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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Game Recap: BYU 26, Utah 23

This game had a familiar feel to it. BYU was able to create some separation from Utah on the scoreboard, but then the Cougar offense stalled and BYU could not put the game away. Therefore, the defense was fatigued and Utah was able to mount a comeback. Not until after they fell behind was BYU able to move the ball again to pull out the win. This time 26-23 in overtime. A 25-yard touchdown pass to Andrew George in overtime won the game after Utah forced overtime and then kicked a field goal to start overtime.

The BYU defense made the difference today. Although the defense let Utah drive the ball effectively for the first two drives, the defense bent but it did not break and held Utah to two field goals. Then the Cougar D cranked up the pressure and shut Utah down cold the rest of the half, including an interception by Andrew Rich that he returned 52 yards to set up a field goal just before the half. The defense continued its dominance through most of the third quarter as BYU built up a 20-6 lead. Then fatigue set in and Utah started to score again in the fourth quarter. Even then, the defense came up big, I mean real big, with five minutes to play in the game. BYU had just punted the ball back to Utah with the score now 20-17. After giving Utah five yards on a penalty, BYU did not allow a single yard as Utah threw three incomplete passes. Sadly, BYU could not get a first down on its ensuing drive, and Utah took advantage of a second chance to score a field goal and force overtime.

Special teams was very key in the victory as well. O’Neill Chambers had a 43 yard punt return to set up BYU’s first touchdown and first lead. Utah also committed two catch interference penalties on punts. One offset a BYU penalty that could have given Utah a new set of downs. The other gave BYU favorable field position to start its first drive of the second half; a drive that ended in a touchdown.

As for what I was watching for, here’s what I saw:
  1. Will BYU use a balanced passing and rushing attack on offense? 32 passes and 36 runs. Some may say BYU started running the ball too much in the fourth quarter and that prevented the Cougars from putting the game away, but I disagree. The play calling was not the problem, it was another aspect of the coaching (to be continued…).
  2. Will Max Hall have a good game? Hall clearly did not have a good game, but he did not have a bad game either. He managed the game in a way that allowed BYU to win. Some numbers were ugly: 37.5 completion percentage, 4.2 yards per attempt, and a 93.3 pass efficiency rating. Some numbers were pretty: 2 touchdown passes, zero interceptions, 3 runs for first downs. The touchdown passes were the first of his career against Utah. Two of his runs for first downs came on BYU’s first scoring drive. The other helped BYU get the upper hand in the field position battle.
  3. Will BYU keep their emotions in check? Early on BYU was hurt by its emotions. Manase Tonga earned a 15-yard penalty when BYU had the ball on the Utah five yard line and the Utah defense on its heels. BYU had to settle for a field goal. After that, BYU channeled their emotions for good between the whistles and came out victorious.
  4. Will Harvey Unga eclipse the 1,000 yard mark for the third year in a row? Yes, Unga logged 116 yard for the second year in a row against Utah. He has been the equalizer the last three years. While Utah has had Max Hall’s number, Unga has had Utah’s number. He scored the winning touchdown two years ago, and this year his contributions, which included another touchdown, were a big part of BYU’s win today. Unga is undoubtedly the most underrated back in the nation. Three 1,000 yard rushing seasons is a rare feat, especially with the way he has had to battle through injuries, yet he gets very little national publicity.
  5. Will Utah make a quarterback change if they are behind in the fourth quarter? Utah was down 14 points to start the fourth quarter, and after a 7 for 7 start, Jordan Wynn had played very ineffective. Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham did not pull his quarterback. Instead, he returned to the run game that Utah had abandoned. This helped Wynn play effective enough to score 14 fourth quarter points and force overtime.
Other things that I saw:
  • To continue number one above. I am scratching my head asking, “Why didn’t BYU use a timeout before one of those third downs in the fourth quarter to have more time to draw up a play and increase chances to convert the first down and put the game away?” We see teams do this every week. As it is, BYU did not use a single timeout in the second half or overtime.
  • The BYU-Utah rivalry will continue to be these nail biters until the BYU coaching staff does one of two things. BYU coaches need to either commit to the run and dominate and control the game that way, a la 1996, or they need to commit to understand Utah’s defensive pass schemes and better prepare whoever the quarterback is so that he can play effectively and attack the weaknesses in the Utah pass coverages.
  • Dennis Pitta should win the Mackey Award. When the second best tight end makes a game winning catch like Andrew George did, how could the best tight end on the team not be the best tight end in the country?
  • Dennis Pitta caught two passes, which was exactly what he needed to move ahead of Austin Collie as the all-time receptions leader in BYU history.
  • If I had a vote, it would be for Max Hall as the Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year, but his poor overall numbers in this game may cost him this piece of post-season hardware.
Next: Bowl game. Details are unknown at this time.

