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BYU football: Cougars manage Vegas blowout

Blustery winds can’t keep BYU offense from crushing OSU

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LAS VEGAS — In the self-proclaimed City of Entertainment — also known as, at least on Tuesday night, the Windy City — No. 15 BYU put on a dazzling show on a national stage against a Pac-10 opponent, in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas.

The Cougar offense, defense and special teams dominated No. 16 Oregon State and cruised to a 44-20 victory on a blustery evening at Sam Boyd Stadium.

"We just wanted to play well and make another statement for this program and (the Mountain West Conference)," said BYU senior quarterback Max Hall, who, despite the windy conditions, completed 19 of 30 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns and earned the bowl's Most Valuable Player award.

"Our program is on its way to continued national prominence," said coach Bronco Mendenhall, who added that his team could land in the top 10 of the final rankings.

"We didn't have fun last year like we did this year," said senior tight end Dennis Pitta. "It was awesome to cap it off with a win against a team like Oregon State. We started the season off right by beating Oklahoma and then finished the season beating a great team like Oregon State."

Trailing 7-0, BYU scored 37 unanswered points, including back-to-back touchdowns in a little more than a minute late in the first quarter, to crush the mistake-prone Beavers.

It was a sweet victory for BYU's senior class, which helped produce a 43-9 record over the past four seasons.

"I was thrilled with the way our seniors led our team," Mendenhall said. "It's clear they wanted our team to finish on the right note."

The victory marked BYU's third win in its last four bowl appearances. For Oregon State, the loss snapped a five-game bowl winning streak.

"It's a disappointing way to end the season," said OSU coach Mike Riley. "I hate it for the seniors. We haven't ended a season this way in a long time and it's hard. I'm sorry for them."

BYU, which placed second in the MWC, finished the season at 11-2 overall while OSU, which tied for second place in the Pac-10 and came up just a few points short of going to the Rose Bowl, ended up 8-5.

With wind gusts clocked at 37 miles per hour at kickoff – increasing to as high as 53 mph later in the game – Oregon State kicked off to open the game.

"We took the ball to start the game because our seniors felt like they could move the ball against the wind," Mendenhall said. "The wind was something we thought was significant. We just had to manage it the best way we knew how. It was a factor (in the win), not the factor."

The Beavers' first two possessions started in BYU territory and they scored on their second drive, thanks to a couple of long runs by Jacquizz Rodgers and his brother, James, followed by a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Sean Canfield.

But from there, it was pretty much all BYU.

The Cougar offense, which went three-and-out on its first two possessions, shrugged off the slow start, settled down, and put together a 14-play drive – into the wind – that took nearly six minutes off the clock and covered 84 yards, capped by a one-yard run by Harvey Unga to put BYU on the scoreboard.

"It turned the momentum of the game," Mendenhall said of that drive. "I don't think Oregon State got it back after that. It was the defining moment of the game."

BYU turned in another huge play, and grabbed its first lead, moments later, when Canfield threw a lateral to Jacquizz Rodgers, who dropped the ball. BYU linebacker Jordan Pendleton hit Rodgers, and linebacker Matt Bauman gobbled up the ball and rumbled 34 yards for the touchdown, giving BYU a 14-7 advantage. It was the first fumble of Rodgers' career – on 621 touches – and it was Bauman's first career touchdown, in his final game as a Cougar.

"It was an unbelievable feeling crossing the goal line," Bauman said. "It was great. Jordan deserves a lot of credit for tackling Rodgers, which allowed me to scoop up the ball."

Bauman's unexpected touchdown altered the complexion of the contest, Hall said. "It changed the entire game. The momentum switched and that play deflated (Oregon State) and it gave us a lot of momentum and energy."

BYU caught a break toward the end of the first quarter when O'Neill Chambers fumbled a punt, which was picked up by Oregon State and returned for a touchdown. But the TD was nullified by a holding call on the Beavers.

The Cougars tacked on 10 points midway through the second quarter on a 28-yard field goal by Mitch Payne and a 25-yard touchdown catch by Luke Ashworth. At that point, BYU scored 23 unanswered points to take a 23-7 advantage into the locker room at halftime.

In the second half, the Cougars scored three touchdowns on short fields to go up by as many as 31, at 44-13.

OSU finally got into the end zone again twice in the fourth quarter, with the outcome already decided.

BYU senior safety Scott Johnson's interception and 56-yard return with 4:47 remaining in the game stopped a potential OSU scoring drive and put an exclamation point on the impressive win.

BYU's pair of outstanding senior tight ends, Pitta and Andrew George, went out in style. Pitta caught a team-high five passes for 45 yards and a touchdown while George had four receptions for 46 yards. As he has throughout his career, Pitta came up big on several third-down situations.

Riley said the wind played a big role in the contest.

"The wind did affect us," Riley said. "(BYU) handled it better than we did. They executed better than we did. That's how they won."

Defensively, BYU was hoping to contain OSU's Rodgers brothers.

"It was our whole game plan," said defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen.

Jacquizz rushed 18 times for 63 yards and a touchdown while James caught just four passes for 40 yards. Canfield, OSU's senior quarterback, completed only 19 of 40 passes for 168 yards.

"Our defense played exceptionally," Mendenhall said.

e-mail: jeffc@desnews.com