NCF Nation: 2011 Armed Forces Bowl

BYU quarterback's fake spike lifts team

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
4:48
PM ET

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas -- The BYU coaching staff -- not to mention a slew of players standing on the sidelines -- were jumping up and down signaling quarterback Riley Nelson to spike the ball and stop the clock with the Cougars at the Tulsa 2-yard line and down 21-17.

But Nelson saw an opportunity and called his own play, giving the signal for a fake spike and a quick pass in the end zone.

"Half our guys didn't even get the signal and stood up, which was good because the defense stood up too," Nelson said.

But wide receiver Cody Hoffman got the signal. He ran into the end zone and then curled back toward his quarterback, catching the pass in the front corner of the end zone to give BYU the lead with just 11 seconds left. That gave BYU a 24-21 lead and eventually the win in the 2011 Armed Forces Bowl played on the campus of SMU just north of downtown Dallas.

"We have a fake spike play, where you fake it and throw a touchdown -- or you better throw a touchdown," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "He did that completely on his own."

The game-winning drive, which took 4:07 minutes and went 48 yards on 12 plays, included a fourth-down conversion by Nelson. He ran 14 yards on fourth-and-9 at the Tulsa 47 to keep the drive going. BYU also converted two other third downs to set up the winning touchdown.

"We were going to stop the clock and run two plays," Nelson said. "But I looked at the clock and where we were. We practiced that. We had a signal for it and I figured this is low risk, high reward because if it's not there, I can throw it in the stands. But the call from the sidelines was to spike the ball and we just decided to go for it. It was great."

Nelson said he was only looking at Hoffman, who had caught two touchdown passes earlier in the game and finished with 122 receiving yards on eight catches. He was named BYU's player of the game.

"His stance was square and had no stagger in his feet," Nelson said about Hoffman. "It added to the effect. He hurried up and lined up. When I faked it, he turned his back and I had his eyes and he caught it. He's a beast and a big security blanket for me."

Apparently it didn't worry Nelson that he'd never run the fake spike in a game or even completed it in practice. The last time BYU worked on the play was early November.

"It just never worked," Nelson said. "We ran it six or seven times in practice and I threw it away every time."

Nelson admitted that once he returned to the sidelines after the play, he thought about Dan Marino and his famous fake spike play against the Jets in 1994. Marino threw a touchdown pass to Mark Ingram after rookie cornerback Aaron Glenn was fooled into thinking Marino was spiking.

"I remember watching that all the time," Nelson said. "That's Dan Marino 101 right there. Maybe watching TV isn't all that bad. What a great way to end the season. I've seen that play time after time and it's classic. To put this one in the record books and send the seniors out with a win is special."

Instant analysis: BYU 24, Tulsa 21

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
3:29
PM ET

BYU beat Tulsa 24-21 in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Friday afternoon. Here is a quick analysis:

How the game was won: You have to love the moxie of quarterback Riley Nelson. Trailing 21-17 with 4:18 to go, Nelson engineered a terrific game-winning drive, converting once on fourth down and once on third down with big-time runs. Facing second-and-goal from the Tulsa 8 with the clock ticking down, Nelson pulled out the ol' fake spike attempt and found Cody Hoffman for a 2-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone with 11 seconds left. BYU has now rallied for victory in five of its 10 wins this season.

Turning point: Tulsa got a major break with six minutes to go, leading 21-17. Pinned deep in its own territory and forced to punt, BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy got flagged for running into the punter. But Tulsa could not take advantage of the break, and went three-and-out to give BYU the ball back. The Cougars then went on their game-winning drive.

Stat of the game: BYU won its third straight bowl game for the first time in school history.

Player of the game: BYU receiver Cody Hoffman. Hoffman had eight catches for 122 yards and tied a career high with three touchdown receptions. He broke the 100-yard mark in three of his final four games.

Unsung hero of the game: BYU offensive tackle Matt Reynolds. BYU was able to close to 14-10 right before halftime thanks in part to Reynolds, who delivered a hit with his helmet off as Nelson scrambled away from the pressure. That hit allowed Nelson to find Hoffman in the end zone with 12 seconds to go before the break.

What it means for Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane close the season on a disappointing note, having squandered several opportunities to put this game away. They were simply too inconsistent on offense and defense. A big play would be followed by a letdown play. G.J. Kinne threw three TD passes in the final game of his career, but he was just 17-of-31 for 210 yards. He leaves behind big shoes to fill.

What it means for BYU: The Cougars won 10 games -- their fifth 10-win season in the past six years. That has to be considered a major success in Year 1 as an independent. Nelson returns next season, and BYU has to hope for a little bit more consistency out of him. He was not very good for most of the first half, and threw two interceptions. He actually had a third called back because of a Tulsa penalty. Many of the skill players also return, so hopes will be high for 2012 once again.

Record performance: Tulsa cornerback Dexter McCoil had two interceptions to tie the school record for career interceptions with 13.

Armed Forces Bowl: Three Keys

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
2:30
PM ET
You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for BYU and Tulsa in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Friday.

BYU (9-3)

1. Slow down G.J. Kinne. There is no question that Kinne is the most valuable player on the Tulsa offense because he can do a variety of things. Kinne leads the team with an average of 273.4 yards of total offense per game and is always a threat to run out of the backfield. What should help BYU is practicing against its own running quarterback in Riley Nelson. But Kinne has a much better arm and is much more experienced, so BYU has to contain him if it has any shot at winning the game. The only true rushing quarterback BYU has faced this season was Chuckie Keeton at Utah State, and he had 22 yards on six carries.

2. Stop the run. Tulsa averages more than 200 yards on the ground per game, so making sure the Golden Hurricane are not running at will and chewing up clock will be a huge part of this game. Kinne certainly can win contests with his arm, but it puts an incredible amount of strain and pressure on any quarterback when his offense becomes one-dimensional. Tulsa does well with play-action passes, so stopping the run means taking away those calls as well.

3. Keep Nelson healthy. BYU goes into this game with no experience behind Nelson, so it is going to be extremely important to protect the starting quarterback. Nelson can run, and he is not afraid to give up his body -- that already led to one injury this season in which he missed several games. Jake Heaps, who was demoted and would have served as the backup, left the team when he decided to transfer. So that leaves James Lark behind Nelson. Lark has attempted only 10 passes in his career.

Tulsa (8-4)

1. Run it. Just as BYU has to make an effort to stop the run, Tulsa is going to try to run the football effectively. The Golden Hurricane failed to rush for more than 100 yards just once all season -- against North Texas. They also have rushed for 200 or more yards five times this season. Like BYU, Tulsa does not rely on one primary back -- Ja'Terian Douglas and Trey Watts have each run for more than 800 yards this season, and they are vastly different runners.

2. Force third-and-long. Third-down defense is going to be important for Tulsa in this game. BYU ranks No. 3 in the nation in third-down conversions at 52.94 percent. Tulsa has not been the best in this category, ranking No. 83 in third-down defense while allowing opponents to convert 42.7 percent of the time. Coach Bill Blankenship knows his team has to limit the big plays and force BYU into uncomfortable passing situations, because that is not an area of strength for the Cougars.

3. Limit the mistakes. Neither team has been great in turnover margin. In fact, both teams are in negative territory here. But both coaches realize this is an important aspect to this game because one turnover could really change the outcome. After leading the nation in interceptions a year ago with 24, that number has dropped to 16 for Tulsa, so it will be important to get to Nelson and force him into mistakes.

Armed Forces Bowl: BYU vs. Tulsa

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
1:00
PM ET
BYU (9-3) takes on Tulsa (8-4) in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Friday at noon in Dallas. Here is a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne. What Kinne has been able to do with the Golden Hurricane is pretty remarkable, when you consider he has played for three different offensive coordinators. This season, Kinne became the third Tulsa quarterback to go over 9,000 yards passing in a career. He now has 9,258 career passing yards, ranking third on the school's all-time list. Kinne also has thrown 78 touchdown passes and ranks second in school history. He is five behind Paul Smith, so catching up with a huge game against BYU is not out of the realm of possibility. Kinne can run, too -- he is the only quarterback in school history to pass for more than 6,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards.

WHAT TO WATCH: Tulsa run game versus BYU run defense. Both teams rank in the top 25 in the nation in their respective categories of run offense and run defense. The Golden Hurricane have two backs that have gone for more than 800 yards -- in addition to Kinne racking up more than 400. Ja'Terian Douglas, Trey Watts and Kinne have more combined rushing yards than BYU's entire team. Seeing Douglas and Watts emerge has been huge for the Golden Hurricane -- Kinne led the team in rushing the past two seasons. BYU has been solid against the run this season, allowing only three 100-yard rushers. BYU does have a size advantage on its defensive line and rotates in plenty of players. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy has been the best player on the defense, leading the team with 10 tackles for loss and five sacks. He has come up big in run support and has defended the pass as well, so he is a definite player Tulsa must watch.

WHY TO WATCH: BYU has been one of the most consistent programs in the nation, save for last season. A victory would give the Cougars their fifth 10-win season in the past six years. It will also be the 16th 10-win season in school history, which ranks 13th among all current FBS teams, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Given that success, BYU has never won three bowl games in a row. The Cougars go into this game having won two straight bowls.

PREDICTION: BYU 30, Tulsa 27. These teams are about as evenly matched as you can get, with quarterbacks who like to run, a backfield that isn't reliant on one player and linebackers who are capable of making plays. Kinne has an edge on Riley Nelson, but BYU has the edge on defense and up front -- and that will be enough to lead BYU to the victory.

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