LANDOVER, Md. — Dana Holgorsen could sense it on the sideline when West Virginia built a two-score lead early in the fourth quarter against BYU. The Mountaineers were feeling too good.
“I said we can get excited about being up 16 points if you want to but this thing ain’t over,” Holgorsen said.
He was right.
Taysom Hill and BYU rallied, but Maurice Fleming ended the Cougars’ last threat with an interception near his own goal line and the Mountaineers hung on 35-32 on Saturday.
Skyler Howard passed for 332 yards and Rasul Douglas returned an interception 54 yards for a score for West Virginia (3-0), which will head into Big 12 play unbeaten.
“It’s encouraging to be able to address some of these things when you’re 3-0 as opposed to losing a game like this and trying to address them after that,” Holgorsen said.
West Virginia grabbed a 35-19 lead with 11:27 left in the fourth when Howard hit Daikiel Shorts for a 9-yard score.
“We have to be one of those teams that’s constantly on the gas pedal and we let up,” West Virginia tackle Kyle Bosch said.
The Cougars scored two touchdowns in less than four minutes to cut their deficit to three with 5:55 remaining. They got one last chance to put together a game-winning drive after a miscommunication between Howard and center Tyler Orlosky led to a West Virginia fumble near BYU’s goal line.
Hill drove BYU to the West Virginia 28, but his final pass was tipped away from a receiver by West Virginia’s Nana Kyeremeh and intercepted by Fleming to seal it.
“We’ve been talking about that all week in practice,” Fleming said. “We get a lot of tipped balls. We just got to get our hands on them.”
BYU (1-3) has lost three straight by a total of seven points to Power Five teams after opening the season with a two-point win on a last-second field goal against Arizona.
“I just know we haven’t played our best game yet,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “I’m waiting for that to happen.”
BYU: Three interceptions stand out for Hill, especially the forced throw under pressure that turned into a pick-six, but this was his best performance of the season (241 yards passing, 101 rushing). He looked more like his pre-injury self when he leaped into and off of a couple of defenders during a third-quarter run. After two straight games where the offense struggled, there had been some fans clamoring for Tanner Mangum, the sophomore who filled in admirably when Hill was injured last year.
Hill got banged up and went to the locker room briefly Saturday in the second half, but did not miss a play.
West Virginia: The season started with some uncertainty as to what the future holds at WVU for coach Dana Holgorsen. A perfect start is a nice way to turn down the heat. And in what’s looking like a wide-open Big 12, the Mountaineers are good enough offensively to at least be in the mix of contenders.
MAKING A CASE
BYU was one of 11 teams Big 12 officials met with earlier this month in Dallas as they consider whether to expand the 10-team league. The Cougars’ performance on the field against West Virginia is not likely to sway things. If nothing else, their fans did a nice job of showing off the school’s national reach. The lower level of FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, behind the BYU bench was well stocked with the white and blue of the Cougars — despite being 2,000 miles away from their campus in Provo, Utah for the “neutral” site game.
The Big 12 is all about offense and the Cougars did their best to keep up. Jamaal Williams had 169 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, but he had a key turnover, too. Williams lost a fumble that led to a West Virginia touchdown.
“I feel like we just beat ourselves,” Williams said.
BYU: On Friday night, the Cougars play a team from outside the Power Five for the first time but Toledo coming to Provo is no break. The Rockets are 3-0 and coming off an open date.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers start Big 12 play with Kansas State on Oct. 1.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP