LAS VEGAS — Those who only saw the final score of BYU's 55-14 romp over UNLV Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium would assume the Cougar offense simply crushed the Rebel defense.
But that assumption would be only partially correct.
Yes, the BYU (5-4, 4-2) offense rolled up plenty of yardage (503) and punched the ball into the end zone seven times against UNLV, but it also received plenty of timely help from its friends on the defensive side of the ball.
The Cougar defense deserved much of the credit for the scoring output by forcing three turnovers that gave the offense plenty of opportunities to light up the scoreboard.
"I think the number of points today was directly tied to turnovers," said BYU coach and defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall.
And, of course, the Cougar offense was appreciative.
"Usually when teams score 55 points, they have some high number (of offensive yardage). But we didn't have to go very far to get our touchdowns this game," said quarterback John Beck. "When the defense can get turnovers and keep the field short for us, the chances of us putting up points are very good. The defense helped the offense out a lot today by putting us in situations where it was pretty easy to score."
In fact, the defense helped jump-start the offense, which began slowly against the Rebels (2-7, 1-5).
During a stretch that spanned the second and third quarters, BYU's defense intercepted UNLV quarterback Jarrod Jackson three times in four Rebel possessions and the Cougars cashed in each time. It didn't hurt that the offense started each of those drives inside UNLV territory.
With BYU nursing a slim 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter, linebacker Justin Luettgerodt picked off a pass and returned it to the UNLV 24, setting up an 11-yard TD pass from John Beck to Todd Watkins to make the score 17-7.
Then it was cornerback Kayle Buchanan's turn. His interception gave BYU possession at the UNLV 40, and that drive resulted in a one-yard touchdown run by Curtis Brown. And the Cougars led 24-7.
BYU added a 37-yard field goal by McLaughlin as time expired at the end of the first half.
Early in the third quarter, on UNLV's first possession, safety Spencer White picked another Jackson pass and the offense took over on the Rebel 26. Two plays later, Brown caught a 15-yard TD pass. That lifted BYU to a 34-7 advantage.
In the second half, the Cougars tacked a total of 28 points. And this time, unlike last week against Air Force, BYU held on to its big lead.
The Cougars led 41-7 in the third quarter — the same score they had over the Falcons in the third quarter. Air Force scored 34 points over the final 15 minutes in what ended up a 62-41 BYU victory.
The Rebels did block a punt with 12 seconds left in the third, just as Air Force did a week ago when it trailed 41-7. The difference was they didn't score right away, like Air Force did, but UNLV did end up scoring on its ensuing drive.
"It was reminding us of last week," Beck said.
However, that was the last time the Rebels would score.
"We had a lot of resolve among ourselves not to let it happen again," said defensive lineman Justin Maddux, who recorded three sacks.
The big lead allowed the Cougars to give backup running back Wayne Latu plenty of work. The freshman from Provo wound up as the game's leading rusher, gaining 93 yards on 15 carries. He also scored BYU's final touchdown, which was the first of his career. Also, backup Matt Berry replaced Beck midway through the fourth quarter.
"It was good to get those other guys into the game," Beck said. "They're our teammates and we see them working hard in practice. They're like our brothers. It was great to see Matt get out there. Matt's a great guy and it was great to see Wayne go out there make plays. That's what BYU football is all about — seeing your teammates make plays as well as yourself."
If there was one thing that bothered the Cougar offense, it was its slow start.
"I would give UNLV credit for that," Mendenhall said. "We had expected to be able run the ball effectively and UNLV was very good against the run. That was something we hadn't seen, a defense that was able to consistently stop our run game early. That surprised us."
"We started off sluggish," Brown said. "For some reason we came out lackadaisical. We can't do that."
Naturally, Mendenhall is still looking for improvement.
"I still think our team can play better," he said. "If you're expecting me to say I'm satisfied, we can improve. I'm glad we're more confident and scoring that number of points but our players and coaching staff knows we have a lot to correct."
The Cougars will try to become bowl-eligible next Saturday when they visit Wyoming.