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BYU football: Cougars bowl over Cincinnati en route to 20-3 victory

CINCINNATI — There were no last-minute field goal attempts or furious comebacks this time.

BYU played efficient, ball-control offense, the defense didn’t allow any touchdowns, and the Cougars defeated Cincinnati, 20-3, Saturday afternoon at Nippert Stadium.

During a season that has seen plenty of heart-stopping finishes, this was a nice change — at least for coach Kalani Sitake.

“Some people said it wasn’t all that exciting,” he said. “But that’s my kind of excitement. I’ll take the win any way we can get it.”

BYU improved to 5-4 on the season while the Bearcats fell to 4-5.

In a game that lasted less than three hours — 2:58, to be exact — the Cougars had the ball for nearly 38 minutes and converted on 10 of 16 third down attempts. The defense, meanwhile, held Cincinnati to 4 of 13 on third down opportunities.

BYU changed the complexion of the game on back-to-back drives, one at the end of the second quarter and one at the start of the third quarter.

After a slow start, the Cougar offense took over on their own 8-yard line in the second quarter and moved near midfield, where the offense executed a successful flea-flicker.

Quarterback Taysom Hill handed the ball to running back Jamaal Williams, who ran to the line of scrimmage and then tossed it back to Hill, who completed a 43-yard pass to wide receiver Jonah Trinnaman to the Cincinnati 11-yard line. It was BYU’s second-longest pass play of the season.

“The safety bit on the play-action,and we had (Trinnaman) wide open,” Hill said. “After that, it kind of opened things up.”

Three plays after the flea-flicker, Hill ran into the end zone from 8 yards out to lift the Cougars to their first lead of the game, 10-3, with 48 seconds left in the half. That drive took 6:08 off the clock.

Cincinnati kicked off to BYU to start the second half, and the Cougars methodically marched 70 yards on 12 plays in 6:26 for another touchdown drive, capped by Squally Canada’s 1-yard run.

“One of the biggest things you can do is score before halftime and score right when you come back in,” said wide receiver Nick Kurtz, who caught four passes for 33 yards. “It’s hard to do, but we were able to do it this game, and you saw how much momentum it gave us.”

Midway through the third quarter, BYU led, 17-3, and was never really threatened again.

In the fourth quarter, the Cougars had a 16-play, 60-yard drive that used up 9:41 on the clock as Rhett Almond booted a 19-yard field goal to make it 20-3 with 1:39 remaining in the game.

“That’s always what we want — for the offense to control the clock and control the time because it lets us rest,” said freshman cornerback Troy Warner, who recorded a career-high three pass breakups. “Whenever we go back out, we have all the energy in the world to get a stop when we need to.”

While BYU possessed the ball for 37:57, Cincinnati had the ball for just 22:03.

“That’s what we want to do offensively,” Hill said. "We’ve shown signs where we can speed it up and be really successful. But when we can slow it down like that when we have the lead, it’s tough to beat us.”

For the sixth time this season, BYU allowed an opposing offense to score on its first possession. Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel completed a 31-yard pass on the second play from scrimmage and moments later, the Bearcats got on the board with a 23-yard field goal.

“We just needed to wake up a little bit," Warner said. "I needed to wake up a little bit."

From there, BYU’s defense shut down the Cincinnati offense. In the second quarter, the Bearcats gained just nine total yards. For the game, Cincinnati had 295 yards of total offense.

“We’re relentless. Our mentality is bend-don’t-break,” Warner said. “If they get some yards on us, it’s cool. But to keep them out of the end zone is the main goal. We did that.”

Hill is grateful for a defense that can keep the points down.

“It takes a lot of pressure off of me and us offensively to know that we don’t need to press or force the ball down field because our defense is so good,” Hill said. “They kept us in the game and then allowed us to sustain a lead the entire night. I love playing with that group.”

BYU hosts Southern Utah next Saturday.

EMAIL: jeffc@deseretnews.com