Game Preview: BYU vs. Utah

As if playing arch rival Utah wasn’t enough motivation, BYU has plenty of reasons to play their best ball on Saturday. First, it is senior day for 20 BYU players, including Max Hall, Dennis Pitta, Manase Tonga, Andrew George, Jan Jorgensen, Scott Johnson, and Coleby Clawson. After dropping two games at home for the first time in four years, the seniors want to finish their careers with a win at home and add to their overall dominance at home. Second, it can be another record breaking day for the Cougars. Dennis Pitta can break the school’s record for receptions in a career with just two catches and a win will give the school at least 10 wins for four consecutive years for the first time in school history. Third, Pitta can win the Mackey Award with a strong performance today. He is by far the best tight end in the country, and the latest in a long line of great tight ends at BYU.

Utah comes into the game having a better year than I expected. Having lost the starting quarterback to graduation, and two defensive stars to the NFL from last year’s Sugar Bowl Champion team, I expected the Utes to have one or two more losses coming into this game. As it is, Utah’s only losses have come to TCU and Oregon on the road. All signs point to another game that goes down to the wire, unless Utah has poor quarterback play. Poor quarterback play by Max Hall led to Utah’s large margin of victory last year. This year Utah will start freshman Jordan Wynn at quarterback; his fourth career start. Utah has a solid run game and a traditionally stout defense. The difference in this game will come down to how well Wynn plays. Freshman quarterbacks across the country have had some shining moments this year, but recently they have had some tough “learning experiences.” The BYU defense should have prepared some defensive blitzes and schemes to disrupt the Utah backfield to take advantage of Wynn’s inexperience. BYU should be able to contain Wynn better than the quarterbacks for Florida State and TCU. Christian Ponder is a legitimate NFL prospect, and Andy Dalton is in his third year starting for the Horned Frogs.

Here’s some other things that I will be watching:
  1. Will BYU use a balanced passing and rushing attack on offense? In 2008, BYU trailed Utah 27-24 late in the third quarter, but the momentum was clearly on BYU’s side. The Cougars used the ground game to score a touchdown on its last possession. The play calling abandoned the run at this point, and Hall turned the ball over on every BYU possession for the rest of the game. Bronco Mendenhall acknowledged BYU’s need to maintain a balanced attack following the Florida State game this year. Unga has been limited by some nagging injuries lately, but Tonga, Bryan Kariya, and J.J. DiLuigi can fill in nicely if injuries limit Unga’s playing time this week.
  2. Will Max Hall have a good game? In two previous outings against Utah, Hall has not had a good statistical game. In fairness, he did connect with Austin Collie for 49 yards on 4th and 18 in 2007 on the game winning drive, but he has not completed more than 51 percent of his passes in a game against Utah, he has zero passing touchdowns, he has not thrown for more than 269 yards, and he has thrown 6 interceptions. Hall has played better this year in big games against Oklahoma and TCU than he did in big games last year.
  3. Will BYU keep their emotions in check? Last week against Air Force, BYU let their emotions get the best of them after the officials called back a touchdown on a controversial penalty for attempting to deceive. Rather than kicking the field goal on fourth down, BYU went for the touchdown. The result was an interception. Fortunately for BYU the game was so out of reach, and it was so much the better team that this interception did not impact who won the game. This week such a play could be the difference between a win and loss. It is alright for BYU to play with added emotion in this game. The emotions become a problem when they start to impair judgment.
  4. Will Harvey Unga eclipse the 1,000 yard mark for the third year in a row? No BYU back has ever had three 1,000 yard rushing seasons in a career. Unga is 100 yards away from his third consecutive 1,000 yard rushing season. This is more impressive considering the fact that he sat out almost all of the first two games, and went to the bench early in two other games this year for injuries. He ran for 116 yards on 15 carries last year against Utah and 141 yards on 23 carries the year before.
  5. Will Utah make a quarterback change if they are behind in the second half? About 10 years ago, Utah had a quarterback situation similar to today. The quarterback that started the year was benched and did not start the BYU game. During the BYU game coach Ron McBride switched quarterbacks, which enabled the Utes to come back from a large deficit and take a lead in the fourth quarter or to win the game. This happened a couple of times. Does Kyle Whittingham make the same move as McBride if Jordan Wynn is not playing well and the Utes find themselves behind by a couple of scores late in the second half? BYU has prepared for Wynn, so Terrance Cain would present an unknown element that could give life to the Utah offense and be the difference between a win and a loss.
Kickoff: 3:00 PM (MST)
TV: CBS College Sports and The Mtn.
Radio: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

