The way Thomas Jones ran against Brigham Young on Saturday night, maybe the Virginia Cavaliers should cross the Mississippi River more often.

BYU, stunned early by Virginia's size and speed, couldn't match up in the first 15 minutes. Jones finished with 210 rushing yards and the Cavaliers stopped the Cougars on a late drive for a 45-40 victory.

The Cougars (2-1) looked strong during wins over Washington and Colorado State, but trailed 21-0 Saturday before recognizing the skills of the Cavaliers (3-1).

"It took us a little while to realize they're a good team," defensive tackle Byron Frisch said.

The loss dropped the Cougars from No. 17 right out of the top 25. Virginia climbed in at No. 24.

Kevin Feterik, the nation's top passer before facing the Cavaliers, had a tough first quarter. He went 2 for 8 for nine yards with two interceptions, which Virginia converted into touchdowns.

Cavaliers quarterback Dan Ellis, who was 14 for 18 for 190 yards and three touchdowns, threw first-quarter scoring passes of 15 yards to Anthony Southern and 25 yards to Kevin Coffey. Jones added a 23-yard touchdown run.

But the Cougars gained momentum in the second quarter as Feterik, who finished 28 for 47 for 303 yards and three touchdowns, found his rhythm.

The Cougars pulled within 28-12 after scoring runs of two and 41 yards by freshman Luke Staley. Brian Gray's 28-yard interception return cut Virginia's lead to 28-19 at halftime.

The Cavaliers got a break on BYU's opening second-half series.

Feterik threw down the line and the ball went off Jonathan Pittman's hands for an apparent incompletion. Officials ruled it a lateral and Virginia cornerback Tim Spruill scooped the ball and ran 20 yards to make it 35-19.

"I felt good about our position coming out of the half," BYU Coach LaVell Edwards said. "The turnover off the lateral put us behind the eight-ball again."

The teams traded scores in a wide-open second half but the Cavaliers never relinquished their lead.

It seemed the Cougars might pull out the victory after their final touchdown. Feterik's pass was tipped at the goal line by Virginia's Antwan Harris, but tight end Carlos Nuno caught the deflection for a 19-yard score.

BYU got a final chance with 8:03 remaining, driving 78 yards to penetrate Virginia's 10. Freshman Jerton Evans ended the threat by intercepting Feterik's pass with 1:37 to play.

"I thought the gods were against us but somehow we hung on," Virginia Coach George Welsh said.

BYU, which gave up 110 yards on the ground in the first two games, hadn't allowed a 200-yard rusher since Raymont Harris gained 235 yards in Ohio State's 28-21 victory at the 1993 Holiday Bowl.

The Cavaliers, playing west of the Mississippi for the 11th time, were so confident about their running game that Welsh called a quarterback sneak on fourth and one on Virginia's 29 late in the third quarter.

"I felt it would work," Ellis said. "It would have been a mistake if we didn't go for it because we were running the ball so well."

Ellis carried for two yards and the Cavaliers continued on an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Ellis capped the march with a five-yard touchdown strike to Billy Baber, stretching the lead to 45-33.