BOISE, Idaho (ABC 4 Sports) - Despite not allowing an offensive touchdown, the BYU Cougars lost a tough defensive battle to 24th-ranked Boise State, 7-6.
Nose tackle Mike Atkinson returned a second-half interception 36 yards for the Broncos only touchdown of the game as Boise State survived a 4th quarter rally Thursday night in a game dominated by both defenses.
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson was benched in the 3rd quarter after throwing his third interception of the game. Nelson finished the game completing just 4 of 9 passes for 19 yards.
Boise State (2-1) forced five BYU turnovers in all and held the Cougars (2-2) to just 200 total yards. The Cougars were held scoreless until the final minutes of the game when backup freshman quarterback Taysom Hill scored on a 4-yard run, capping a 95-yard drive.
But with 3:37 remaining, instead of kicking an extra point to tie the game, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall elected to go for the win and the Cougars' first-ever victory over Boise State. But on the 2-point conversion attempt, Hill's pass on the run was deflected by a defender and fell incomplete in the end zone.
The Broncos, helped by a long kick return and a lack of BYU timeouts, ran out the clock to notch their third straight victory over the Cougars.
Boise State's offense wasn't much better, managing just 261 yards. Running back D.J. Harper led the way, rushing for 112 yards on 31 carries. Joe Southwick struggled again, especially on third and fourth downs. Southwick was 15 of 25 for 145 yards.
Much credit goes to the BYU defense, which stifled Boise State all game long. After the Broncos recovered a fumble on BYU's 1-yard line in the 3rd quarter, threatening to blow the game open, the Cougar defense held strong, keeping Boise State out of the end zone on four attempts.
Boise State failed five times in all on fourth down attempts, with most of those coming in BYU territory and after Michael Frisina missed a 33-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter.
After a scoreless first half, Atkinson finally put some points on the board. On BYU's first possession of the second half, Atkinson dropped back in pass coverage and stepped in front of Nelson's short pass. Atkinson then rumbled 36 yards for a touchdown to put Boise State up 7-0 at the 13:24 mark.
Hill's legs finally provided the Cougars with a spark on offense. On BYU's final possession, Hill engineered an 11-play, 95-yard drive that was helped early by a Boise State personal foul. Hill was 3 of 5 on the drive and rushed for 39 yards.
For the game, Hill was 4 of 10 for 42 yards and he led the Cougars with 72 yards on 12 carries.
BYU next hosts Hawaii September 29th.