No one expected to see too many points on the scoreboard of the Poinsettia Bowl between BYU and San Diego State, but the best thing about these two teams is the Cougars defense. That defense, one of the best in the nation during 2012, spearheaded by linebacker Kyle Van Noy, won them a fourth consecutive Bowl game.

Life as an independent hasn’t always been perfect for the Cougars, but it keeps getting to the “postseason” and winning there, despite a tough schedule, which included games against Washington State, Boise State, Oregon State and Notre Dame. Still, when there’s a chance to finish the season on a high, Bronco Mendenhall’s teams always come through.

In typical BYU fashion this season, the win was harder than it should have been, and wasn’t achieved thanks to some brilliant quarterbacking performance from James Lark, who was intercepted twice, throwing no touchdowns, or some impressive running game, gaining only 52 yards on the ground.

Defense and special teams. They held the Aztecs to a total of 263 yards. Quarterback Adam Dingwell was intercepted three times, completing less than 50% of his throws. Adam Muema did have a big day on the ground, carrying the ball 26 times for 103 yards, but that was it. No touchdowns and only six points from field goals, which isn’t that surprising. BYU held opponents to an average of 14 points per game this season, 4th best in the nation. All of their losses except the one against the Beavers were by six points or less. Their 8-5 record doesn’t really say just how good this season could have been, and how good their defense really is.

Turnovers were huge for us. I think that when we got that first turnover, I think that changed the momentum of the game.

BYU forced five turnovers, two of them by Kyle Van Noy. Both of his big plays on defense resulted in touchdowns, scored by the linebacker himself, recording his sixth forced fumble of the season, going along with his second interception in 2012. The Junior wasn’t just the best defensive player on the field, but he produced the most offense as well.

Early in the fourth quarter, with San Diego State leading 6-3, they were pinned on their own three yard line. Van Noy came from the outside, knocked the ball out of Dingwell’s hands and leaped on it in the end zone for the touchdown. The play was reviewed, but the ruling on the field remained.

I wouldn’t make those plays if all 11 guys weren’t doing what they were doing. The ball just happened to land in my lap.

Those were nightmarish moments for Dingwell, who fumbled the ball on his next snap, leading to another BYU drive and touchdown. With six minutes left in the game, Dingwell killed his team’s chances completely by throwing an interception, which Van Noy took all 17 yards to the end zone for the finishing touchdown in the 23-6 win.

The unheralded hero of the game was senior Riley Stephenson, the punter. The Cougars downed two of his punts at the 1, one at the 2 and another at the 3. He had six punts that ended up inside the 20. In a game won by defense and offensive mistakes, having a guy that gives you incredible field position often hands you the game.

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