The opening drive was impressive for the most part. Crowton was at his offensive best, even implementing a throwback pass to quarterback Matt Berry, among other things. More importantly, BYU was moving the ball.
Unfortunately, Chris Hale stumbled on a double reverse that seemed likely to yield big yards with the slightest of tackles in the backfield. Bam! BYU loses 12 yards, drive over. This, along with injuries to key players, seems to have become all too familiar for this year's gridiron team. You can actually call this team and season an unlucky one with hardly any bounces going BYU's way. Contrast that with Ohio State and all the amazingly lucky breaks they have experienced the last two seasons.
Clearly, the Cougars consistently have shown they can move the ball and are rarely overmatched physically. However, when they screw up, they screw up big. Inexplicably, their mistakes happen at the most inopportune times when it causes the maximum negative impact.
What about the inexcusable? Can anyone recall the last time BYU went through an entire ball game without an illegal formation, ineligible receiver downfield or an illegal substitution penalty? These are things you can expect to see early in the season, but these penalties continue to plague the Cougars 11 games into the season.
Anyway, back to the game. Following the missed opportunity on the opening drive, BYU had several more great opportunities as they reached inside Notre Dame's 40-yard line on successive occasions. The first time, Quinn Christensen, normally BYU's most consistent offensive lineman, did not effectively block a Notre Dame defensive end and Brathwaite lost four yards on first down – even as the rest of his offensive line got an effective push. They didn't recover and the Cougars were forced to punt.
Matt Payne responded with a great punt, pinning the Irish inside their five yard line. The BYU defense forced a three and out and the Cougars begin the drive on Notre Dame's 43. The first play had Brathwaite rushing for two yards. On the next play, Berry threw the ball away when he could not find an open receiver. Next up, Berry checked off to Tahi in the flat for a nice five yard gain, but they still came up three yards short.
This was a critical juncture of the game. BYU had the momentum, but couldn't execute with ample opportunities. You could sense the "big Mo" begin to swing the other way. The rest of the game was an ugly flashback of poor halftime adjustments, mental errors, bad offensive play calling and the BYU defense being on the field much longer than they should have been.
This, unfortunately, has become the face and fate of BYU football this year. It's the most frustrating thing to watch week in and week out. I strongly suspect – but hope against hope it doesn't happen – that we'll see a similar pattern emerge next Saturday against Utah. The Utah won't out-physical BYU, but they'll probably out-execute them. I'm tempted to write up my post-game Utah-BYU analysis tomorrow and just insert the final score. Sadly, that's how predictable the Cougars have become.
I've been a Gary Crowton defender this season while many others have jumped ship. Regardless of what happens this season, I won't render judgment on his abilities to right their seriously tilting ship until next season. Nothing short of a conference championship will suffice considering the talent he will have in place. That said, there are some Crowton tendencies that concern me as I have observed his teams for the past three seasons.
The most frightening thing is that BYU's season record has continued to decline the last two games of 2001 and throughout all of last year and this year. Regardless of the reasons, the buck stops with him. Anyone care to pontificate whether BYU would beat Georgia Tech or New Mexico if they were to play next week?
You could argue that injuries have been a big factor in this decline over the past two years. But after two years of watching and suffering through the troubles of this team, the excuse no longer holds water.
What is Crowton's excuse? "We're young and inexperienced, but I feel that we're right there." Crowton has been saying this since the Stanford game. They're not "right there." I'm not sure if they've ever been "right there" all season long.
Yes, the team is young and inexperienced in a lot of areas on offense. But that fact may be the most damning evidence against Crowton's competence as a head coach. Young teams are expected to struggle because of inexperience and youth, but they should be steadily, even slowly, improving gradually over the course of a season. However, just the opposite has happened. That scares me because I want to believe Crowton's comments that the team is improving and the program is headed in the right direction.
As I've said earlier, I won't to render any final judgment on Crowton's abilities, but boy, I'm beginning to waiver. It all begins and ends with the head coach, but this team is starting to develop some frightening and disturbing trends.
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