PROVO — In a matchup of Mountain West Conference football teams trying to prove themselves and overcome ongoing struggles, BYU righted itself in Saturday night's second half for a 24-13 home victory against Wyoming.
With Cougar quarterback John Beck and his corps of receivers not clicking after a school-record 67 pass attempts in last week's discouraging loss to UNLV, BYU found a successful ground game to its liking against the Cowboys.
Actually, the ground game was there the week before, as Cougar fans wondered why running back Curtis Brown — who needed only eight carries to break the 100-yard barrier versus the Rebels — wasn't used more. That wasn't the case Saturday against the Cowboys.
Brown rushed 24 times for 163 yards and a 9-yard touchdown run and chucked a 40-yard halfback pass for another score, while backfield mate Fahu Tahi added another 72 yards and his own 15-yard TD run.
Winning before a crowd of 58,737 at Edwards Stadium, the Cougars improve to 3-4 and 2-1 in the conference; the Cowboys fall to 4-2 and 1-1.
Something had to give between these two in terms of their struggles. The Cougars has lost four of their last five games, seven of their last nine, nine of their last 12, 11 of their last 15 — you get the picture. And BYU hadn't won a home conference game since beating the same Cowboys 23 months earlier, in early November 2002.
And Wyoming was looking for any type of success away from Laramie, having won only three away games in five seasons — at Utah State in 2001 and 2003 and at Utah in 1999. In fact, the Cowboys were looking for their first road points of '04 and their first victory in Provo since 1987.
BYU scored Brown's game-winning touchdown and Tahi's insurance TD in the fourth period, a quarter that hasn't been kind to the Cougars for much of the season.
"We've got to keep both of them going," BYU head coach Gary Crowton said.
Added Beck: "Curtis Brown is a very fiery player. He's going to run hard."
Down 10-6 at halftime, Wyoming scored a go-ahead touchdown on a 35-yard pass from Corey Bramlet to a slanting Jovon Bouknight, with Deric Yaussi's PAT giving the Cowboys a 13-10 lead late in the third quarter.
The Cougars answered on the next possession, going 80 yards in nine plays — and doing it all on the ground. Brown's up-the-middle burst for the 9-yard TD and Matt Payne's point-after put the Cougars back up 17-13 just 83 seconds into the fourth period.
BYU stopped Wyoming on its next two possession before Tahi concluded a 12-play, 83-yard, time-chewing drive with his 'Boys-busting 15-yard gallop up the middle. Wyoming's last-ditch try in the closing seconds ended with Bramlet's fourth interception of the night, this one by freshman Dustin Gabriel.
In the turnover-fest called the first half, each team gave up the ball three times — and didn't capitalize much off any opportunity.
The BYU's fumble woes continued from last week's loss — in fact, the Cougars coughed it up the first time they touched the ball against Wyoming, on a Bryce Mahuika fumble returning the game's first punt. Despite getting the ball at the BYU 29-yard line, the Cowboys couldn't convert, with Yaussi missing a 43-yard field goal.
In the opening two quarters, the Cougars also lost a Brown fumble and a Terrance Butler pick of a Beck pass.
Meanwhile, Bramlet suffered three first-half interceptions — by Spencer White, Jon Burbidge and Aaron Francisco, the latter snagging a long pass ricocheted off the helmet of teammate Nate Soelberg.
The Cougars could muster only three points off the interceptions, taking Burbidge's interception at the Y. 5 and — thanks in part to a 52-yard toss from Beck to Todd Watkins — settling for a 46-yard Payne field goal for a 10-3 lead well into the second period.
The Cougars took an early 7-0 advantage behind Brown, who accounted for 95 of BYU's 96 total-offense yards in the opening period, including six rushes for 55 yards. But it was Brown's southpaw-side heave off a 40-yard halfback pass to freshman receiver Austin Collie that accounted for the Cougars' touchdown, with Payne's PAT giving BYU a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
Wyoming managed a mere six first-half points — Yaussi's field goals of 45 and 40 yards, sandwiched around Payne's FG — despite three possessions starting inside BYU's 45.
GAME NOTES: Next up for the Cougars — Saturday at Air Force at 1 p.m. . . . BYU outgained Wyoming 416 yards to 322 . . . Beck finished with 10-of-24 passing for 139 yards, one interception and no touchdowns . . . Bramlett was 23-of-40 for 219 yards and the four picks.