PROVO, Utah - Quarterback Riley Nelson threw three early touchdown passes and the BYU football team held off a pesky San Jose State team 29-16 at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday night.
BYU (4-2) used a balanced attack with 224 rushing yards and 219 passing yards to overpower San Jose State (2-4) and win its third game in a row in front of 59,782 fans.
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"It was a good football game especially from an offensive growth perspective," head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "I think we made ourselves more difficult to defend. That running game was the key determinate in our win."
Nelson finished his fourth-career start 14 of 24 passing for 219 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The junior set a new career high in completions, attempts, passing yards and touchdowns. Nelson also added 65 rushing yards on nine attempts.
Sophomore Michael Alisa provided a spark in the run game, picking up a career-high 91 yards on 16 carries to lead the team. Tight end Richard Wilson caught his first career touchdown pass, a 21-yarder in the first quarter and finished the game with a team-high 66 receiving yards on three receptions.
"I liked what I saw, I liked the energy and the balance. From a defensive perspective, it’s difficult to beat us," Mendenhall said. "I thought San Jose State was a very much improved football team. I’m impressed with the direction their program is taking."
The Cougars got two big interceptions to end Spartan scoring threats, one by linebacker Kyle Van Noy and another by safety Travis Uale. Linebacker Brandon Ogletree also had a career-high 10 tackles to lead BYU.
Nelson was able to lead the team down the field on their first drive but fumbled on the 3-yard line. The Cougars were still able to get points on the board on the next play when San Jose State snapped the ball high and out the back of the end zone for a safety to give BYU a 2-0 lead with 9:06 left in the first quarter.
On their next possession, the Cougars found the end zone on an 21-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to Wilson. The drive featured Alisa breaking a tackle and staying on his feet for a gain of 12 yards to set up the score and the 9-0 lead.
San Jose State answered back with a field goal with 17 seconds left in the first quarter. The Spartans hit from 24-yards out to cut the score to 9-3.
The Cougars continued to roll on offense, putting together a 9-play, 75-yard drive. Running back Bryan Kariya caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to give BYU a 16-3 lead with 10:58 left in the half. Nelson connected with Wilson for a 35-yard gain earlier in the drive.
Van Noy intercepted a pass and returned it 31 yards to the Spartans 40-yard line. On the Cougars' first play of the possession Nelson hit a wide open McKay Jacobson deep down the sideline for 40 yards and another touchdown, Nelson’s third of the game, with 8:49 left in the half. BYU led 23-3 after the score.
The Spartans tacked on another field goal in the last few seconds of the half. San Jose State kicker Jens Alvernik drilled a 40-yarder through the uprights to make it 23-6 in favor of the Cougars at the half.
In the second half, the Spartans completed a 96-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run from Jason Simpson to cut the score to 23-13 with 6:09 remaining in the third quarter.
Kicker Justin Sorensen gave BYU three more points with a 42-yard field goal with 32 seconds left in the third quarter. Sorensen’s first field goal of the night put the Cougars ahead 26-13 heading into the fourth quarter.
BYU and San Jose State traded field goals late in the fourth quarter but the Cougars held on for the 29-16 win.
Up next, BYU will be on the road against the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis, Ore. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. PT and will be broadcast live on Fox College Sports and KBYU.
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