After taking a 7-0 lead into the locker room at halftime against BYU, Nevada (4-8) allowed the Cougars (8-4) to score touchdowns on all four of their second half-possessions to claim a, 28-23, non-conference win.
“If we can just find a way to get one stop or a turnover, we’ve got ourselves in position with a chance to win the game,” Nevada coach Brian Polian said. “And we didn’t do those things.”
Nevada’s 4-8 finish is the program’s worst since 2001 when it finished 3-8.
After touching the rock just three times for 32 yards in the first half, BYU running back Jamaal Williams went wild in the second half, finishing with 219 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
Williams tied the game at sevens with a 66-yard touchdown run on the second play of the second half.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill also had a fruitful day on the ground, running for 181 yards and a touchdown on 26 touches – several of which were the result of heavy pressure, causing the Cougars’ slippery signal caller to tuck it and run.
Hill’s 35-yard touchdown run with 6:40 remaining in the game extended BYU’s lead to 28-17. Hill eluded a handful of would-be sackers on the third-and-10 play before running away from everyone.
“Sometimes it’s just jimmies and joes, it wasn’t like we didn’t have people there,” Polian said. “I mean you got to talk the dude. I mean you got to make the play.”
The Pack failed to make ‘the play’ on the offensive side of the ball throughout the first half, squandering several scoring opportunities.
After an 80-yard opening drive that resulted in a 2-yard Kendall Brock plunge, the Pack marched into BYU territory before Brent Zuzo’s 38-yard field goal attempt was stuffed. The drive was aided by a BYU muffed punt recovered by Trevor Taft.
Two drives later, Nevada marched down to the BYU 3-yard line before Cody Fajardo threw his only interception of the game, to Robertson Daniel. Fajardo was looking for his favorite target Brandon Wimberly who played his final game for Nevada.
Wimberly finished his collegiate career with a reception in all 52 games he played, a national record. The senior wideout hauled in 10 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Wimberly’s 5-yard touchdown grab closed the gap to 28-23 with 2:24 remaining. Fajardo’s two-point try was intercepted.
“It wasn’t easy. You take those for granted,” Wimberly said of his record. “Fifty-two games with a catch, it’s not like it’s 52 games with a rush. It’s something different for that exchange, to go to that receiver you know they are keying on.”
Not done watching the opportunities slip, Nevada took over at the BYU 49-yard line with 5:22 remaining in the first half and moved down to the Cougar’s 35-yard line before Fajardo was sacked on three consecutive plays to force a Chase Tenpenny punt.
Tenpenny pinned BYU on its own six-inch line with his previous punt, setting up Nevada’s squandered opportunity.
Fajardo, who admitted after the game with the season now over that he was never 100 percent this year dealing with various lower-body injuries, completed 23-of- 33 passes for 259 yards and the touchdown pass to Wimberly. The junior quarterback carried the rock 13 times for 40 yards and a touchdown.
His 3-yard touchdown run on Nevada’s opening drive of the second half put Nevada back in front 14-7 but it was the Pack’s final lead of the game. The Cougars tied the game their next possession on Hill’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Kaneakua Friel and took the lead for good on their next drive with JD Falslev’s 3-yard touchdown grab.
Although he did most of his damage with his legs, Hill completed 14-of- 18 passes for 98 yards and the two touchdowns.
“In the second half, when we ran the ball and they fit it correctly, we would get tackled for gains of one and-a-half, two and-a-half, three,” Polian said. “We would fit it correctly and they would run through our tackles and we would get knocked backwards and it’s second-and-four instead of second-and-eight. You can’t do that.”
Fajardo marched Nevada to the BYU 3-yard line on the next drive after BYU jumped in front 21-14 but was forced to settle with a 24-yard Zuzo field goal.
BYU ran the final 2:41 off the clock after Wimberly’s touchdown grab, picking up a pair of first downs on the ground.
Saturday’s loss wrapped up a season that saw Nevada fail to play in a bowl game for the first time since 2004. With his first year under his belt, Polian isn’t sulking.
“The 2014 season starts tomorrow at 1 o’clock (p.m. for team meeting),” Polian said.
Polian and his staff are also hopping on the recruiting trail tomorrow.
“There is a standard of excellence that has been set here,” Polian said. “We will get this back to where everybody wants it to be.”