Friday, November 27, 2009

Remembering the Rivalry: BYU 33, Utah 31 (2006)

After the two classic wins in 2000 and 2001, BYU dropped the next four in the series. The first three were part of losing campaigns with Gary Crowton at the helm. The fourth was a heartbreaking overtime loss in Bronco Mendenhall’s first year as head coach. By the time that BYU and Utah met on the gridiron in 2006, BYU was riding an 8 game win streak, had won the Mountain West Conference outright, and was headed to the Las Vegas Bowl. Utah was 7-4 overall, so this game was only for bragging rights.

BYU jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but fell behind 24-14 after three quarters of play. Two fourth quarter touchdowns put BYU back up 27-24 with about three minutes to play. Utah then drove 83 yards in 9 plays to score a go ahead touchdown with only 1:19 left.

John Beck drove the Cougars down to the 11-yard line with three seconds to play. On the final play of the game, Beck dropped back to pass, scrambled out of the pocket to the left, and could not find an open receiver. He then rolled back to the right. At the last possible moment before the Utah pass rush finally got to the senior quarterback, Beck spotted senior tight end Jonny Harline all alone in the end zone. Beck threw back across his body, across the field, and got just enough on the ball that Harline could catch it on his knees two yard deep in the end zone for a 33-31 win.

BYU went on to finish the year 11-2, capped off by a 38-8 Las Vegas Bowl win over Oregon. John Beck was the MWC offensive player of the year and Bronco Mendenhall was the American Football Coaches Association Region IV Coach of the Year.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Is BYU BCS Bound?

This week the BCS released its list of finalists for the 9 remaining BCS bowl spots. Ohio State has already guaranteed its spot in the Rose Bowl as Big 10 Champ. Included on the list is 9-2 BYU. At this point, BYU would have to be an at-large selection, which means BYU “must have nine regular-season victories and must be ranked in the top 14 of the final BCS standings, which will be compiled on December 6.” The Cougars are currently 19 in the BCS standings.

It is not impossible for BYU to move up the five spots necessary to qualify. Oklahoma State faces a tough test against Oklahoma despite the Sooners overall record. Oregon State faces Oregon in the Civil War. Clemson will play Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. Miami’s quarterback is banged up and the Hurricanes still have a game against South Florida.

Regardless of BYU’s final position, BYU will not play in a BCS bowl. The BCS is playing a game of politics. Last year, BYU was number 18 in the BCS standings when the list of finalists was released and the Cougars were not on it. Even if TCU and Boise State lose all of their remaining games, one of them, at least, will be ranked above BYU, and that school will get the automatic berth for the school from the non-automatic qualifying conferences in the top 12.

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Remembering the Rivalry: BYU 24, Utah 21 (2001)

What a difference a year makes. This year BYU and Utah entered this game with a 17-2 combined record, as opposed to the 11-12 combined record the year before. BYU was the nation’s highest scoring team. Brandon Doman was now 12-0 as a starter and running back Luke Staley was rewriting the BYU record books. Utah, however, kept the BYU offense contained as Utah built a 21-10 fourth quarter lead.

