Las Vegas Marshawn Lynch rushed for career highs of 194 yards and three touchdowns, and DeSean Jackson caught two scoring passes before California's defense held off Brigham Young for a 35-28 victory in the Las Vegas Bowl on Thursday night.
Steve Levy passed for 228 yards in his second career start for the Golden Bears (8-4), who showed off a wealth of talent that's all coming back in 2006. They needed every bit of it to hold off BYU's fourth-quarter comeback in a high-octane game featuring 915 total yards.
Cal took a 21-point lead into the final quarter after Lynch's 35-yard scoring run and Jackson's exceptional 22-yard diving TD catch in the third. But BYU quarterback John Beck responded with scoring passes to Jonny Harline and Todd Watkins, whose nine-yard grab with 5:35 left cut Cal's lead to seven points.
The Bears improbably tried a 50-yard field goal with 2:20 to play, and Tom Schneider's kick was well short. But the Cougars moved just seven yards before Beck's arm was hit by Cal lineman Phillip Mbakogu, and Daymeion Hughes intercepted the wobbling pass to seal the Bears' second bowl victory in three postseason trips under coach Jeff Tedford.
Beck set Las Vegas Bowl records in BYU's spread offense, going 35-for-53 for 352 yards and three TDs. In their first bowl game in four years, the Cougars (6-6) mounted three scoring drives longer than 90 yards and moved the ball consistently.
But the Bears' stars were the difference. Jackson capped his impressive freshman season with six catches for 130 yards, including a 42-yard romp through the BYU secondary three seconds before halftime, while Lynch had scoring runs of three, 23 and 35 yards along with a handful of jaw-dropping second-effort rushes.
Nathan Meikle caught 12 passes for 93 yards for BYU, which hasn't won a bowl since 1996. But the season was a success for the once-proud Cougars, who got back to the postseason for new coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Most of the bowl-record crowd of 40,053 at Sam Boyd Stadium was made up of BYU fans from Provo and southern Nevada, which has a large Mormon population -- but they got the biggest thrills from Lynch, who finally had a game worthy of the hype entering his sophomore campaign.
Lynch was expected to dominate the Pac-10 this season after averaging 8.8 yards per carry as J.J. Arrington's backup in 2004. Lynch was undeniably good, finishing the regular season with 1,052 yards, but missed two games with a broken finger and was benched during another for fumbling twice.
Cal scored on the game's opening drive when Lynch followed all-Pac 10 center Marvin Philip, a Mormon with extensive family ties to BYU, into the end zone.