Where in the Blue Blazes Did the Cougars Go?

Call them superstitious, but it may have been something as simple as a pre-game inconsistency. Several Cougar player wives wondered aloud after the Colorado State game why BYU coaches strayed from their pre-Georgia Tech Thursday night game winning routine and allowed all the players to spend Wednesday night at home instead of sequestered at the team hotel. "My husband was stressing me out," one wife admitted.

The Cougars came to play, but seemed far from ready to play.

For the first time this season, the ENTIRE Cougar football team – coaches and players – were a group no-show in this important and embarrassing homecoming 58-13 onslaught at the hands of an average Colorado State team. Give CSU quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt credit, but BYU made them look a lot better than they have played this year at home against lesser competition.

The biggest surprise was the ease that Van Pelt was able to dissect BYU's widely respected new top 20 defense. That he threw for several long touchdowns on third and long situations against BYU's suddenly vulnerable secondary is inexplicable. Where was the Jernaro Gilford of old? Chad Barney was consistently beaten last week and last night, but he's filling in for injured starter Brandon Heaney, so he can be partially excused.

The Cougar offense was back to its toothless 2003 form again after raising false hopes and expectations after last week's San Diego State impressive showing to fans long accustomed to offensive fireworks at the Y.

Quarterback John Beck, despite his best efforts, showed why he's still not ready for prime-time exposure yet with repeated fumbles that led to CSU touchdowns. So total was last night's team collapse that even a healthy Matt Berry alone may not have been enough to pull out the game. Beck has a ton of upside, but Berry remains BYU's best quarterback option for success the remainder of this season.

Clearly, Colorado State head coach Sonny Lubick out-coached Gary Crowton last night. The Rams came ready to play before a national ESPN audience. BYU was present but mysteriously missing in action mentally, emotionally and physically. You could just feel it in the cool evening Provo air. The Rams could have stuffed the Cougars for another 20-30 points if they felt so inclined running on fourth down rather than kicking an easy field goal in the third quarter.

From the cheap seats, it seemed like CSU was playing at regular game speed while BYU played a step slower than their competition. That was apparent in most facets of the game from kickoff coverage to offensive and defensive reps.

Surprisingly, the Rams is the only team to consistently run the ball right up the gut against the Cougars this year for what seemed like five yard gains each time. Even vaunted USC couldn't do it. That opened up the outside and long game even more for CSU and Van Pelt was on the money last night with perfectly thrown touch passes and bombs for touchdowns.

In the final series of the first half, Lubbick replaced Van Pelt with his second-string quarterback and he would have completed passes if he was on the mark to open backs and receivers.

The offensive game calling last night led me to scratch my head a lot more than usual. More disconcerting is the fact BYU's offensive line play is NOT improving. And it's not just the freshmen starters. The senior linemen were as guilty and as exposed last night as their inexperienced frosh. Seven games into the season, that clearly points to coaching. When you have first and GOAL from the two yard line and you don't have the confidence to use the size-weight superiority of your offensive line to ram it in, smash-mouth style, that speaks volumes.

It's obvious to anyone with half a brain that BYU's best running back is Reynaldo Brathwaite. A healthy Marcus Whalen is good, but he is not the game-breaker that Brathwaite is. Naufahu Tahi has played impressively and found a new home at fullback as part of a strong tandem with injured Taufui Vakapuna.

Whether coaches will admit it or not, they have found their best replacement for Paul Walkenhorst in true freshman outside linebacker David Nixon. Levi Madarieta may be more experienced, but Nixon is already a more consistent and impactful player.

Clearly, the best of BYU's defensive tackles is Manaia Brown, but he has been injury-prone lately. Last night, he pulled his hamstring for the first time in his football career. Meanwhile, he is still nursing an injured shoulder and swelling in one of his knees. Ifo Pili and Daniel Marquardt have been excellent at times and particularly vulnerable at other times. Pili is playing better and more consistently this year in Bronco Mendenhall's defensive rotation system.

Brady Poppinga and Aaron Francisco are BYU's version of the Eveready Bunny; they just keep on going and playing at a consistently high level. Right behind them are Colby Bockwoldt and Mike Tanner.

On special teams, the only consistently good-to-great performer is Matt Payne. BYU's return game has reliable receiver Todd Christensen, but there are no game breakers being used to make this an exciting and momentum-shifting part of the Cougar arsenal.

A significant, but little-mentioned weakness of BYU's offensive game is the poor blocking by Cougar wide receivers and tight ends. Utah's Urban Meyer noted this would be a major area of improvement and emphasis in his revived Utah offense and he has been as good as his word. BYU receivers go through the motions, but are often totally ineffective in their feeble blocking attempts. Quite frankly, the poor and inconsistent blocking has cost the Cougars some would-be touchdowns by its tight ends and running backs in the secondary.

After All-American caliber play early in the season, tight end Daniel Coats is inexplicably playing like the true freshman he is. Justin Jory has looked consistent the last few weeks and Phil Niu is another excellent pass receiver as a true freshman tight end who also needs to improve in his blocking.

The bottom line: Crowton has some serious brainstorming and soul searching to do. He and his assistants are deservedly being criticized for their game calling for not getting their young charges ready to play in last night's high-profile game on Homecoming night. It was BYU's the worst home game loss ever. It could have been worse had Lubbick not called off his Rams in the third quarter.

A major paradigm coaching shift and philosophical adjustment is in order as Crowton quietly re-evaluates his program, particularly on offense. BYU and Utah have reversed roles with the Utes sporting a wide open and exciting offense, while the Cougars appear to be playing it "safe" to limit turnovers. Gone for now is the Cougars vaunted and nationally respected high-scoring offense full of big plays and exciting highlights.

Youth and inexperience are part of the problem, but the solution continues to elude Crowton. Cougar fans are patient, understanding and long suffering in defeat – a la USC game – when they see and recognize a team that is getting better.

Against Colorado State last night, the Cougar and Crowton's football program took a step back – again.

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