BOISE - Boise State used a tenacious defense on a night when its offense sputtered to take a 7-6 non-conference football victory Thursday over Brigham Young before a Bronco Stadium-record crowd of 36,864 and a national television audience.
Five BYU turnovers in the first three quarters, including three interceptions thrown by Riley Nelson, helped Boise State improve to 2-1 for the season. Crisp tackling kept BYU bottled up most of the night as the Cougars, 2-2, lost their second game in a row.
"Our defense was spectacular," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "I can't say enough good things about them. Defenses win championships."
He added: "I guarantee our crowd helped us win."
The defensive held BYU to just 104 total yards until 8 minutes remained in the game. Then the Cougars went on an 11-play, 96-yard drive to score on a quarterback keeper by Taysom Hill with 4 minutes left. BYU tried for a two-point conversion and the win, but Hill's pass was batted down by Boise State's J.C. Percy.
Boise State ran out the clock to preserve the win.
Asked about the choice to go for two points, Petersen said he wasn't surprised that BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall made that call.
"I would have done the same thing," he said.
The Broncos scored the game's first points just 90 seconds into the second half when defensive lineman Mike Atkinson picked off Hill's pass and rumbled 36 yards for a touchdown. The Broncos converted the kick for a 7-0 lead.
Petersen said Atkinson has the tools to be "a dominating player. You just don't see a guy who's 300 pounds who can move that way."
Atkinson said the short week since Saturday's victory over Miami of Ohio took its toll.
"We're sore," he said. "We're tired. We just went out and gave if what we had."
Petersen acknowledged that his offense, which failed to score points, needs more work.
"Obviously we're just not clicking," he said.
Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick agreed.
"It's in my hands," he said. "I need to do a better job. If we want to be a good offense we have to finish. That starts with me."
Boise State had another golden opportunity to score in the third quarter when they downed a punt at the BYU 1. The Cougars' Michael Alisa fumbled on the next play and the Broncos' Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe recovered at the 1.
However, Southwick was stopped short on a keeper on fourth and goal from inside the 1, turning the ball over. He gave BYU credit for a good defensive play.
"They stopped us," he said. "They did a good job."
With 5:09 left before halftime, Demarcus Lawrence recovered a BYU fumble at the Cougar 49. Southwick hit Kirby Moore with a pass for a first down on the BYU 23. But Southwick was sacked - the first of the season for Boise State - on the next play, pushing the Broncos back to BYU's 28.
Boise State got to the 20-yard line a few plays later, but faced a fourth-and-7. Southwick threw an incomplete pass to kill the drive.
Earlier in the second quarter, a 35-yard run by Harper took Boise State to BYU's 45. However, the drive stalled and Petersen shunned a field goal attempt from the 30. The ensuing pass was incomplete on fourth-and-5.
Boise State tried a trick play with 2 minutes left in the first quarter, calling a fake punt on fourth-and-1 from its own 22-yard line. Percy took the snap and was stuffed by the Cougar defense, turning the ball over.
Boise State had a chance to take the lead midway through the first quarter when they moved to BYU's 33-yard line with a 17-yard pass by Southwick, a 10-yard run by D.J. Harper and a pass interference call on the Cougars. However, Mike Frisina's field goal attempt sailed wide right.
Despite not engineering a scoring drive, Southwick turned in serviceable statistics for the second consecutive game. He connected on 15 of 25 passes for 145 yards.
Harper was Boise State's mainstay running back, gaining 112 yards on 31 carries.