In danger of losing their first game of the season, the BYU offense came to life. Doman connected with Staley for a 7-yard touchdown pass with just under four minutes to play. Moments later, Staley took a pitch from Doman and raced down the sidelines untouched for a 30-yard score. Using a tackle eligible pass play, Utah made one last effort to win the game and drove the ball down to the BYU 30-yard line. Lance Rice dropped back to pass and threw a pass out to the left flat. Cornerback Jernaro Gilford, who had injured his ankle earlier in the game, stepped in front of the pass, intercepted it, and returned it 50 yards before being tackled.

The 24-21 win moved the Cougars to 11-0 on the year and clinched the schools first outright Mountain West Conference championship. Luke Staley went on to win the Doak Walker award. The win also kept the pressure on the BCS to invite BYU to one of its lucrative bowls as the Cougars moved up to number 12 in the BCS standings.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Remembering the Rivalry: BYU 37, Utah 17 (1996)

After dominating the series and losing only twice from 1972 to 1992, BYU suffered three straight losses from 1993 through 1995. The 1996 game ended this skid in an astounding way. Since his six touchdown passes and over 530 yards passing in the opener, Steve Sarkisian had led an aerial attack that was among the tops in the nation. On this day, however, Sarkisian took a back seat to the one-two punch of Brian McKenzie and Ronny Jenkins. Each back repetitively ripped off 10, 15 and 20 yard runs on their way to over 300 combined rushing yards. The Utes were stunned and could not make adjustments to stop the ground attack. Sarkisian finished the day 7-12 for 70 yards.

The BYU defense played well, too. Oversized running back Chris Fuamatu-Maafala was held in check with only one rush over 10 yards.

With the 37-17 win, BYU moved to 12-1 on the year, and clinched the Mountain Division of the 16-team Western Athletic Conference (WAC).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Remembering the Rivalry: BYU 70, Utah 31 (1989)

This is the first in a series of flashbacks to classic BYU-Utah games leading up to the 2009 edition of the “Holy War.”

The 1989 BYU-Utah game was one for the ages. The year before, BYU lost to Utah for only the second time in the LaVell Edwards era, and it was not pretty–57-28. This year, it was Utah’s turn to walk into an ambush, and, to make matters worse, the Utes’ starting quarterback Scott Mitchell was injured on the last play of the last practice before the game.

The BYU offense, led by sophomore quarterback Ty Detmer, torched the Utah defense on its way to 49 first half points. The BYU defense held serve and kept Utah scoreless for most of the first 30 minutes. When the game concluded, Detmer had posted what is still the most efficient day for a BYU quarterback, 18-22, 358 yards, 4 TDs, and a 278.5 passer efficiency rating. Speedy running back Stacey Corley ripped off an 81-yard touchdown run in the second half as BYU finished the game with a 70-31 win. The 70 points scored is still the most points scored by either team in the history of this rivalry.

The win moved BYU to 9-2 on the season and one game away from clinching the school’s first Holiday Bowl berth since 1984.

Reaction to the Rankings: BYU Cracks The Top 15

Voters in the USA Today and Harris polls moved BYU up to 15 this week following an impressive 38-21 win against Air Force. I am pleased with the number 15 ranking and it makes me think that with two strong wins to end the year a top 10 finish is not impossible, provided the teams ahead of the Cougars lose.

BYU is number 18 and 19 in the AP poll and BCS standings, respectively. I am not please to see so many three-loss teams ahead of BYU in these rankings. Virginia Tech, Clemson, LSU, Oregon State (and Miami in the BCS) are all ahead of BYU. Hopefully, a win against Utah coupled with losses by some of these other teams (Oregon State vs. Oregon, Clemson in the ACC Championship game) will propel BYU to its proper spot in these rankings.

I would say let’s just focus on Utah this week, and then worry about the rankings. What is your reaction to the rankings?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Game Recap: BYU 38, Air Force 21

It was another historic meeting between the BYU Cougars and the Air Force Falcons. Records were falling as the Falcons fell to 7-5 with a 38-21 loss to BYU. The heralded BYU offense came out firing on all cylinders. Harvey Unga set the BYU career rushing record, the first junior to accomplish this feat at BYU. Max Hall set the Mountain West Conference (MWC) career records for total offense and passing. He moved into second all-time at BYU in these categories and in touchdown passes. Hall had five on the day as BYU put this game away early. The BYU defense was impressive as the unit held the Air Force run game well below its season average for rushing yards and caused four turnovers.

