"Well, we've had a few missed opportunities this year, there's no question about that," said Coach Doman. "I have been proud of how many of the players have handled the opposition and kept fighting through it. You have to give credit to those senior players that have bonded together to pushing through those difficulties that we've had throughout the year."
Earlier in the season, BYU lost to rival Utah, which was missing some key players. Despite the disheartening loss, the Cougar defense fought on.
"There hasn't been any quit with our guys regardless of how things turned out or what has happened throughout the season," said Kyle Van Noy. "That's kind of what we're striving for. We want to put that frame of mind and lay that foundation of never quitting regardless of what happens."
The defense pitched a shutout against usual offensive powerhouse Boise State, but the team still managed to lose to the Broncos by a single point. The question of whether to go for a two-point conversion instead of a game-tying extra point still looms on the minds of Cougar fans everywhere. Still, the Cougar defense fought on.
"It's always important for us to keep fighting on," said Brandon Ogletree. "We put a lot of sweat and blood into this program over the years, and so we wanted to step up and make sure that we kept fighting to win. Whatever culture exists, you want to protect it. It's important to us."
The only real decisive defeat came with a 42-24 loss to Oregon State, but BYU nearly defeated Notre Dame on the road in South Bend the following week. For about three quarters, BYU was holding onto a lead over a team now ranked number one in the nation. However, BYU ended up losing by three points.
"Oh man, it makes me sick," said Ross Apo. "But what happened, happened, and it came down to the last play and they executed and we didn't. That's all that really matters and they're number one now. But, you know, we're still going to fight to win this last game and win our bowl game. Whatever other teams do now, that doesn't matter to us, so we're still going to play to win."
Still, it's hard not to think about what might have been.
"You know, it's kind of the opposite of Notre Dame," said Apo. "They came down to a lot of close games, but they ended up winning their games, and now look – they're number one in the nation. The games that we lost, with the exception of Oregon State, came down to the last play and we didn't execute. Everybody knows we're a good team, but turnovers have been killing us this season."
The Cougar defense would end up holding rushing powerhouse Georgia Tech to only 137 yards on the ground to secure a 41-17 victory in ACC land. Followed the woodshed beating of the Yellow Jackets, the Cougars would go on to a 52-13 smashing of Idaho.
The Cougars were rolling, but then the wheels seemed to come off in San Jose last week. The Cougars went down early after struggling to defend against SJSU's offense. In what should have been an easy victory – at least that's what was expected given the results of last year – the Cougar defense was placed on its heels early.
"As far as being a leader, you have to kind of step up and say things at times like, ‘Hey, we need to pick it up,'" said Van Noy. "I've been trying to be better in that nature and just try and be better in all aspects as a leader to find ways to win and be better. It's just another opportunity to learn and be better."
Down 20-7 at halftime, the Cougar defenders regrouped.
"Last game in the huddle on the field I just said, ‘Hey guys, let's do it for our seniors,'" said Van Noy. "Every once in a while I'll say something. I just said, ‘Let's not care what people think. Let's not care about what anyone on the sidelines or in the stands [thinks]. When we are out here, let's do it for our seniors and for each other. You have to remember why we play this game. This game is supposed to be fun and let's win this game."
"When we're down and things aren't looking too hot, we get into a huddle and say, ‘Hey, this is who we are, and so let's play the right way,'" said Ogletree. "The example and protecting the expectation matters to us."
"Unfortunately we came up short, but you can see the change in our guys as far as wanting to do it for others," said Van Noy. "You could see the change in how there wasn't guys feeling sorry for themselves because we gave up a couple of early touchdowns. We can't feel sorry for ourselves, because those things are going to happen. As a team collectively we bounced back and we were still in the game at the end of the game. It wasn't like we were out of it like they kicked our butts. We were still in the game and we were still battling to the end."
The defense's mindset is one of protecting the culture and standard regardless of the final outcome or overall season performance. It's a matter of Cougar pride.
"We're always striving for more and put that attitude of effort to never give up and always execute to the best of your ability as the foundation for future players coming up on this team," said Van Noy. "It's up to us to preserve that standard and pass that foundation and standard down to the kids. It's up to us to never give up and to protect that attitude and those expectations for those coming up in the program. If we do that, the sky's the limit for future players."
"Especially on defense, we have a culture," said Ogletree. "These past couple of years we've worked really hard to establish that culture and protect it, and so everything matters from how we run, to how we take the field, to how we hit, to the confidence we carry. It all matters to us."
Ogletree is carrying on what he saw in former teammates.
"I was given the example from guys like Andrew Rich, Vic So'oto, Shane Hunter, Travis Uale and Jameson Frazier. I mean, regardless of what you see guys do on the field, not many saw how hard they worked every day in practice, how hard they ran to the ball every down and how much they cared. Guys like that I've always looked up to for a ton of reasons because they understood it was their responsibility to uphold the standard. It was guys like that who helped me to understand it and know that I'll be looked at to ensure the legacy of expectations regardless of anything else. I feel like I'm now passing the baton off and I'm sure the next group of guys will carry that example and be just as good, if not better."