Posted by Jerry Hinnen
BYU WON: Riley Nelson hasn't put up the kind of stats BYU quarterbacks have historically/traditionally put up, but after two-thirds of a season as a starter, he's already etched himself into Cougar lore as one of the clutchest signal-callers the school has seen. After a season full of late-game heroics, Nelson did it again, taking over at the Tulsa 48 and guiding his team to the game-winning touchdown with just 11 seconds to play. That score came on a two-yard throw to receiver Cody Hoffman -- his third touchdown reception of the game -- after Nelson faked a clock-stopping spike a la Dan Marino.
The Cougars trailed 14-3 20 minutes into the game but held the high-powered Golden Hurricane to just one touchdown over the final 40, and only 268 total yards for the game overall.
WHY BYU WON: Because Tulsa just couldn't keep their boot on the Cougars' throat. BYU was just this side of gawdawful in the first half, with Nelson erratic, the defense up-and-down, and the run game ineffective. When the Cougars punted the ball back to the Golden Hurricane with less than a minute left in the first half -- their fifth punt in seven possessions, with one of the others ending in a Nelson pick -- it appeared they would head into the half down 11 and with Tulsa in firm control. But punt returner J.D. Ratliff fumbled the punt under pressure, and the Cougars cashed in with a one-play, 17-yard touchdown "drive."
Thanks to G.J. Kinne executing a clinical 58-yard TD drive of his own early in the fourth, the Golden Hurricane were again in position to put the victory securely in their grasp when a BYU running-into-the-kicker call gave them the ball with a 21-17 lead and under 6 minutes to play. Instead they went a meek three-and-out (just as they had before the penalty), the next time they got the ball bask it was with a three-point deficit and only 11 seconds left. BYU was the better team on the stat sheet (with a 343-268 total yardage advantage), but the Cougars still never would have won this game without Tulsa's willingness to help them out at exactly the moments BYU needed that help the most.
WHEN BYU WON: When Nelson's fake spike threw the Golden Hurricane defense off just enough for Hoffman to come open in the front corner of the end zone. With so little time remaining, Tulsa's only hope was a crazy last-second lateral play that didn't make it past midfield.
WHAT BYU WON: Their first bowl game as an independent, a final 10-3 record that cements the program's continued relevance without a conference affiliation, and a bundle of optimism entering Nelson's senior year. It wasn't always pretty, but Bronco Mendenhall will surely take it.
WHAT TULSA LOST: Their fifth game of the season, which isn't so bad considering the first three came to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. But if the 2011 Golden Hurricane were ever going to be anything other than just another pdecent Conference USA team, they needed to stay beat (or at least stay competitive with) Houston or win this very winnable bowl game. That they didn't do either means that it's been a nice enough debut season for Bill Blankenship, but not one anyone's going to remember as ultimately "special."
FINAL GRADE: The two teams combined for 611 yards of offense, or some 160 fewer than Baylor managed last night alone. Though the ending offered plenty of drama, the first 59 minutes offered far more in the way of punts, turnovers, and generally disorganized, sloppy offensive play. Kudos to a pair of defenses that showed up to play, but from an aesthetic standpoint -- especially in the immediate wake of the all-timer at the Alamo Bowl -- this was a snooze. C+.