Several painful images and memories that signify Cougar football this season come from three games that could have gone either way – and should have gone BYU's way:
1. Crowton's decision to drop true freshman quarterback John Beck back time and again against Stanford in his first-ever start and huck it downfield 40-plus times – even as BYU's defense completely dominated the Cardinal offense. A more conservative approach by Crowton in the closing minutes with the Cougars leading 16-14 would likely have ended in a W.
This series of follies was topped by the ill-fated first down interception thrown by Beck when all BYU needed to do was run out the clock. Crowton would probably eat these comments in hindsight: "We wanted to win by 9 points, not by 2." I hoped this game was a fluke and something the team would learn from. I was wrong.
2. Remember the time defensive end Bill Wright, on two of the biggest downs of the game against Air Force, fell hook, line and sinker for the dive play to the fullback. It is the nose tackle's primary responsibility in the 3-3-5 set Bronco Mendenhall plays to stop the belly or dive play to the fullback. The defensive end is crucial in stringing out the option, marking the quarterback, or at least stringing him out – leaving the linebackers and safeties free to cover the pitchman.
On second and goal from the six, Wright fell for the dive play. He did the same later in the game on a third and 10 in a drive that culminated in the game-winning touchdown. That's still hard to get out of my head.
3. Crowton's decision to go for it on fourth and three from Wyoming's 43-yard-line when the defense was also totally dominating the Cowboys offense. Chances are that BYU would have held defensively, gotten the ball a few minutes later, and the Cougars chalk up another close win.
Instead, Beck's fourth down pass goes straight into the arms of a Wyoming defender and is returned for a touchdown – the winning score of the game.
4. In a close, hard-fought rival match where both the BYU and Utah defenses are dominating, the Cougars finally see some offensive momentum of the ball as they push into Ute territory. On a Marcus Whalen run that goes for seven yards on first down, co-offensive coordinator Robbie Bosco opts to run a play from the shotgun. Center Scott Jackson, for the first time all season, muffs the snap and kills the drive as the Cougars lose enough yardage on second down to make third down unmanageable.
Lessons learned about BYU football this season:
1. When a lightly recruited, but solid receiver comes straight off his mission and is touted by BYU quarterbacks and coaches as a "favorite, go-to guy" or "BYU's home run waiting to happen," that is rarely a good thing.
I speak of Chris Hale, who is and will be a fine receiver for the Cougars in the next two years. I thought Hale was going to be an instant star. I bought into it because I wanted to. I wanted to believe that BYU's receiver corps would be a solid, if not great unit. Hale proved to be a mediocre, but promising wide receiver. What more could be expected of a 5-9, 180 wide-out after a mission and with only fall practice under his belt? The Cougars were returning everybody except Reno Mahe from a season ago and was predicted to be an offensive strength. It wasn't.
BYU's offensive woes can be blamed in large part on an inadequate wide receiver corps. Certainly, Matt Berry and Beck deserve their fair share of the blame, but watching the games live confirms our receivers were NOT open very much of the time.
Senior Toby Christensen was the best of the bunch, but he's gone now. He ran good patterns and was consistent. On many passing plays, other receivers looked hesitant and sometimes lost out there. Christensen, meanwhile, was sharp and completed his patterns every time. Unfortunately for BYU and its wilting offense, he only runs a 4.7 forty on a good day and is undersized.
2. Crowton insistence on sticking with his primary aerial offense regardless of problematic issues at quarterback and wide receiver. He said after the Stanford game he would never be willing to "win like New Mexico does," insinuating he'd rather run a wide-open offense regardless of circumstances or the talent at his disposal. I think he's been humbled somewhat in this regard.
To Crowton's credit, he became more conservative as the season went on, but his was an offense that failed on lead with its strengths until the last game of the season. Berry's injury against New Mexico substantially set the offense back and he was never effectively the same after his return.
3. Offensive lineman Brandon Stephens told me during the summer a true freshman simply could not come in and really succeed on the offensive line no matter how talented he may be. I didn't believe him then; now I do.
Ofa Mohetau struggled mightily, to put it mildly. I have no doubt Mohetau will become a great BYU player and he showed a lot of improvement as the season went on. However, it was a very forgettable season for him.
If an offensive lineman hesitates even for a split second in his blocking assignments, he's toast. Mohetau was burned far too many times this season, oftentimes standing there confused as to what he should be doing. BYU's offensive line problems came from being outcoached, outsmarted, but not overmatched physically.
4. When Crowton says he's "happy" with Jake Kuresa and Mohetau's weight at over 350 pounds entering the season, that he thinks that's where they "should be at," I won't believe it again.
Kuresa will be one of the best offensive linemen BYU has ever produced by the time he's done with his college career, but he'll be hard-pressed to accomplish that entering every season at 350-plus pounds. The same goes for Mohetau; although he carries the weight better than Kuresa.
Kuresa noticeably wore down as the season went on. You have to point to his weight when that happens. He had a decent freshman campaign, but I know he's capable of much more. He'll reach his potential at a lower weight and with this season experience under his belt. Hopefully, both Kuresa and Mohetau report to two-a-days next season under 330 pounds.
5. When wide receivers were asked in the preseason what changes and benefits the new wide receiver coach has brought and they don't know how to respond or give a convincing response, I know now that was serious cause for concern. Indeed, our WR corps was short on talent. Coupled with a new assistant coach unfamiliar with coaching receivers, that did not help at all.
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