BYU took advantage of its size as Hall completed 14 passes for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns to tight ends. Dennis Pitta notched 9 receptions for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns to inch up the BYU receiving lists into second in receptions and fourth in receiving yards. He needs three receptions in two games to eclipse Austin Collie as the all-time leader in receptions.

As for what I was watching for, here is what I saw:
  1. Will Harvey Unga break the career rushing record? Yes, he is now up to 3,268 yards with one year and two games of eligibility left. If he can just stay away from injuries. He suffered another minor injury that limited his carries and sent him to the bench early.
  2. Will BYU avoid a losing record at home? Yes, the Cougars are now 3-2 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in 2009 with one game to go. A win next week will be the fourth consecutive year with a winning record at home.
  3. Will Max Hall win his 30th game as a starter? Yes, Max Hall has won more games as a starter than anyone else, with two games to go. However, Ty Detmer, who is now second place, did come off the bench to lead at least two comeback wins as a freshman.
  4. Will the game be a blowout, shootout, or defensive battle? BYU blew this one open early and led 38-13 with two minutes to play. The time of possession was even, and without the threat of the passing game, BYU stopped the run much better than it did against Florida State.
Here is what else I saw:
  • BYU handed Air Force its worst loss of the year. The cadets had not lost by more than 7 points all year.
  • Questionable officiating made this game closer than it could have been. Dennis Pitta pass interference and the touchdown called back because Hall was deceptive.
  • O’Neill Chambers caught his first touchdown of the season. He has had a solid sophomore year and he should catch many more tds before his career is done.
  • Air Force attempted seven fourth down conversions. Another subtle sign of how BYU controlled this game and made Air Force play catch up.
  • I know this sounds like second guessing, but it is how I felt before the play was made. I would have gone with a run call on the fourth and goal following the bizarre penalty of trying to deceive. With all the emotion in that sequence, I would take the size advantage along the line and BYU’s hard runners to pound it into the end zone. I think every Air Force player would have ended 5 yards deep in the end zone.
Next: Utah, Saturday, November 28, 2009, 3 pm (MST)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Game Preview: BYU vs. Air Force

Saturday marks the 30th meeting between BYU and the Air Force Academy. This series has included some historical meetings: BYU and Air Force met in 1982 in the first game played at newly expanded Cougar Stadium, as it was called back then; BYU and Air Force met in 1985 as two top 10 teams; and in 1998 they met in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Championship game.

History also shows that this series has been one of the most lopsided serieses in BYU history. BYU has won 23 of the 29 contests between the two schools. However, the last 12 meetings have been more evenly matched, with BYU holding a 7-5 advantage. One hallmark of BYU teams has been their ability to effectively prepare for the Falcons’ option attack. Many BYU victories have been blowouts. Last year was not one of them. BYU trailed at halftime, but charged to a 14 point win after a fiery Austin Collie pep talk during the break.

This year, in addition to their style of play, Air Force has every Cougars’ attention for its play against the other top two Mountain West Conference (MWC) teams. The cadets lost to TCU and Utah by a combined score of 43-33. Tim Jefferson is in his second year leading the offense and the Falcons backfield is loaded with playmakers. As usual, BYU will have a decided size advantage, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.

Here is what I will be watching for:
  1. Will Harvey Unga break the career rushing record? I know I am starting to sound like a broken record, but this should be the week. He is 20 yards away from tying the record. If he does not break the record, something went seriously wrong.
  2. Will BYU avoid a losing record at home? Currently, the Cougars are 2-2 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in 2009. They must win this game to ensure they will not have a losing record at home. Such an idea would have been heresy before this year, now it is a stark reality.
  3. Will Max Hall win his 30th game as a starter? Max Hall will stand alone on the all-time wins list for BYU quarterbacks with a BYU win. With the rivalry game with Utah coming next week, I would much rather see Hall get the win this week. The fewer the distractions the better for the game against the Utes.
  4. Will the game be a blowout, shootout, or defensive battle? After the score to the New Mexico game last week, we should be ready for any outcome. If Air Force is able to control the clock with its run game, we could see a low scoring game similar to last week. Florida State was able to run at will against BYU, and if Air Force could replicate the Seminoles success we might see a high scoring shootout. The last 8 games in this series have been decided by 14 points or more, and 4 of those were by 21 or more.
Kickoff: 1:30 PM (MST)
TV: CBS College Sports
Radio: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reaction to the Rankings: BYU Stuck at 22 in the BCS

