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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Las Vegas Bowl Recap: BYU 44, Oregon State 20

I don’t think you could have scripted a better MAACO Bowl Las Vegas for BYU. The defense shut down a prolific offense, forced turnovers, and even produced a touchdown. The offense was efficient, it continued to convert a high percentage of third downs, and it produced a lot of points. Throw in poor playing conditions (high winds and cold temperatures), and this became an instant BYU bowl classic. And don’t forget catching a few breaks, such as Oregon State holding on a punt that BYU fumbled, Oregon State holding on a third down to keep BYU’s first scoring drive alive, and Oregon State catching BYU unprepared for a fake punt only to have the Oregon State receiver stumble over his own feet when he had plenty of room to run for the first down.

The wind will get a lot of attention for impacting this game, but the real story is how BYU was savvy enough to adjust to the wind and mentally tough enough to stay on top of its game regardless of the conditions. Max Hall’s first pass was the only one impacted by the wind, while Sean Canfield completed less than 50% of his passes last night after completing 70% season long. BYU averaged 27 yards per punt into the wind, while Oregon State averaged 6 yards per punt into the wind.

The other story of this game was how BYU took Oregon State out of the game. Oregon State did show up. The Beavers came to play. They did not have a bowl hangover that we see sometimes. The defense was disrupting the BYU backfield and the offense put points on the board early. Then, BYU put together a 14-play, 84-yard touchdown drive into the driving wind to tie the game. On Oregon State’s ensuing possession, BYU jumped on an errant lateral from Canfield to Jaquizz Rodgers and ran it back for a touchdown. After that, the route was on. Momentum was on BYU’s side and the Cougars ran with it. BYU scored on its next two possessions and led 23-7 at halftime. A touchdown on the first possession of the second half put the game out of reach. While the BYU offense was piling on the points, the defense was throttling Oregon State’s high powered offense. Jaquizz Rodgers was contained, James Rodgers did not catch a pass in the first half, and Canfield could not find any rhythm or any receivers open down field.

As for what I was watching, here is what I saw:
  1. Is Sean Canfield legit? No, I cannot say he is. It appears his 70% completion percentage, 21 to 6 touchdown to interception ratio, and 3,000 yards passing had to do more with dinking and dunking to playmakers to get them the ball in space and let them make a play than Canfield being a real pro prospect. When your leading receiver only averaged 11.4 yards per catch for the season you are not throwing the ball downfield. I still think that defenses keying on Jaquizz Rodgers helped inflate Canfield’s numbers.
  2. Will a big game from Jaquizz Rodgers doom BYU? Rodgers ran for 63 yards on 18 carries and had 4 receptions for 13 yards. Obviously, he did not have a big game. Even if he did have a big game, I don’t think BYU would have been doomed. The way the offense was able to put up points I think would have still had a good chance to win.
  3. Will Max Hall keep his emotions in check? Hall ended his career in fashion. He was the game’s Most Valuable Player, and he threw three touchdown passes. Hall’s completion percentage does not do justice to his accuracy even in the wind. I lost track of how many passes were dropped. I think it was five. Nevertheless, he completed 63 percent of his throws. He never appeared to be flustered or to be forcing a throw to make a play.
  4. Will BYU match its most successful four year run? BYU won its 43rd game since the start of 2006. This stretch matches the school’s win total from 1978 to 1981, from 1981 to 1984, and from 1982 to 1985. ESPN was keen enough to point out that with this win BYU had won just as many games as Ohio State since the 2006 season began and trailed only Boise State, Florida, and Texas in total wins from 2006 to 2009.
  5. Which BYU defense will show up? The BYU defense played up to its potential. The defense held Oregon State to 7 points in the first quarter despite the Beavers starting its first two drives in BYU territory and never having less than 60 yards to drive for a touchdown. The defense returned a fumble for a touchdown to open the flood gates; it returned an interception 56 yards to diffuse a late rally. Oregon State averaged only 4.12 yards per play. Except for the pass interference penalty on 4th and goal, and the long touchdown pass in garbage time, I can’t find anything to complain about. The defense played a complete game.
Other things that I saw:
  • Field position was overwhelmingly in Oregon State’s favor to start the game. BYU did a great job of overcoming that obstacle. During my playing career I had one game with similar weather conditions and we were always trying to dig ourselves out of a hole, and it cost us the game. It is hard to overstate what BYU accomplished by coming out of the first quarter with a lead when the field position was the way it was.
  • BYU did well to adjust to Oregon State’s team speed. For the first couple of series you could see that on both sides of the ball BYU was not used to this much speed. The coaches and players did a great job of regrouping and adjusting. After that BYU was able to pull away by executing the game play they had prepared.
  • I said it before, but have to emphasize that BYU did not blow out Oregon State because Oregon State was having one of those infamous bowl letdowns. The Beavers came ready to play. You have to give BYU credit for outplaying a good team. Yeah, some bounces went BYU’s way, and BYU certainly capitalized on them. However, that is part of the game, and teams need to have enough character to not give up when those things happened. Maybe Oregon State quit early, but if they did, it wasn’t after the fumble return for a touchdown or the two 6-yard punts; it would have been after BYU built a 23-point lead in the third quarter. Even then, the Beavers started staging a comeback attempt in the fourth quarter.
  • The BYU seniors came up big in their final game. Max Hall has already been noted. Denis Pitta had 5 receptions for 45 yards and 1 touchdown. Matt Bauman returned the Jaquizz Rodgers fumble for a touchdown. Scott Johnson intercepted a pass deep in BYU territory and returned it 56 yards. Coleby Clawson, Shawn Doman, Jan Jorgensen, and Brett Denney were key cogs up front for the stellar defense. Andrew George made four grabs for 46 yards.
  • Manase Tonga, another senior, played a great game that went under the radar. He scored on a 15-yard touchdown reception and an 18-yard touchdown run. What I find interesting is that he probably would not have been on the team this year if he wasn’t forced to redshirt last year due to academic difficulties. How might have this game been different without him?
  • I don’t see how voters could deny BYU a top 10 ranking in the final polls. For all the hype surrounding Oregon State, for all the doubts about BYU, the overall dominant performance by BYU should silence critics and atone for the ugliness of the earlier losses. BYU beat Oregon State much more convincingly than both Oregon and Cincinnati; both are ranked in the top 10. BYU’s body of work this year merits this lofty of a ranking, especially if Florida State beats West Virginia on New Year’s Day (the Seminoles are traditionally very good in bowls).
  • BYU continued to set records. With the team’s third win in this bowl, BYU has now won more Las Vegas bowls than any other program. BYU scored the most points ever by an Oregon State opponent in a bowl game.
Next: Season over. I will post a recap of the 2009 season shortly after the final polls are released in early January 2010.

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