BYU ended its 2022 season in thrilling fashion, stopping a two-point attempt with eight seconds left to beat SMU 24-23 in the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday night.
Here’s a look at three takeaways from the Cougars’ win, their fourth straight to end the season:
Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters and BYU’s offense did juuuuuuuuuust enough
With Jaren Hall out with an ankle injury and Jacob Conover entering the transfer portal, redshirt freshman Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters got his first career start at quarterback.
What did we learn about the youngster from Hawaii?
He’s fun to watch in the run game. There’s a lot to improve in the passing game.
Maiava-Peters ran for a team-high 96 yards on a 6.9-yards per carry average, and he had several electrifying runs.
He ran for 40 yards on BYU’s opening drive, which ended with a 1-yard touchdown run from the QB on a fourth and goal.
In the second quarter, Maiava-Peters pulled off a 12-yard run on a third and 12 that extended a Cougar drive in SMU territory and led to a BYU field goal that tied the game at 10.
He clearly showed mastery of the run-pass option game, and with Maiava-Peters at the helm, the Cougars did enough offensively to win on a night where they put up only 256 yards of total offense.
BYU went run-heavy, trying to keep the ball out of the hands of an explosive SMU offense — it worked for big portions of the game, as the Cougars ran for 209 yards, including 88 yards and a touchdown from Chris Brooks.
The Cougars’ only offensive scoring drive in the second half spoke to that philosophy — BYU ran the ball nine straight times for 82 yards — 55 of those from Brooks — and went ahead 24-10 on a Brooks 22-yard TD run.
Trouble was, BYU didn’t have a passing threat — Maiava-Peters didn’t complete a pass in the second half, and he threw an interception in the third quarter that almost led to SMU retaking the lead.
He completed 7 of 12 passes for 47 yards for the game.
Then, the Cougars went conservative in the fourth quarter, and it led to BYU going three and out on its two final-period possessions.
That gave SMU the chance to rally late, despite the Cougars being up 24-10 late in the third quarter.
BYU’s defense made SMU earn its points
If this is an indication of what a Jay Hill-led defense will look like at BYU, Cougar fans should be encouraged for the future with their new defensive coordinator.
In a season where BYU struggled to get pressure — particularly in key moments — the Cougars delivered several times defensively, even if the Mustangs did use a 14-play, 88-yard drive to score with eight seconds left and make it a one-point games.
SMU came into the bowl game averaging 38 points per contest, but after the Mustangs turned their first two drives into 10 points, the Cougars held them scoreless for two quarters.
Yes, SMU made two big drives in the fourth quarter, and yes, the Cougars have plenty to work on defensively as they prepare to join the Big 12 Conference next year.
For the first time in a long while, though, there was some optimism that BYU could force some mistakes defensively.
Here’s just a few examples:
- When SMU had a chance to go up two scores in the second quarter, BYU’s John Nelson got a sack on Tanner Mordecai, then got pressure on him on third down the next play to force a punt.
- On the Mustangs’ next possession, Gabe Summers batted down a pass on third and 5 near midfield to force yet another punt.
- Early in the third quarter, after BYU stalled on the opening drive of the half, cornerback Jakob Robinson got pressure on Mordecai on a third-down play to force an incompletion and help the Cougars maintain an edge on field position.
- Linebacker Ben Bywater turned the momentum of the game with a 76-yard interception return for a score — the first pick-six in New Mexico Bowl history — to give BYU a 17-10 lead after it looked like SMU would regain the lead following Maiavia -Peters’ interception.
- Midway through the fourth quarter, the Mustangs drove deep into BYU territory and faced a fourth and 2 trailing by seven. SMU attempted to convert, but Alden Tofa applied pressure on Mordecai, forcing the QB to backtrack into what ended up being a 15-yard sack.
While the Mustangs put up 389 yards of total offense and converted 10 of 18 third downs, BYU’s defense, like the offense, made just one more play.
Jakob Robinson is the hero of the 2022 New Mexico Bowl
Now, to the play of the game.
After BYU’s second straight fourth-quarter three and out, SMU got the ball back with three minutes to play, and 88 yards to go down seven.
Mordecai led an excellent 14-play drive, showing poise while methodically picking apart the BYU defense.
With eight seconds to play, he hit Jordan Kerley for a 12-yard touchdown pass, and then SMU decided to go for two and the win.
After a series of timeouts, the Mustangs attempted their two-point conversion. After pausing for a moment, Mordecai tried to score up the middle on a QB draw.
Robinson, who finished with nine tackles, made the play of the night, stuffing Mordecai more than a yard short of the goal line to foil the two-point attempt.
After SMU’s ensuing onside kick attempt sailed out of bounds, the Cougars celebrated a team win, with Robinson providing the final heroic moment of the season.
In the final moment of BYU’s independence era, the Cougars were all smiles.