The new polls are out, and BYU has made some ground in the human polls, but the computer polls prevented any advancement in the BCS standings, notwithstanding numbers 14 through 17 all losing this weekend. Oregon State and Stanford leapfrogged BYU in the rankings.

In the USA Today poll BYU is up four spots and is a clear cut 18 (over 100 points separates the Cougars from number 17 and number 19). BYU is up three spots in the AP poll edging out Oregon State for number 19. The Harris Poll has the Cougars at 18, which is another four spot improvement.

I was surprised to see the voters got it right this time. They normally penalize teams for ugly wins, but reward them for pretty losses. Even though BYU survived on the road at winless New Mexico, the voters still moved BYU up. When are the computer polls going to stop underestimating the value of an ugly win? How many times does a Tennessee have to lose to an Alabama 12-10, or a West Virginia to a Cincinnati 24-21, or a lowly Pac-10 team to beat a top-5 USC team for the computers to realize that all bets are off in conference play, especially conference play in November? A win is a win and a loss is a loss, period.

What bothers me the most about the rankings and the BCS standings this week is how LSU was treated. The Tigers struggled to beat a bottom of the pack Western Athletic Conference (WAC) team. Yet, the BCS average for LSU improved from 0.6138 to 0.6648, while the BCS average for Boise State, who is criticized for its weak WAC schedule, dropped from 0.8126 to 0.7950 and from 6 to 7 in the computer poll averages. Boise State beat Idaho this week, who is 7-4 on the season and one of the top WAC teams, 63-25.

The BCS is an unfair, biased system, so while I am glad to see the human polls reward BYU, I am frustrated to see BYU and others struggle to move up in the BCS standings.

What is your reaction to the rankings?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Game Recap: BYU 24, New Mexico 19

It wasn’t always pretty, but a win is a win. New Mexico delivered another Lobo special. Over the years Cougar fans have learned to be happy with any kind of win against New Mexico. Just like Oregon State and Stanford have repeatedly upset USC the last few years, New Mexico is that conference foe whose familiarity with BYU results in a game that is often closer than it should be.

In 1996, BYU often registered blowout victories on its way to a 14-1 record. The New Mexico game was 17-14. The high powered 2001 team with Luke Staley and Brandon Doman that started 12-0 squeaked out a 24-20 win against New Mexico. Just last year, BYU won 21-3 in Provo in a game that was closer than the final score indicated.

At the half it looked like BYU was going to pull away. After giving up a touchdown on the opening drive, the defense had shut down New Mexico. The Cougar offense had scored on three of its last four possessions. The lone exception was an interception deep in Lobo territory. You have to credit New Mexico for giving their best when they had no incentives.

