We’ve got to find ways to pull out these close games. We had our opportunities. We’ve got to be more consistent as a team. – BYU head coach Kalani Sitake
LANDOVER, Md. — A dramatic, high-scoring Big 12-type game broke out between BYU and West Virginia at FedEx Field Saturday.
Trailing by three with 2:36 remaining, the Cougar defense recovered a fumble at its own 6-yard line. The BYU offense felt confident that it could score on its final offensive drive — as it had in the previous three games.
“We had no doubt in our mind that we could go all the way down and score,” said running back Jamaal Williams.
BYU drove to the Mountaineer 28-yard line when, on second down, quarterback Taysom Hill’s pass intended for wide receiver Aleva Hifo ricocheted off his hands near the goal line and was intercepted by safety Maurice Fleming with one minute left to preserve a 35-32 West Virginia victory over the Cougars Saturday.
That play kind of summed up the day for BYU.
“Taysom threw it up and the ball tipped around and they made a play and we didn’t," said Cougar coach Kalani Sitake.
Yes, BYU (1-3) found yet another way to lose a tight game. The Cougars' three losses have been by a total of seven points.
“We’ve got to find ways to pull out these close games. We had our opportunities. We’ve got to be more consistent as a team,” Sitake said. “We had opportunities to score and make things happen offensively. We’ve got to find a way to make one more play.”
Before that final drive, BYU linebacker Francis Bernard recovered a fumble on a bad shotgun exchange between West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard and center Tyler Orlosky to give the Cougars one more shot.
But BYU fell short.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t come out with the win,” said Williams, who rushed 24 times for 169 yards and two touchdowns. “I feel like we just beat ourselves. We executed a lot better and we still got to stop hurting ourselves on tipped balls. They were at the right spot at the right time.”
In all, the Cougar offense, which produced a season-high 32 points, also gave up four turnovers, including another interception off a tipped pass with 4:23 left on the clock.
Meanwhile, late in the second quarter, an ill-advised pass by Hill resulted in a 55-yard pick-six that catapulted West Virginia to a 21-10 lead.
Hill completed 23 of 35 passes with three interceptions and two touchdowns. He also ran 13 times for 101 yards.
“Taysom did some good things. He created some bigger plays with his feet and was able to do some things with his arm,” Sitake said. “He was accurate with a lot of his passes … I saw some improvement. There was one bad pass that I wish he wouldn’t have done, that pick-six. That cost us — seven points going the other way. The other ones were him trying to make plays, there were tipped balls. The one errant pass is the one he shouldn’t have thrown and he knows that.”
Defensively, the Cougars struggled at times with missed tackles and allowed some big plays against the speedy Mountaineers. Howard completed 31 of 40 passes for 332 yards and a touchdown and wide receiver Shelton Gibson caught four passes for 144 yards.
“West Virginia took some chances,” Sitake said. “They threw the ball up in the air and tried to challenge our corners and they came up with some big plays and some big catches. … We also need to do a better job getting to the quarterback. Our pass rush isn’t what it should be. We need to get sacks and get to the quarterback.”
BYU scored on its first possession of the second half, capped by Williams’ 7-yard touchdown run, cutting the deficit to 21-19.
The Cougar defense got a stop, then Williams lost a fumble for the first time in his career. West Virginia capitalized to take a 28-19 advantage.
The Mountaineers (3-0) scored again with a 99-yard drive that saw them seize their largest lead, 35-16.
Then BYU clawed back with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, a 3-yard run by Williams and an 18-yard pass from Hill to Moroni Laulu-Pututau. And, in the end, the Cougars threw one last scare at West Virginia.
“There is a lot of things that happened that put that victory in jeopardy, but due to us playing as a team, we figured out a way to win,” said Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen. “And it’s hard to win. BYU is a heck of a football team, they’re exactly who we thought they were. For the two or three decades I’ve been watching them, the one thing I knew about them, because of their makeup, is that they never quit, ever.”
Sitake was encouraged by his team’s resolve but he would like to see more positive results.
“The guys kept with it. I was proud of our team,” he said. “(The adversity) didn’t faze them at all. We’ll find ways to get this turned around. We had our chances.”
BYU hosts Toledo next Friday night.