BYU football report card: How the Cougars made big plays at key moments to beat Houston

For the first time all season, No. 14 BYU found itself trailing by double-digits just over three minutes left in the third quarter against Houston Friday.

That’s when the blue-clad Cougars took over, making plays in all three facets of the game to rally for 29 unanswered points in beating the home team 43-26 at TDECU Stadium in Houston.

Offense

Once again, Zach Wilson was brilliant. This time, he set career highs with 400 passing yards and four touchdowns through the air. His favorite target was junior receiver Dax Milne, who also had a career night with nine catches for 184 yards and three touchdowns.

BYU once again got off to a strong start, scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions, including a 78-yard bomb from Willson to Milne on its first play from scrimmage. After Houston used ball control to seize the lead, the Cougars in blue finished strong, scoring touchdowns on three of their four fourth-down drives.

BYU ended the night with 478 yards of total offense, averaging 8.1 yards on 59 plays — 18 fewer than Houston ran. BYU struggled on third down, though, converting just 3 of 10.

BYU’s rushing attack had a difficult getting on track for most of the night. Give credit to Houston, which twice stopped BYU on third-and-1 plays and tackled Masen Wake for a 1-yard loss on a fourth-and-1 at the Houston 2 just before halftime to prevent BYU from regaining the lead. Wilson was sacked twice, too.

Still, BYU’s pass game was on point and the rushing attack got going a bit in the fourth quarter. Wilson’s 32-yard run in the first quarter was nice, leading to a touchdown, but his 24-yard scamper was even bigger, as it helped BYU retain possession up three points in the fourth and led to Milne’s third TD grab that put BYU up 10.

Grade: A-

Defense

During the second and third quarters, BYU had few answers for trying to stop the Houston offense and quarterback Clayton Tune. That fourth quarter effort, though, was just what the BYU defenders needed.

At halftime, Tune had completed 15 of 18 for 234 yards and had a 229.2 passer rating. He was outdueling Wilson as Houston scored 17 points in the second quarter to take a 20-14 lead into the break.

Houston’s ball control offense continued to stymie BYU on the home team’s first possession of the second half, when Houston drove 98 yards on 16 plays and scored a touchdown — its fourth straight possession with a score — to go up 26-14 after a failed two-point conversion.

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From there, though, BYU’s defense stood tall. On five fourth-quarter possessions as the visitors scored the game’s final 29 points, BYU’s defense forced three straight punts and a turnover on down before Houston simply ran out the clock on its final possession down 17.

Twice in the fourth, BYU held Houston to a three-and-out and Houston, which finished with 438 yards of total offense but just 20 in the final quarter, never advanced beyond its own 32. Tune, who ended the day with 310 yards passing and two touchdowns on 21 of 31 passing, completed just 1 of 7 passes in the fourth.

Grade: B

Special Teams

BYU hasn’t had many instances this year where it needed its special teams to come up big. Friday night, though, a gutsy onsides kick swung the momentum.

Moments after BYU had cut the Houston lead to 26-21 late in the third quarter, the visitors opted to try and catch Houston off-guard with an onsides kick, and the play worked as reserve receiver Talmage Gunther easily snagged the kick near midfield, with no Houston player close enough to make a play on the ball.

While BYU didn’t score on the ensuing possession, it changed the game, and in particular field position. After a poor Houston punt netted just 13 yards a few minutes later, BYU quickly pounced to take the lead on a short 23-yard scoring drive.

Freshman punter Ryan Rehkow again had a solid night, averaging 45.8 yards on five punts and he booted a career-long 61-yarder. BYU did give up a long punt return to set up Houston’s go-ahead touchdown, but otherwise, it was a standout night for BYU’s special teams.

Grade: A

Overall

BYU had two quarters it would like to forget Friday night, but the other two quarters — particularly the fourth — were more than enough to bring this grade up.

The overall effort may be closer to a B to B+ range, but the comeback effort and the magnitude of this game for the Cougars — BYU stays undefeated at 5-0, with its next huge road test in three weeks at Boise State following two home games — lift the overall grade.

Grade: A-

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