As for what I was watching, here is what I saw:
  1. Will Harvey Unga set the career rushing record? He logged 50 yards on eleven attempts. Next week should be the day the record goes down.
  2. Will Max Hall tie Ty Detmer for most career wins as a starting QB for BYU? Yes. Hall performed well (21-33, 314, 2 TD, 1 INT, Passer Rating 157.5), and he will get the credit as the starter, but this was truly a team victory. The defense stepped up when it had to; the offense built an early lead; the special teams blocked a field goal.
  3. Will the new 4-3 defense for New Mexico be effective? Only 24 points and a chance to win in the fourth quarter, I would say the New Mexico defense did its job. Whether it is a 4-3 or the 3-3-5, New Mexico regularly finds ways to shut down BYU’s potent scoring attack.
  4. Will Jan Jorgensen reclaim the MWC sack record? He did get one sack, at a particularly critical moment, too. That sack did put him back in the lead, but Jerry Hughes still has to play today.
  5. Will BYU have its first undefeated season on the road since 1984? Yes. It didn’t come easy, but they have accomplished something special. That we might not see again for a long time.
Other observations:
  • Max Hall is making strides to strengthen his legacy at BYU. After surpassing Jim McMahon in passing yards earlier this season, Hall is now tied with McMahon for second most touchdown passes in school history with 84. Hall also had his second consecutive 300 yard passing day to put him within 400 yards of second place on career passing yards list.
  • Andrew George and Dennis Pitta remind me of the Chad Lewis and Itula Mili days. No doubt, BYU has the best tight end tandem in the country. Pitta gets the attention, but George has routinely made big plays and on any other team he would be the starter.
  • Kick blocking is becoming a special teams specialty. Since the blocked field goal to win the Las Vegas Bowl in 2007, BYU has been blocking kicks on a regular basis. Andrew Rich’s blocked field goal attempt proved to be very valuable in helping the team win today.
Next: November 21 vs. Air Force

Friday, November 13, 2009

Game Preview: BYU at New Mexico

When Rocky Long abruptly resigned as head coach for New Mexico during the offseason, no one expected what would transpire next. The 2009 season has been marred by a winless record and a new head coach accused of physically agressing an assistant coach. It is well known that head coaching transitions can be hard, but they are not supposed to be this hard, are they? The one bright spot for New Mexico is linebacker Carmen Messina. He is leading the nation in tackles with a mind blowing 127. This is the last “easy” opponent on BYU’s schedule before finishing the year with a tough home stand hosting Air Force and Utah. Bronco Mendenhall would love to rest the starters for another 20 minutes of game time just as he was able to last week at Wyoming.

Here is what I will be watching:
  1. Will Harvey Unga set the career rushing record? He is now 90 yards away, which isn’t guaranteed. (He has averaged 75.5 yards per game against New Mexico in his career.) However, Utah had two 100 yard rushers last week against the Lobos.
  2. Will Max Hall tie Ty Detmer for most career wins as a starting QB for BYU? With a win, Hall will have won 29 games as a starter for BYU. Only the 1990 Heisman Trophy winner has done the same for BYU.
  3. Will the new 4-3 defense for New Mexico be effective? After years of the unorthodox 3-3-5 defensive scheme at New Mexico that was able to have its fair share of success shutting down BYU’s routinely high powered offense, the Lobos have switched to a more conventional 4-3 defensive front.
  4. Will Jan Jorgensen reclaim the MWC sack record? Jorgensen set the MWC career sack record last year as a junior. However, Jerry Hughes at TCU has stormed ahead of Jorgensen and has taken a slim lead. Jorgensen logged 1.5 sacks last week against Wyoming. Two or three more against New Mexico will go a long way to helping Jorgensen reclaim that record.
  5. Will BYU have its first undefeated season on the road since 1984? The last three years BYU was undefeated at home, now they are on the verge of doing the opposite. No BYU team has won all its games on the road for 25 years. The 1985, 1987, 1989, 1994, 1996, 1999, and 2001 teams came close losing just once on the road, but none has won them all.
Kickoff: 12:00 PM (MST)
Television: The Mtn.
Radio: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reaction to the Rankings: BYU is a Solid 22

A new set of rankings is out and BYU is a solid number 22. The Associated Press (AP), the USA Today (Coaches), the Harris polls, and, most importantly, the BCS Standings all have BYU at 22.

The only complaint I have against that is seeing three-loss Virginia Tech ahead of the Cougars. Right now, about half (12 of 25) of the teams in the BCS standings are two-loss teams, but based on the season to date, I find it hard to justify ranking BYU above any of the nine two-loss teams ahead of it. However, I feel good about BYU’s chances against Oklahoma State, Penn State, and maybe Wisconsin. I think BYU could pull off the win if they played LSU. Yes, I know that LSU is the highest rated two-loss team, but I think that is an inflated ranking. LSU has failed to impress me all year long. Plus, when you remind all those Gary Crowton recruits, especially those on defense, that he is the offensive coordinator for LSU, I think a BYU win is not unreasonable.

