’s where the drive stalled and the Aggies had to try for a game-tying field goal.
“Kyler made a good play to put us in a position to score and win the game,” Austin said. “Again, we just didn’t execute our plays as called. You can’t blame anybody, it’s a team game. We just didn’t execute in a lot of different ways.”
Unfortunately for USU, the Aggies didn’t tie the game at 6-all as Josh Thompson missed a 38-yard field wide left.
“It hurts,” Austin said. “But again, you can’t point the finger. Some people do. We put him in a position to kick the field goal. You’ve got to make it, but he didn’t make it. We can’t blame him.
“The offense didn’t execute on our side of the ball, the defense gave up a quick touchdown. It goes everywhere — special teams, offense and defense. We’ve got to score. We shouldn’t have to put Josh in that situation. We’ve got to put the ball in the end zone.”
Hill, making his second straight start for the injured Riley Nelson (back), set career highs in completions (24), attempts (36) and passing yards (235).
“That’s football,” Hill said. “We caught a few breaks, sped it up and made a few big plays.”
Hill’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Sky View High product JD Falslev with three seconds left in the second quarter proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
“He’s a good quarterback,” Andersen said of Hill. “He’s going to be there for a long time. He’s athletic, he runs well. He’ll get better and better and better as he continues to grow up.”
Hill led the Cougars, who gained 380 yards of total offense against the No. 11 defense in the nation, in rushing with 80 yards on 19 carries.
It took BYU just 25 seconds to score the game’s lone touchdown as it went four plays in 61 yards — the Cougars’ fastest scoring drive of the season.
After forcing the Aggies to punt, BYU took over on its own 39-yard line with just 28 seconds left in the half.
That was all the time BYU needed.
“I think the hurry up caught us off guard a little bit,” Fackrell said. “We got calls in a little bit late.”
USU took a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter when Thompson booted a 26-yard field goal to cap the 13-play drive.
The Cougars looked to extend their lead in the third quarter after recovering a fumble by USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton on the USU 9-yard line.
However, the Aggie defense bowed up and didn’t let BYU score any points as USU eventually snuffed out a fake field goal try.
“They matched us down in and down out, all the way down to the end of the game,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I never know how these games are going to go, These games take their toll on me. I would rather win easy but that doesn’t happen very much.”
The Aggies’ Paul Piukala blocked a 34-yard field goal attempt by the Cougars’ Justin Sorensen late in the second quarter.
“I’m happy with the way our players hung in there,” Mendenhall said. “It was exhausting for both teams in that they that laid it all out there. I’m just happy we won.”