The Brigham Young Cougars football team has a lot of holes in it as they try to make the most of spring practices. Fortunately, it is still spring and the 2012 team isn’t expected to see many holes come kickoff in September. That wasn’t the case 15 years ago for the 1997 Cougars.
Coming off a fantastic campaign in 1996, the 1997 BYU Cougars had several holes to fill, and they weren’t all due to graduation. Expected contributors to the 1997 team were lost for all or part of the season due to injury, honor code violations, and even death.
BYU suffered it first major blow for 1997 during the offseason. The 1996 WAC Mountain Division Freshman of the Year was forced to sit out a year for honor code violations. That made Brian McKenzie the lone ball carrier for the season. McKenzie didn’t wilt under the pressure.
McKenzie was a steady force for the Cougars out of the backfield. He rushed for over 100 yards in four games, including 112 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries against number 14 Arizona State. He had a season high 187 yards and two touchdowns against Tulsa. In an important early season conference game at SMU, McKenzie scored the game winning touchdown from 15-yards out in overtime.
At season’s end, McKenzie had 1,004 yards rushing to became only the second BYU player in 25 seasons to rush for over 1,000 yards. His 12 touchdowns led the team.
Leading up to game four against Utah State, BYU lost cornerback Terrence Harvey for the season when he lost his life in a car accident. Harvey was one of the starting cornerbacks in game three against SMU.
Ben Cook took over at cornerback. He finished the year with 41 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, and he led the team in passes defensed (9) and interceptions (2). Cook also helped the Cougars, as a team, limit the opposition to just 193.6 yards passing per game and a 50.7 completion percentage.
The Utah State game was also when starting quarterback Kevin Feterik went down with his first injury of the season. That night Paul Shoemaker stepped in with BYU trailing, but led the Cougars to 15 fourth quarter points, including one touchdown pass and a pass to convert a two-point after touchdown try, for a come from behind win.
Two weeks later, Feterik was sidelined, again. Shoemaker was there, again, to help BYU to victory. The next week, however, Shoemaker suffered injury. With Feterik still hurt, true freshman Drew Miller was needed. Against the TCU Horned Frogs, Miller completed 16 of 26 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns. He became the first true freshman to ever start at quarterback for BYU the next week.
The 1997 season isn’t one of the best seasons in BYU history. Filling the holes that resulted from adversity had an effect. However, BYU had enough character to finish with a non-losing record for the 24th consecutive season, to beat the number 14th ranked Arizona State Sun Devils, and to be ranked number 21 in the polls one month into the season.
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