It is impossible to talk about BYU's football tradition without mentioning Edwards, the sixth-winningest college football coach of all time. Edwards, currently serving an LDS mission with his wife, Patty, in New York City, guided the Cougars to 257 wins in 29 seasons with a .722 winning percentage from 1973 through 2000. In the process, he led BYU to 19 Conference championships, 22 Bowl games and one national championship.
That 1974 year started slowly, with losses to Hawaii, Utah State, Iowa State, and a tie against Colorado State. A 38-7 homecoming win against Wyoming set the foundation for seven consecutive wins, including victories over WAC powerhouses Arizona and Arizona State and a 48-20 spanking of Utah. The ‘74 Cougars finished with a 7-4-1 record, were ranked 19th in the nation, and an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl. That year was the first time a team other than Arizona State represented the WAC in the Fiesta Bowl.
Gary Sheide, the nation's No. 2-ranked passer, led BYU offensively. He finished the year throwing for 2,174 yards, 23 touchdowns and a 60 percent completion rating. At the end of the year he won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the best college passer of the year, and finished 8th in Heisman voting. Many pro scouts compared Sheide's skill to those of Joe Namath.
The backfield offensive stars included Jeff Blanc, Charlie Ah You, Tim Mahoney and Todd Christensen. Commenting on Blanc, Edwards said in an interview: "He plays with more enthusiasm and dedication than almost any other player I've known. If you need three yards, Jeff will get them or die trying." Blanc finished the year 22nd in scoring and 11th in all-purpose rushing. Offensive linemen Orrin Olsen, Dave Meteer, and Brad Oates provided excellent protection for Sheide to throw to his many targets, including John Betham, Jeff Nusson and Blanc.
Defensively, the Cougars were sound, limiting opponents to a 2.6 yard rushing average, taking 22 interceptions and only allowing 183 points over the entire season. The defense also came up with 48 sacks, led by Stan Varner (14), Wayne Baker (10), and Paul Linford (7). Linebacker Larry Carr was the leading tackler and Mike Russell had six interceptions.
The Cougars finished 1974 matched against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the fourth-annual Fiesta Bowl. The game pitted the nation's seventh-ranked passing offense (BYU) against the 10th nationally ranked defense in OSU. BYU was also ranked 4th nationally in rushing defense.
BYU had a lot of work to do to prepare for Oklahoma State. The Cougars had faced 5-2 defenses before, but none had players as powerful as OSU's middle guards James White, Carl Devorce, and Phillip Dokes. Dokes and White would both become All-Americans in 1975.
Cougar QB Sheide spoke about those three when describing the keys to the game: "Those three big linemen… we've got to keep them out.² Sheide also spoke of OSU's punishing secondary: "We haven't played anybody with any better secondary than Oklahoma State has."
Another concern for LaVell Edwards and BYU was the Cowboys' wishbone offense. The Cougars had not faced a wishbone attack of OSU's caliber, but Edwards felt his 4-3 defense was up to the challenge.
The 6-5 Oklahoma State Cowboys prepared for Gary Sheide by practicing their defense against little-used quarterback Scott Christman. He had studied everything Sheide did to prepare their defense for BYU's star QB. Oklahoma State coach Jim Stanley commented on this method of preparation, noting, "There aren't many in the country who are as good as Sheide, but Scott does a good job of throwing. He is a vital man in preparing our defense for Brigham Young."
It would not be Christman on the field against the Cougars, but sophomore Charlie Weatherbie and freshman Scott Burk, who were both fighting for Oklahoma's starting QB position. Weatherbie, the starter through most of the season, was more experienced and a better passer. Burk, however, was eventually named the starter because he was better at pitching the ball and a faster scrambler.
Meanwhile, Coach Stanley had another offensive decision to make in whether to start freshman Terry Miller at running back over senior Leonard Thompson. Thompson ended up getting the majority of the snaps, but Miller went on to be a two-time All-American in 1976 and 1977.
