With Nielsen out for the season the quarterback job went to Marc Wilson, a sophomore. Remarkably, little has changed. Oh sure, the receivers have to hang on a little tighter because Wilson rifles everything and the Cougars run more roll-outs to take advantage of his running ability, but that is all. The team still has a 6'5" quarterback who passes about three of every four times he takes a snap and completes more than 59% of them, many for touchdowns. In his first starting assignment against Colorado State, which was 5-0, Wilson threw seven touchdown passes as the Cougars won easily. Two weeks ago he set an NCAA record, passing for 571 yards against Utah. The only scare BYU has had since Wilson took over came against Wyoming in Laramie, the Cougars winning 10-7. "That's a tough place to play," says BYU Quarterback Coach Doug Scovil. "The stands are so close to the field you can't call audibles, which we do a lot of. Marc tried to force too many passes. He learned a lot from that one. I think he's ready for Arizona State."
Well, not quite. Or maybe Wilson and the rest of his teammates were too ready, too keyed up for the big game. On BYU's second play. Fullback Todd Christensen fumbled, the Sun Devils recovering on the Cougar 40. No great harm done. Arizona State sputtered and Steve Hicks missed a field goal from 46 yards away.
So what happened? Wilson tried his first pass of the evening—BYU's fourth offensive play of the game—and John Harris intercepted and carried to the Cougar nine. On third down Quarterback Dennis Sproul looked for his tight end, was forced to scramble and found his marvelous wide receiver, John Jefferson, floating along the back of the end zone—7-0 State.
The giveaway had just begun. On the first play after the kickoff Tailback Roger Gourley fumbled a hand-off and State recovered on the BYU 13. Three plays lost yardage but this time Hicks was good with a 45-yard field goal and State was ahead 10-0.
Still more. Wilson threw an incomplete pass after the kickoff, whereupon Christensen fumbled once more, the fourth turnover in seven plays. The Cougars escaped without damage again, but late in the quarter Wilson had another pass intercepted. The BYU defense held. However, when the offense couldn't move and had to punt. State had good field position and this time Sproul took it in himself from seven yards out. That made the score 17-0 with no great strain on State's part. The Sun Devil defense, using only three linemen to rush Wilson and keeping close check on receivers coming out of the backfield, was doing a splendid job of containing the BYU passing attack. Brigham Young went to the locker room with three fumbles, two interceptions and no points. And 46 yards total offense, 14 of it passing. Only a splendid job by the Cougar defense had kept the score from being 31-0.
There were a few moments in the second half when it seemed as if Brigham Young might struggle up off the canvas. The first time Arizona State had the ball, it fumbled on its 20 and before you could say turnover, Wilson had hit Flanker Mike Chronister in the end zone. That made it 17-7, and a ball game, maybe.
Except that 27 seconds later State had the points back. Sproul pitched out to Halfback Arthur Lane, who swung wide to his left, stopped and sailed a lefthanded pass to Wingback Chris DeFrance who was wide open. Now the score was 24-7.
And yet it didn't seem an insurmountable margin as Wilson began connecting—he finished the evening with 21 completions in 38 attempts for 283 yards—and the Cougars reached the State 16. Wilson then flipped to Christensen on a swing pass and the fullback was apparently going in for the score when he was hit on the one and fumbled. Minutes later the Cougars were back again, but when Wilson threw into the end zone. State's Michael Lee gathered it in. Pop. End of dream. There were still almost 19 minutes of play remaining, but the crackle was gone from the BYU comeback.
Late in the game the Cougars scored once more but by that time the Sun Devils were busy congratulating themselves on the sideline. And well they should, especially the defense. If the man with the fireworks really knew his football, he'd set off a few rockets for them.