35-Year Anniversary: BYU Rallies Past Michigan in Holiday Bowl En Route to First National Championship

The notion of a team playing outside of one of the Power 5 conferences winning a national championship seems crazy nowadays. The last team that wasn’t in one of the major conferences or Notre Dame to win the national title completed its perfect season on this day 35 years ago.

Led by legendary head coach LaVell Edwards, the BYU Cougars were 12-0 as they arrived at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego for the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 21, 1984. Led by a legend in its own right in Bo Schembechler, Michigan was just 6-5. The Wolverines would give BYU all it wanted, but in the end, the Cougars rallied for a 24-17 win.

Through three quarters, No. 1 BYU couldn’t get out of its own way. The Cougars led 10-7 at halftime, thanks to a field goal by Lee Johnson in the final seconds of the half, but the next 10 points belonged to Michigan.

A 10-yard touchdown pass from Chris Zurbrugg to Bob Perryman late in the third quarter gave Michigan its first lead. The Cougars turned the ball over on their ensuing possession, giving the Wolverines the ball in BYU territory.

Through three quarters, BYU had turned the ball over five times and had a field goal blocked. In the final quarter however, things would finally come together.

The turnover would lead to a Michigan field goal as Bob Bergeron connected from 32 yards out to make it 17-10. After leaving the game earlier with a strained knee, BYU quarterback Robbie Bosco proceeded to lead his team 80 yards in eight plays to tie the contest.

Boscoe completed six passes on the drive, including a 20-yard strike to Adam Haysbert on 3rd-and-8 to move into Michigan territory and keep the drive alive. With under 11 minutes to play in the contest, Boscoe capped the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Glen Kozlowski who made an incredible leaping catch to knot the game at 17.

Boscoe would throw his third interception of the night on the following BYU possession, but defensively, the Cougars refused to allow Michigan to make any real offensive threat. The Wolverines finished the night with just 202 yards of total offense and barely more than three yards per play. The BYU defense came away with four sacks.

With less than five minutes left, the Cougars got the ball back at their own 17-yard-line where they would begin an 83-yard march that will forever live in BYU lore. The Cougars had rallied to win the Holiday Bowl over Missouri the year before and squeaked out nail-biting victories over Pittsburgh, Hawaii, Wyoming and Air Force throughout the course of the 1984 season. With Boscoe at the helm, they did it again.

After getting the drive started with a 13-yard scramble, Boscoe completed four passes to move the ball to the Michigan 13-yard-line. After a first down drop, BYU went ahead for good as Boscoe found Kelly Smith for the game-winning 13-yard touchdown with 1:23 left in the contest.

Michigan turned the ball over just once on the night, but that came on its final drive as Marv Allen picked off Zurbrugg to seal the contest and put a national championship in the hands of the voters. Boscoe finished the night with 315 yards passing while BYU’s David Mills led all receivers with 103 yards receiving on 11 catches. Michigan’s Perryman was the top rusher with 110 yards on the ground while Lakei Heimuli led BYU in that category with 82 yards.

The Cougars finished with 483 yards, but had to overcome six turnovers and nine penalties to get the win to improve to 13-0 and finish as the nation’s lone undefeated team. When the final polls were released on Jan. 2, 1985, BYU received 38 of 60 first-place votes in the AP Poll and 24 of the 33 first-place votes in the UPI poll.

The Cougars were crowned national champions. The final game from that memorable season took place on this day 35 years ago.

University of Michigan
Deseret News

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