FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Two plays got BYU in a dogfight right out of the chute and had a huge impact on the way the Cougars' dramatic 45-42 win over Colorado State played out the rest of the game.
BYU junior Austin Collie caught a 66-yard TD bomb on the Cougars' first possession Saturday in Hughes Stadium. The hushed crowd and CSU sideline appeared stunned. But officials waved off the play, saying Collie ran out of bounds before the catch.
"I thought I was pushed out and came back; we'll have to see the film," said Collie, who had three other TDs in the first half.
Two snaps later, the next big play occurred. Max Hall fumbled a shotgun snap and CSU's Mychael Sisson picked it up and ran for a touchdown that rocked the stadium. That play placed the Cougars in an 0-7 hole, and history shows that situation is extremely sticky for the Cougars under Bronco Mendenhall.
In seven of Mendenhall's 11 losses at BYU, the other team scored first.
Because of that turnover score, the Cougars played with their backs to the wall the rest of the game — especially on defense. Two more BYU turnovers in the fourth quarter — Hall had an interception, and there was a fumble by freshman J.J. DiLuigi — led directly to a pair of quick Ram scores.
One week after giving up 35 points to UNLV in Provo, the Cougar defense allowed CSU another 35. But CSU's first TD was on BYU's offense. Maybe even 14 of CSU's fourth-quarter points (total of 21 for the game) could be laid directly on the Cougars' offense.
In other words, half of CSU's 42 points came off Cougar offensive miscues.
Of that first turnover, Hall took the blame.
"It was a little low snap, and I was kind of like a receiver turning around to look before catching the ball," said Hall. "I was looking at the defense before I caught the ball, totally my mistake. I can't do that, it was a rookie mistake."
BYU outgained CSU 551 to 401 yards, but when the game was on the line, the Cougar offense — and defense — made more plays than the Rams. A Jan Jorgensen 8-yard sack on Billy Farris and a pass breakup by safety Kellen Fowler ended key Ram fourth-quarter drives. BYU's defense got stops on three of CSU's final five possessions of the game.
"They made the plays they had to to win," Hall said of the Cougars' defense.
"I'm sure it wasn't the game they wanted, and they may be disappointed. But it came down to the fourth quarter, and they made the plays, they got the stops, and so they'll get better, but we can't turn the ball over like we did," said Hall.
A fumble by DiLuigi late in the fourth quarter delivered CSU's touchdown that got the Rams their second score of the quarter and a 35-31 lead with just 7:20 left.
In a game where CSU and BYU combined for four touchdowns in the final 13:15 — that DiLuigi fumble was another huge break for the Rams.
"We put our defense in better positions, and they'll play better," said Hall.
Senior Kellen Fowler said CSU came fired up all night.
"It was a very intense game," said Fowler. "Those guys came out and fought and didn't give us an inch. They battled. But it was great to see our team come out and make the plays to get a win. I hope they're not all this close. It's hard on the blood pressure and everything else."
Fowler said he believes the Cougars had improvement since last week — even after losing Scott Johnson and Brandon Bradley during the second half and senior safety David Tafuna (shoulder) last Wednesday.
"I think our defense played with a lot more energy today, and that is a positive thing," Fowler said. "Any time you get 42 points scored on you, you look and say there is a lot of room to improve. But you get right back out there, and it's also a time to fill in those holes.
"But the fact we played with that much energy and came back at the end to make those plays was huge. It would be a lot more discouraging if we didn't make those plays at the end that we needed to. But definitely we have a ways to go."
Fowler admitted BYU had its hands full when the Rams scored on a BYU fumble to start the game.
"They did a great job coming out from the start and getting that play," Fowler said. "It got the crowd involved, and it was loud the whole time because of it. It gave them a big boost.
"We need, when we take a punch like that, to give one back and not just trade punches for a game. We need a knockout early and put them away. We didn't do that today, but we were able to out-punch them at the end and win."