PROVO — UNLV's John Robinson has been a head coach for nearly 30 years at both the college and professional levels. Yet what his Rebel defense accomplished Friday night in a 24-20 victory over BYU will long stand out in his mind.
"It was one of the finest defensive performances I've ever seen," said Robinson, who will retire at the end of the season.
By stripping the ball from Cougar ballcarriers, UNLV forced six fumbles and recovered four of them.
"We had a hard time holding on to the football for some reason. Most of those fumbles came from behind," said BYU coach Gary Crowton. "Our guys were running down the field and they'd come up from behind and knock it out. That's something we have to work on next week as we prepare for Wyoming."
The most costly turnover came on BYU's second-to-last drive when wide receiver Todd Watkins caught a pass across the middle and raced deep inside Rebel territory before having the ball knocked out by UNLV's Charles Ealy at the Rebel 15. UNLV pounced on the ball.
Freshman wide receiver Austin Collie lost a pair of fumbles. "(The turnovers) are what lost us the game," he said. "It should never happen. The ball shouldn't ever be on the ground. As far as the wide receivers, we're all upset about that."
All-America safety Jamaal Brimmer also picked off a pass by BYU quarterback John Beck that set up a Rebel touchdown.
Collie said he was surprised by UNLV's aggressive defense. "We saw them on film, and we didn't think they were up to par," he said. "We might have underestimated them. Their all-America safety, we didn't think he lived up to the title. But he did a great job tonight. They came to play."
BYU scored only one offensive touchdown, on a seven-yard pass from Beck to Watkins.
One of the few bright spots, offensively, for the Cougars was running back Curtis Brown. What did Brown do for BYU? He rushed eight times for 102 yards, breaking off runs of 41 and 26 yards, respectively. The surprise was, given his success, the Cougars didn't go to him more often.
BYU's other running back, Fahu Tahi, struggled. He rushed 12 times for 11 yards and fumbled once. "I used the same (running back) rotation as we did in the Colorado State game," Crowton explained. "Curtis had some good holes in there and made the most of them. That's something we're going to look at."
Brown, who credited the offensive line's ability to open holes for him, said he will simply continue to make the most of the opportunities he's given. "I want to contribute as much as possible. Anything I can do to help our team win, I'm going to do. We have 10 other guys on the field who want to contribute just as much as me. That's up to the coaches. All I can do is work hard and do everything I need to do. Hopefully they'll see that."
Last week in BYU's 31-21 victory over Colorado State, Brown gained 93 yards on 15 carries.
"I just do my thing. I believe that my effort on the field will speak for itself," he said. "When the coaches notice it, I get playing time. I can't control anything but myself. I've just got to make sure I give 110 percent."
LAST GASP: On BYU's final drive, it had three chances to score the game-winning touchdown from the UNLV 10-yard line. Beck tried to connect with Collie twice, but misfired both times. On the last play, Crowton called for a pass over the middle to tight end Daniel Coats, but it was also off the mark. "I thought he was open," Crowton said of Coats. "Just as John went to throw it, his arm got hit a little bit and it made the ball go high. We felt like if he could have gotten the ball in there, it would have been a touchdown."
BECK RECORD: Beck attempted 67 passes against UNLV (he completed 34) to set both a BYU and Mountain West Conference record. The previous conference record was established by San Diego State's Adam Hall (60) in 2002. The previous school record was held by Jim McMahon, who threw 65 times against Colorado State in 1981.