It Wasn't Pretty, But It Was a Win

<b>BYU 20, Notre Dame 17</b> <br> It wasn't pretty. Sometimes it was downright ugly. But after consecutive losing seasons, an opening day loss would have been hideous. If you love defense, a prime-time Saturday night national TV audience was entertained and enthralled to the end. The Cougars opened impressively with quarterback <b>John Beck</v> showing poise, arm strength, mobility and accuracy.

When he went down with a shoulder injury (more about that later) the Cougar nation held its collective breath. Matt Berry last year's starter, replaced him and managed, just barely, not to lose the game. On the other side of the ball the BYU defense was superb, limiting the Fighting Irish to just 11 rushing yards the entire game.

QUESTIONS ANSWERED:
* Heralded JC All-American transfer Todd Watkins> * True freshman Austin Collie blew past his defender and made a fingertip grab look smooth as silk for his first college touchdown reception. He had two more catches for a total of 54 yards. Two wideouts with speed will pressure any defense and open up the middle for heralded tight end Daniel Coats. In all, six Cougars caught at least two passes and two others had one reception each. There is no doubt now that the coaching staff has greatly ameliorated the last two years' deficiencies in the receiving corps.

* Defensively the Cougars showed that last year was not a fluke as they completely stuffed Notre Dame's vaunted running game. The defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage since they were specifically tasked to plug the running lanes and stuff the Irish. The linebacking corps, depleted by preseason injuries, rose to the occasion, led by converted defensive end Brady Poppinga. The secondary acquitted itself satisfactorily and were never beaten over the top.

* The final score was not indicative of the defense's performance, as one Irish touchdown came against the BYU offense. Also, Notre Dame's lone first half scoring drive was aided by back-to-back major penalties.

* Special teams play and BYU's kicking game was excellent. The Cougars gave up only 12 yards on kickoffs and eight yards on punt returns – for the entire game.

It looks like it will be a strength all year with Matt Payne handling both place-kicking and punting duties. Payne avoided a potential game breaker by fielding a dropped snap, eluded two rushers and launching a punt while sprinting to his right that died on the Irish two-yard line. Only one kickoff was returned.

Surprisingly, BYU had more rushing attempts than passing attempts, 35 to 33. Total offense was nearly even, with BYU at 285 and Notre Dame at 276 and each team ran exactly 68 plays from scrimmage.

NEW QUESTIONS:
* Offensive line: The Irish spent more time in BYU's backfield than some BYU running backs. Curtis Brown worked minor miracles more than once to avoid more tackles for losses. At times, "no gain" sounded sweet. Hopefully their ineffectiveness was due to Notre Dame's veteran front seven, which includes several All-American candidates. If not, the line must improve quickly in run blocking. Ironically, the pass-protection, their weakness from last year, was their strong point for most of the game.

* Quarterback: John Beck was 7 of 10 for 96 yards (no TDs, no INTs) before leaving the game in the second quarter. Although Matt Berry looked reasonably good on paper (15-23, 167 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), his lack of mobility was evident as he was sacked four times to Beck's none. Although some throws were on target, he was also inconsistent. Here's hoping a week working with the first unit will sharpen his game again. Beck may be ready to play against Stanford, although no official statement has been issued.

* Most interesting call of the game? After BYU forced an Irish punt with 2:23 remaining, a fumbled snap and a two-yard gain left the Cougars with third and eight with a minute and half left. With a defense that was shutting Notre Dame down and Payne as a punter, most would think a plunge into the line would be followed by a punt. Certainly a passing play was out of the question, right. Berry sailed a sideline bomb to Watkins who out-dueled two Notre Dame defenders, picking up not only the reception, but a pass interference call to boot. Game over.

Game balls to Todd Watkins, Brady Poppinga and Matt Payne. Next up: Sept. 11 at Stanford.

ELSEWHERE IN THE MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE:

Utah 41, Texas A&M 21
On last Thursday night's featured ESPN game, Utah jumped on Texas A&M and never let up. Quarterback Alex Smith led the charge, completing 21 of 29 for 359 yards, three TDs, no picks, and also rushed 13 times for 76 yards and two more scores.

It was 27-0 before the Aggies got on the board late in the first half. The A&M passing attack, never a strong suit in College Station, was sad enough (270 yards while trying to play catch-up football), but their rushing attack was an embarrassment to a once-proud program, netting only 167 yards.

The defense once known as "The Wrecking Crew" surrendered nearly 600 yards of total offense and one big play after another. Utah executed unusually well for a season opener, and if they keep doing so, they will be hard to beat. A favorable schedule bodes well for the Utes. Officials announced this game was only the second sell-out since Rice-Eccles Stadium was expanded (first against BYU in 2002). Next up: Sept. 11 at Arizona.

New Mexico 17, Washington State 21
A capacity crowd at University Stadium saw their Lobos open a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter against Pac-10 opponent Washington State and then give it away. New Mexico had one more first down than their opponent, and 415 yards of total offense to the Cougars' 271. However, they self-destructed in the final quarter. In that critical period, the Lobos had a punt blocked, threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. Next up: Sept. 11 vs. Texas Tech.

Air Force 14, Cal 56
A late first-half score narrowed the gap to 14-21, but it was a chimera. The Falcons had hopes of a second straight upset over a ranked Golden Bear team, having upset Cal in 2002. Five second half Golden Bear touchdowns brought Air Force back to earth, however. Cal beat the Falcons at their own game, rushing for 342 yards. The Falcons kept Cal guessing in the first half, using an unbalanced line from scrimmage, three down lineman on one side of center and only one on the other. After Cal decoded the scheme, Air Force was shut down. Next up: Sept. 11 vs. Eastern Washington, a 1-AA opponent from the Big Sky Conference.

Wyoming 42, Appalachian State 15.
Only 13,205 showed up to watch the hometown Cowboys pummel the 1-AA Mountaineers from the Southern Conference. It was over in the first quarter as Wyoming scored 30 to the visitors' 6. It gets a little tougher next week as Wyoming visits Texas A&M. Wyoming will feel the brunt of A&M's frustrating loss at Utah. Colorado State 25, Colorado 27
Instead of playing their series at a neutral site, in-state rivals Colorado State and Colorado decided on a home-and-home format, starting at Folsom Field this year. The Buffalos took advantage, jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on 192 yards rushing and 12 first downs. The Buffs led 17-0 until the Rams scored as the half ended to make it 17-7. CSU had the advantage in the second half and even had a chance to tie or win at the end of regulation at the three yard line. They went for win, and came away with a loss. Next up: Sept. 11 at USC.

San Diego State 38, Idaho State 21
The silver lining: Aztecs win a game by 17 points. The cloud: it was against I-AA Idaho State. The Bengals managed 22 first downs and nearly 400 yards total offense against SDSU, but the post-game stats are a bit misleading since the Aztecs led 38-0 before calling off the dogs. Next up: BYE, then a real-world awakening comes calling Sept. 18 at Michigan.

UNLV 17, Tennessee 42
UNLV actually led at one point, but not for long. A field goal on the Rebels' opening possession gave them a brief lead, but it was all Tennessee thereafter. The visitors managed 174 rushing yards, providing a glimmer of hope. Give the Rebels credit for playing a real schedule, while Air Force, Wyoming and San Diego State lock horns with I-AA foes. Next up: Sept. 11 at Wisconsin.

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