The Fiesta Bowl Committee was initially concerned that many seats would be empty because the hometown favorite Arizona State Sun Devils weren't in the game for the first time since the post-season Fiesta Bowl was established. Their fears faded when the LDS community in Arizona and traveling fans from both schools set an attendance record of 50,878 for the Dec. 28, 1974, thriller.
While the three previous Fiesta Bowls were offensive shootouts, this game was just the opposite; the two teams scored only 22 points combined. The Cougars started it off scoring early in the first quarter when junior kicker, Mark Uselman, hit a 30-yard field goal with 12:54 left in the quarter. Sheide responded by leading the Cougars on a 52-yard drive in seven plays.
Later in the first quarter, the Cougars were looking good when tragedy struck. With just under three minutes remaining, Sheide dropped back to pass when Cowboy defensive lineman Phillip Dokes slammed into him. Describing the hit later, Sheide said: "He landed right on my shoulder and I knew I was hurt badly."
Sheide left the game with sprained ligaments in his shoulder and the Cougars were forced to finish the game without their star quarterback. His replacement, junior Mark Giles, came in and finished the drive to set up Uselman for another field goal. This time, Uselman's kick was good from 43 yards out. One key play on the drive was a 14-yard pass from Giles to Tom Toolson. At the end of the first quarter, the Cougars led the game 6-0.
BYU's defense, however, was giving Oklahoma State's offense a different set of fits. Burk started the first few series, but was replaced by Weatherbie. Even third string quarterback Jimmy Derrick played a little. It didn't matter which quarterback played, the Cougar defense was tough on all of them, allowing only 214 yards of offense the whole day.
The Cowboy defense was as hard-hitting as advertised, securing three interceptions and one fumble recovery. The first interception came when OSU defensive end Tony Buck stepped in front of receiver John Betham for the pick, then dragged him 13 yards to BYU's 27-yard line. Two plays later, OSU halfback Kenny Walker carried the ball 12 yards for a Cowboy touchdown. The extra point was good, giving Oklahoma State a one point halftime lead.
Both defenses remained tough in the second half. BYU had to punt from the three-yard line giving Oklahoma State excellent field position. The Cougar defense played well enough to force a 42-yard field goal after the Cowboys could only gain 12 yards. BYU's defense proved especially tough near the goal line, stopping the Cowboys on two separate fourth down attempts inside the 10-yard line in the second half. Lee Snider, Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator, spoke highly of the Cougar defense after the game: "BYU has a tough defense, especially against the run. Not many teams could have run on them today."
During the fourth quarter, Mark Giles was able to move the Cougars from their own 2-yard line to Oklahoma State's 26. From there, they were unsuccessful on a fourth-down pass, giving Oklahoma State the ball with only 4:53 remaining. The Cowboys ate up a lot of clock getting to BYU's 40-yard line. With 1:22 to go, the Cowboys were unwilling to sit on a four-point lead. When Weatherbie took the snap, he pitched it to Leonard Thompson, who spotted split end Larry Bain open downfield and threw it 40 yards for a touchdown. The Cowboys had sealed the deal on a halfback pass.
"We knew Bain would be open," Snider said when he spoke to the media after the game. "They were bunching up to stop our running game. We told Leonard that if he couldn't get the pass off, to run and we told him that if he missed, to be sure that he overthrew Bain."
Cougar fans who witnessed this game might say that if Sheide hadn't been injured, BYU would have come out on top. Of course, we'll never know. We do know the 1974 Fiesta Bowl was one of the hardest fought Fiesta Bowls of all time (until last season's national championship double-overtime battle between Miami and Ohio State).
Those Cougars were the first BYU players to play in a Bowl game, and they are the first of the hundreds of Cougar blue-clads who have since participated in at least 20 post-season Bowl games. The Cougars of 1974 started the tradition that continues.
Some played their last game for the Cougars that day, but are still remembered today. Some can still be found in the BYU record books: Gary Sheide is 11th in all-time pass efficiency rating (138.8), 11th in career passing (4,524 yards) and 12th in total offense. Jeff Blanc is 3rd in career rushing yards (2,663) and 9th in career scoring (29 TDs or 174 points). Larry Carr is 3rd in career tackles (389).
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