Mendenhall was right—execution matters most

Brigham Young Cougars fans have gotten tired of hearing head coach Bronco Mendenhall continually stress the importance of execution and how that would be the key for his team to win games. Whether it is trite or overly simplistic, execution is exactly why BYU lost to Notre Dame. If BYU had executed better in five simple ways, then BYU would have left South Bend victorious.

  1. Route Running.
On the first series of the second half, BYU picked up a first down and on the next third down, BYU needed six yards to keep the drive alive. Kaneakua Friel ran a five-yard route. He was immediately tackled after he caught the ball, thus BYU was one yard short of the first down and had to punt.

At this juncture in the game, Notre Dame couldn’t stop BYU on offense without a mental mistake. On their final three drives of the first half, BYU scored two touchdowns and gained 19 yards on three plays as BYU tried to run out the clock out just before halftime. Now, BYU had the ball again and was moving again.

If Friel runs a good route, meaning he runs past the first down marker, then the drive keeps going. BYU’s chances of scoring at that point were high. Already up 14-7, another score would have made a huge difference.

  1. Accurate placekicking.
On BYU’s next possession following the Friel grab that was a yard short, the Cougars offense drove 46 yards to set up a 46-yard field goal attempt. This distance is a little on the long side for a field goal, but still a very make-able distance. In fact, scholarship FBS placekickers are expected to make this kick most of the time. In any case, missing it wide, wide, wide left is not acceptable.

The game was still 14-7. Pushing that lead to 17-7 with 6:31 to play in the third quarter would have really changed the complexion of the game. Notre Dame might have abandoned its plan to run so much and start throwing the ball more.

  1. Play assignment sound football.
Notre Dame scored its go-ahead touchdown running a reverse on the two-yard line. Joe Sampson had a chance to make a play on the ball carrier, but he missed. In reality, however, the ball carrier would have never made it to Sampson if BYU was playing assignment sound defense.

Notre Dame had faked the reverse after handing the ball off to a running back almost every play on that drive, and possibly even on the drive before. It should have been obvious that Notre Dame was going to give it to that guy eventually. Overly eager to make a play to prevent a touchdown, Kyle Van Noy left his responsibility to contain and jumped the running back diving straight ahead.

This time, Notre Dame had faked the handoff to the running back and gave the ball to the receiver coming around the back on the reverse. If Van Noy had been doing his assignment to keep containment, then he would have tackled the ball carrier just as he received the ball. That would have resulted in a 7-yard loss, and forced Notre Dame to kick another field goal.

Notre Dame would have still trailed BYU 14-13.

  1. Missed tackles.
Twice in the second half, Daniel Sorensen was in position to tackle Notre Dame ball carriers short of the first down, but he didn’t wrap up and Notre Dame got first downs. The first play was the final play of the third quarter. Notre Dame had 2nd and 5. Sorensen could have made the tackle near the line of scrimmage and forced a 3rd and 5—a down and distance that Notre Dame had struggled with all game. Sorensen didn’t wrap up the ball carrier and take him to the ground, so he got eight yards and a first down. The drive ended with Notre Dame scoring a touchdown.

The second missed tackle came when Notre Dame was trying to run the final six minutes off the clock. On 3rd and 5 with 3:18 to play, ball on the Notre Dame 37-yard line, Notre Dame ran the ball. Sorensen had a clean shot at the player, and could have stopped him a yard short of the first down. Subsequently, Notre Dame would have punted, and BYU would have had nearly 2:30 to drive for a game winning touchdown or game tying field goal.

Sorensen just hit the guy. He didn’t grab onto him and drop him immediately to the turf. Sorensen’s hit knocked the ball carrier off balance, but he didn’t fall to the ground until he had gained six yards—enough for a first down. The drive was still alive, and BYU wouldn’t get the ball back until just 22 seconds remained.

  1. Accurate passing.
The last, but not least, execution error that cost BYU the game is accurate passing. Riley Nelson missed open receivers on BYU’s first and last scoring opportunities.

First, the only reason Nelson threw his first interception was that he threw the ball poorly. It was behind his intended receiver, which resulted in the player reaching back to try and catch it. He tipped the ball up and the linebacker in pursuit ran right under it. If Nelson throws the ball two more feet to the right, that is a catch that is good for at least 10 yards. BYU was moving the ball well, and could have finished that drive with points if not for the interception.

Second, the egregious inaccurate throw. Notre Dame had just gone up 17-14. BYU was trying to answer Notre Dame’s score and at least send the game to overtime. On 1st and 10 at the Notre Dame 46-yard line, Cody Hoffman got loose behind his defender. Nelson spotted him, and threw a pass that didn’t get anywhere near Hoffman. A catch wasn’t a sure score, since Notre Dame had a safety deeper than Hoffman on the other side of the field, but a huge gain to the 10-yard line is probably the “worst case scenario” of a Hoffman catch.

Notre Dame may have been bigger, faster, and stronger than BYU. Notre Dame had the home field advantage, but BYU would have won the game, if they could have executed better.  

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at