PROVO, Utah -- The anxiety No. 16 BYU felt against Northern Iowa was mostly self-inflicted.
The Cougars fumbled four times in the second half and let a 24-point lead slip to 10 before finally putting away the Championship Subdivision Panthers 41-17 Saturday.
BYU outgained UNI 563 yards to 362 and dominated all but a few plays, which the Panthers exploited to make it close through three quarters.
"I don't think any doubt came into my mind. We never thought that we were going to lose the game," said Hall, who completed 34 of 41 passes. "What came into my mind was we've got to do something to get going. We were a little stagnant. We came out a little bit flat in the third quarter."
Hall scored BYU's first points of the second half on a 1-yard keeper with 9:02 left to play, then BYU recovered a fumble less than a minute later that led to another touchdown.
The Cougars could finally relax after putting away the pesky Panthers, who didn't lose a game in the regular season a year ago. UNI also burned BYU with a reverse pass from receiver Victor Williams for a 76-yard touchdown pass to Josh Collins early in the third quarter -- right after a BYU fumble.
If it wasn't for a few big plays by UNI and BYU's turnovers, the Cougars would have had a very easy day.
"We just can't afford that many fumbles, especially in one quarter," said Pitta, whose 11 catches were four more than his previous best. "I don't think we panicked at all. We came out in the fourth quarter and put a couple more scores on the board."
Harvey Unga ran for two touchdowns scored one on a pass from Hall.
UNI's Pat Grace took a beating in his first college start and finished 11-for-18 for 112 yards. He also ran for 72 yards, breaking an option keeper 69 yards to set up a field goal in the first quarter.
BYU has eight new starters on defense and coach Bronco Mendenhall was pleased overall with the way they played. Of UNI's 362 yards, 145 came on two plays.
"I really don't consider it much success, other than the long ones," Mendenhall said.
But there is still plenty for BYU to work on before traveling to Washington next week.
Down 27-3 at halftime after gaining just 154 yards the Panthers pushed back in the third quarter and made it close.
The Panthers caused a fumble on BYU's first possession of the second half, then caught the Cougars off guard with a play that fooled everyone. Grace handed off to Corey Lewis, who pitched it to Victor Williams coming the other way. Williams had plenty of time to set and threw a perfect pass to Josh Collins, who went untouched down the sideline for a touchdown.
"We felt we could win," Collins said. "We felt we could move the ball."
UNI pinned BYU inside the 4 on a punt later in the period and the Panthers turned it into a touchdown when James Ruffin ran down hall from behind and caused a fumble, which Mark Huygens recovered for a touchdown that cut it to 27-17 with 5:59 left in the third.
Hall was 5-for-6 during a 73-yard touchdown drive on BYU's opening possession, which ended on a pass to Reed at the 13-yard line and the BYU receiver running through three Panthers at the goal line. The Cougars forced a fumble and three plays later Hall hit Unga on a slant pattern over the middle for a 19-yard touchdown with 1:25 left in the first.
Unga added two short touchdown runs in the second quarter to give BYU a 27-3 halftime lead.
UNI's only score of the half was a 33-yard field goal by Billy Hallgren.
"We had a poor first half, but we were tough in the third quarter," UNI coach Mark Farley said. "BYU's a tough team and I also want my team to play tough like that."
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