The Cougar offense lives and dies by three things: the play at quarterback, the performance of the offensive line, and then the play calling based on how well those two position groups are performing. With the defense giving up quick touchdowns early in the game and unable to stop the Spartan passing attack, the Cougar offense was placed in an early position of having to catch up, placing the game right into Spartan hands.
Riley Nelson may have thrown for more yards (335 to SJSU's 305), but it was David Fales who showed how the position is played. Nelson threw the ball 51 times but only completed 28. Many of them were missed throws and bad ball placement on passes that should have been easily completed by an experienced senior BYU gunslinger. The miss to a 6-foot-6-inch wide open Devin Mahina in the middle of the field seemed to be the repeat story of the passing inconsistency that has been seen throughout the season, leaving many to scratch their heads concerning game management with a capable backup quarterback. Nelson also experienced a reoccurring problem of fumblitis. He fumbled the ball away twice, the second one ending a last heroic come-from-behind attempt by the Cougar offense at the end of the game.
Running back: B
As a whole, the running backs did a much better job of running the ball than they probably should have. With an offensive line that was as porous as a sponge, Jamaal Williams was still able to gain 65 rushing yards on 15 carries. However, the adherent weakness of young running backs comes in the pass protection schemes, and in a crucial passing situation late in the game, this proved to be true. Still, Williams was an overall bright spot on the offense despite the pass-pro mishap at the end of the game.
Wide receivers: B+
Both Ross Apo and Cody Hoffman should have had an outstanding game. Instead, it was only Hoffman on the short side of the field who did so. Hoffman caught 13 passes for 155 yards and singlehandedly unzipped the Spartan secondary, despite the defense adjusting for him with safety help. J.D. Falslev added three receptions for 43 yards and actually recorded more yards per reception than Apo. Apo often found himself in man-to-man coverage but became discouraged due to the lack of passing and bad throws when they did come his way.
Tight ends: C+
The tight ends where rightly game-planned into this game. With the Spartans keying in on Hoffman, and Nelson unable to utilize the wide side of the field, the tight ends could have been a big part of the offense. Instead, they only accounted for two receptions, one by Richard Wilson and the other by Kaneakua Friel. The tight end position has become less a part of the Cougar passing offense as the season has worn on and there has been a bigger emphasis on the running game.
Offensive line: D+
The Spartan defensive line was better than most expected, but it wasn't as good as that of Utah, Utah State or Notre Dame. Still, the offensive line managed to make the Spartan line look that way, even with the return of Braden Hansen. The offensive line got out-matched up front physically and beat back in pass protection to the tune of four sacks, one quarterback hurry and six tackles for a loss of 32 yards. As Coach Doman mentioned earlier in the week, the offensive line needs to be shored up in order for the offense to move forward in a manner that's expected.
The offensive game plan by San Jose State head coach Mike McIntyre worked perfectly early on against Coach Mendenhall's defense. Mendenhall went conservative the first half, relying on a base defense to get the job done against a very good passing offense. It didn't work. And by the time adjustments came in the second half, it was too late, as San Jose State had built an early lead and hung on to it for the win in a game in which coaching strategy made all the difference.
Defensive line: B-
The defensive line was stout up front, but that's about it. Coach Mendenhall went with a basic game plan up front, relying on the secondary to get the job done. Out-manned, the defensive front was unable to put pressure on Fales, who's quick-strike passes rendered the front ineffective. The defensive line did well against the run, allowing only two SJSU rushing first downs and 85 yards on the ground.
This was the tale of two tapes and, again, this mostly falls upon the game plan by Coach Mendenhall. In the first half the linebackers struggled in the open field against the Spartan passing game. The Spartans were able to gash the Cougars in early downs, further stressing the linebackers in the passing game. However, once the adjustments came, the linebackers were able to work well with the front three in holding the running backs to limited yards and placing the offense in longer third-down situations through pass-rush pressure.
The loss of Joe Sampson really showed in this game, as the Cougar defense never went with a nickel package to stop the high-powered passing game of San Jose State. The safeties and cornerbacks lacked chemistry in the man-zone coverage. The Spartan offense decided to pick on field cornerback Jordan Johnson, who missed last week's game with a suspension, and it proved to be a wise decision. It was only until Coach Mendenhall decided to help his secondary with the use of his linebackers and zone blitzing up front that the nature of San Jose State's passing game change. However with BYU's offense unable to make up the difference, the defensive change came too late.
Special teams: A+
BYU's special teams came through in this game and even gave the team a chance for a come-from-behind victory. Justin Sorensen made all of his extra points, and Riley Stephenson's punts for the most part were very good all night long. The biggest execution factor for the special teams came at the end of the game when Cody Hoffman was able to secure an onside kick, giving his offense a chance at victory. The kick was perfect and the recovery off the back of a San Jose State player was made. Unfortunately, false starts coupled with blocking execution and a fumble botched any hopes of a BYU comeback.