What is your reaction to the rankings?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Game Recap: BYU 52, Wyoming 0

Was that a game or a highlight show? BYU scored on its first seven possessions. Max Hall was a flawless 20 of 22 for 312 yards and 4 touchdown passes, while the ground game piled up 231 yards. The defense pitched a shutout. It was the units best performance of the year since the opener against Oklahoma allowing only 225 total yards (113 passing, 112 rushing), forcing three turnovers, and holding the Cowboys to a 33.3% third-down conversion percentage. BYU punted only once. Two weeks after almost nothing went right, almost nothing went wrong for the Cougars.

As for what I was watching for, here is what I saw:
  1. Will BYU let the loss to TCU affect them? First half stats: Max Hall was 16 of 17 for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns, the defense forced three, three-and-outs, and the score was 31-0. I think that answers my question. As I said, “If they used the loss as motivation, this game could be over by halftime.”
  2. Will Harvey Unga break the BYU career rushing record? No. Unga gained about half of what he needed, 85 yards, on 16 carries. He did suffer a minor ankle injury in the third quarter, but that had a negligible, if any, impact on his numbers for the game. He should get the 90 yards he still needs next week.
  3. Will BYU minimize turnovers? Yes, but they had some close calls. O’Neill Chambers fumbled a punt, but BYU quickly recovered it. Riley Nelson threw an interception that was negated by offsetting penalties.
  4. Will McKay Jacobson have an impact? The sophomore speedster scored on a 79-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter en route to a 3 reception 100 yard performance in the first half. Personally, I feel that aside from his stats, he had an intangible impact that helped Max Hall have the best game of his career.
Other observations:
  • It was good to see so many reserves get so much quality time, but it would have been nice to see Riley Nelson throw some passes.
  • The most ironic twist of this game was after BYU kicked a field goal on its eighth possession of the game, the officials reviewed the play and found that BYU had 12 men on the field, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty and a rekick. The second kick failed. The irony of it all was that the first kick was almost equivalent to an extra point. The 15-yard penalty put the ball at approximately the same distance as the extra point try by Washington last year following the controversial Jake Locker celebration penalty. As we all remember, BYU blocked Washington’s extra point attempt, and won the game 28-27. While Washington lost more (a chance to force overtime and possibly win the game) than BYU lost today (a chance to score on every possession), I found the similarities quirky enough to point out.
  • I like the stable of running backs that the Cougars have quietly loaded. Brian Kariya and J.J. Di Luigi are a nice combo who provide insurance for those times that Unga is on the sidelines.
Next week: BYU at New Mexico, 2:00 PM (MST)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Game Preview: BYU vs. Wyoming

After the bye week, the Cougars are hitting the home stretch. This week’s opponent has provided little competition for BYU the last few years, but Wyoming has caught my attention this year. First year head coach Dave Christensen has already matched last year’s win total (4), and he inspired the Cowboys enough to give Texas a scare back in September. To me, Wyoming is always a wild-card. They are the only team in the Mountain West Conference (MWC) that has the really high peaks and really low valleys, and each year you never know where the team will fall on the spectrum. The weather does not look like it will be much of a factor.

Here is what I will have my eyes on:
  1. Will BYU let the loss to TCU affect them? The mental state of the team since that loss is hugely important. Its importance is compounded by the fact that last week was a bye, so they have had to wait two weeks to get that bad, losing taste out of their mouths. If they were dwelling on the loss, that might let Wyoming hang around and pull off an upset in the end. If they used the loss as motivation, this game could be over by halftime.
  2. Will Harvey Unga break the BYU Career Rushing Record? Unga is now within striking distance (155 yards) of Curtis Brown’s three year old record. The most yards Unga has gained in one game this year is 149 (UNLV).
  3. Will BYU minimize turnovers? BYU has been turnover prone this year, and this may be the biggest reason they are not undefeated at this point. Not only do they turn the ball over, but they turn the ball over at critical moments in the game.
  4. Will McKay Jacobson have an impact? The speedy game-breaker should return from his hamstring injury. While O’Neill Chambers and others stepped up in his absence, Jacobson is still the team’s greatest deep threat.
Kickoff: 12:00 PM
Television: The Mtn.
Radio: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM