Random Musings: BYU v. UCF
Another week, another heartbreak — though this one was different in-kind from the experience last week against Utah State. If Taysom Hill’s season-ending injury felt like being crushed by a falling and unseen comet, the last-second loss to Central Florida was like being tied to the tracks of a lofty railroad bridge, jiggling free from the rope after much tribulation, and eluding the oncoming train only to trip and fall unceremoniously to your own death. Few games have provided such a range of emotional eventualities — BYU was going to lose big, then BYU was going to win big, then BYU was going to win a close one, and finally, BYU lost a close one. Fandom, like love, really is a form of socially acceptable insanity.
THE SOUND OF SILENCE — “Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again. When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of pass interference plight. That split the night. And touched the sound of silence.” Warrior poets Simon and Garfunkel looked forward to a humid Thursday night when a national-TV audience witnessed one of the most atrocious end-of-game calls I have ever seen. On a 4th down and 3 during BYU’s first overtime possession, Jordan Leslie was grabbed, mauled, rummaged, and interfered with. The pass thrown his way hit the ground, the official kept the flag in his pocket, and the Cougars were left with the bitterest of tastes in their mouths.
Look, officials make mistakes. And the sum of a game is more than a single play. I get that. But the idea that referees can’t be criticized because it “shouldn’t have come to that” is disingenuous mostly because it’s zero-sum and partially because it’s just dumb. Why can’t both of those things be true? Yes, BYU had chances to put the game away before that. So did UCF. Why does BYU have to accept a sudden discarding of the rules of the game as would-be justice for failing to take advantage of previous opportunities? How myopic. The referee completely, absolutely, and utterly whiffed by failing to see two penalties committed within a two-second time frame. Jordan Leslie beat his man to the spot, was impeded, and his defender deserved to be given the reprimand.
It is a stain on the game for the rules to be enforced differently depending on how much time remains on the clock. Pass interference is pass interference whether it is committed on the first play from scrimmage or the last — whether there is no score, a tie score, or a lopsided score. BYU played its tail off and to have its chance to tie the game taken away is a travesty and the officiating crew should be reprimanded for their nonfeasance.
POLYNESIAN POWER — Football is a physical game and Brigham Young University is lucky to have a stable of running backs on the roster who symbolize the beautiful destruction evident in the game we love. With Jamaal Williams suffering an ankle injury on BYU’s first play from scrimmage, the load was left to Paul Lasike and Algie Brown. What followed was a potent performance from both punishing Polynesian power backs.
Brown and Lasike, whether catching the ball out of the backfield or taking a handoff between the tackles, sought out UCF defenders as a pride of lions seeks out prey. On a swing pass early in the third quarter, Algie Brown delivered a punishing blow to a UCF defender with a ferocity that fired up the entire BYU sideline. I witnessed Mr. Brown exude more pure and undefiled masculinity in one play than I have mustered in 28 years of existence. And it showed post-game, as well.
Additional credit should be directed toward the often overlooked BYU offensive front. BYU may have lost Hill and Williams, but the offensive line that was a catalyst to the Cougars’ offensive success hasn’t gone anywhere. Whoever the quarterback or running back involved, the offensive line continues impress.
CHAOS IS ORDER YET UNDECIPHERED — Through five games, we were left unsure whether BYU had the ability to bring a competent pass rush. It seemed that no matter the scheme, personnel, or timing, the Cougars were unable to get to the quarterback consistently enough to force bad decisions, errant throws, or costly sacks. Well, it seems that with the unceasing flow of new faces plugged into the BYU front seven, Nick Howell and Co. may have found the right guys for the job. Hello Sione Takitaki, Fred Warner, and Logan Taele. Using stunts, blitz packages, and actually beating guys one-on-one, BYU generated its most successful pass rush of the season — and forced two interceptions as a direct corollary to the increased heat in the backfield. Heat produces light. I wondered if this kind of output was even possible given what we had previously seen. Let’s see it again next week against Nevada and make a habit of it.
THE MASH UNIT — Sometime between Jordan Johnson breaking his arm and Craig Bills leaving the game with a concussion, I wondered whether there may have been some unholy blood oath levied against the BYU Football team and its clutches would grasp the roster until none were left unscathed by its power. Where is thy pavilion, Football Gods? You simply have to hope that the skyrocketing Cougar ill-health report will begin to regress to the mean. It can’t keep going on like this. I mean it just can’t. Right?
What the bevy of injuries has shown us is that this is indeed BYU’s deepest team to date. I couldn’t help but look at just who was playing meaningful snaps for the Cougars —Takitaki, Warner, Colby Pearson, Kai Nacua, Keanu Nelson, to name a few. In the end, BYU played on the road against a decent football team and drew even in regulation despite losing one-third of its starters over the past three weeks while ushering in its senior-in-name-only quarterback to his first start as a collegiate signal caller. UCF nearly lost at home to a team comprised of nine scholarship players and 13 dudes from the Pleasant Grove 23rd Ward.
CHRISTIAN CONFIDENCE — Christian Stewart turned in a performance to be respected. His stats were only gaudy in an area that mattered: touchdown passes. Otherwise, it was a very ordinary performance from a man thrown into an extraordinary situation. Stewart’s three TD’s were well-thrown balls that needed either a pinch of power or a trace of touch. The realization that he has the moxie and desire to make all different types of throws should give BYU fans hope that this offense can be productive with Christian at the helm.
Surprisingly, Stewart also showed ability to make plays with his legs. We knew that replacing a quarterback with a Lamborghini motor with one carrying a Hyundai motor would be difficult to swallow. I even wondered if the Zone Read would be fazed out entirely. Stewart kept UCF honest by not being afraid to keep the ball and run for the yardage given him. On a 3rd and 20, Stewart apparently, perhaps literally, took upon himself the mantle on his fallen comrade Taysom Hill as he scrambled for a big first down and surprised everyone with his elusiveness. Surely Christian Stewart is not going to be hurdling defenders or stiff-arming his way down the sideline, but he may just have the right amount of athletic acumen to be effective.
SPECIAL TEAMS WOES — It was a night to forget for the BYU special teams. After a seemingly terrific opening to the season, the third-wheel of the Cougar tricycle was inadequate on most every important area. The specifics included the kickoff return coverage team surrendering a long return to give the then-two touchdown trailing Knights momentum enough to spring a comeback, the punt return coverage giving up a big return to set up another UCF touchdown, and an paltry average of 17.3 yards on their own kick return. Scott Arellano punted admirably, but a slew of Cougars failed to down the ball on the 1-yard-line when given the chance at a critical time. With the exception of a Trevor Samson’s perfection on his field goal and extra-point attempts and Mitch Matthews getting his hand on a field goal attempt, the Cougar Special Teams were just a step off of normal aptitude all night long.
ON HOWELL AND ANAE — At a point in the second quarter, UCF had more incompletions than BYU had total yards. The start was that bad in Orlando. The heat on Nick Howell got ever brighter and those eternally opposed to Robert Anae began to grow louder and louder. The consensus? Howell is in-over-his-head and needs Bronco to aid him in making adjustments and Anae has never heard of the phrase ‘adjustments’ as he continues to re-live Groundhog’s Day in perpetuity.
I have been critical of Nick Howell, both on this site and on the Zone Leaders Podcast. But this is always followed by a belief that he can and will be a great defensive coordinator at BYU. The UCF game made that feeling stronger, not weaker. After falling behind 10-0 and looking out of sorts, the BYU defense bowed up and made its stand. BYU completely shut down UCF’s rushing attack, kept the long plays to a minimum, and bought the Cougar offense time to get into the game. Howell made the adjustments necessary and coached the defense up in a way that brought results. If BYU gives up 24 points in regulation, BYU has a great chance to win the game.
UCF’s two second half touchdown drives were both 37 yards. Porous special teams leading to short fields for the Knight offense and the BYU offense turning the ball over inside the redone were why BYU lost the football game. And somehow Nick Howell has become the bogey man. Stop. The defense held up its part of the bargain with a ragtag band of juveniles and misfits. Move along and find someone else to crucify because Nick Howell ain’t got time to bleed.
And Anae? I try to defend you, Robert. I try to understand you, Robert. I struggle with the latter and that makes the former difficult. I am a fan of Robert Anae and love, despite the moments of madness, seeing his offenses at work. Robert Anae is a fantastic offensive coordinator. The proof lies in the success of each and every offense he has coached in Provo. Where Anae succeeds in implementing his overall scheme he sometimes stumbles with the finer details.
Robert Anae the Playcaller is the life of the party as well as a serial narcoleptic. The way he rode the offensive line in the 3rd quarter as he felt them beginning to wear down a very good UCF defensive front was a touch of beauty. As was the call and play design on BYU’s touchdown following the muffed punt. Devin Mahina lined up in a down stance, BYU faked a screen to the sideline, and Mahina slipped by the linebackers and into one-on-one coverage on the outside. It was the work of a savant and led to BYU securing a two-touchdown lead.
Then, come the fourth quarter, BYU went away from what had got it there: the run game. The Cougars ran just three running plays on their final three possessions of the fourth quarter and overtime. It’s as if he runs when he should pass, passes when he should run. The offensive staff had just two days of practice time with Christian Stewart before playing UCF on a short week, so I am excited to see what the offense looks like when Nevada comes to town on the 18th. Saturday in Orlando was hit-and-miss.
PLAYING FOR NOTHING — If BYU had nothing to play for on Thursday it sure didn’t show. There is always something to play for when there is a competition to be had. BYU is halfway through this 2014 campaign and boy has it had enough high-and-lows to last a decade-worth of seasons. The Cougars are 4-2, everything that could go wrong in the past two games has, and yet, I feel much better about the second half of the season than I did just one week ago. Bronco Mendenhall has shown that he will have the players ready — and that the talent pool is of sufficient quality to be competitive against every opponent it’ll face in the second half of the year. Chapter 1 is over; Chapter 2 is about to begin. Bring on the Wolf Pack. Rise and Shout.