Snake-bitten Cougars Stomped by Stanford

<B><I>COMMENTARY<BR></I></B> BYU coach <b>Gary Crowton</b> must feel inexplicably snake-bitten having lost his top two quarterbacks during games two years in a row. It happened again Saturday night in Palo Alto (Calif.) with BYU leading 10-0 in the first quarter – only to watch Stanford counter with 37 unanswered points for a 37-10 final score.

Second stringer Matt Berry, starting in place of John Beck who was injured last week against Notre Dame, was sidelined on the third play with a hand injury in the Cougars' first offensive series of the game and replaced with third stringer Jason Beck. Berry did not return to the game.

What was both puzzling and amusing – for Stanford fans – was the misleading key indicators in the final game statistics:

* BYU had 21 first downs vs. Stanford's 21 first downs
* BYU was 45 percent in third down efficiency vs. 44 percent for Stanford
* Total net yards – BYU 329 yards vs. Stanford's 369 yards
* Net Passing Yards – BYU 288 yards vs. Stanford's 297 yards
* Net rushing yards – BYU's 41 yards vs. Stanford's 72 yards
* Time of possession – BYU 28:58 vs. Stanford's 31:02

However, what really did the Cougars in were the eight turnovers – four fumbles, recovering only one, four interceptions – and an extraordinary 14 penalties for 125 yards. Conversely, the Cardinal had four fumbles, but recovered two, 7 penalties for 64 yards and no interceptions.

"I felt like we lost our composure," Crowton told reporters after. "If we can maintain our composure and be consistent, we are going to be a good football team. We were inconsistent offensively, inconsistent on special teams, and we had too many turnovers."

Coming in cold as Berry did last week, Jason Beck looked good in the initial drive for BYU's first touchdown on a 3-yard scamper by running back Naufahu Tahi midway through the first quarter. On a subsequent drive, kicker Matt Payne added three on a 40-yard field goal with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter. Jason Beck exited the game having completed 28 of 52 passes for 285 yards and three interceptions in a brutal initiation.

The Cardinal special teams dampened the early excitement on the Cougar bench when kick returner T.J. Rushing returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown with just over two minutes left in the first quarter.

Crowton said, "We started out and got ahead. They ran that kick back and that started things going in the wrong direction."

It was pretty much downhill the rest of the way for BYU as Stanford's offense eventually wore down the Cougar defense. The result was scoring drives totaling 10, 7, and 13 points in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarters before Stanford coach Buddy Teevins called off his dogs late in the fourth.

With Jason Beck ineffective, Crowton took a calculated gamble inserting injured starter John Beck midway in the fourth quarter. Beck, who was still not 100 percent healthy and was ostensibly being saved for the USC game, delivered crisp short passes, was sacked once and temporarily revitalized a stalled BYU offense. But it was a case of too little, too late and Beck was unable to mount another scoring drive.

Crowton sensibly replaced Beck with fourth string quarterback Jackson Brown in the dying seconds of the game and he still managed to get himself into the record books with an interception of his only pass.

On the bright side, Cougar receivers Todd Watkins, Austin Collie and Rod Wilkerson were the main targets. Even though Jason Beck couldn't get the ball to him even though he was often wide open, Watkins still had 6 receptions for 89 yards. Collie followed with 8 catches for 49 yards and Wilkerson had 3 receptions for 52 yards.

Credit for the Cougars' first loss goes to a very good Stanford defense which stiffened from the second quarter on and bombarded Beck with an assortment of blitzes neither he nor the Cougar offensive line could handle.

Sensing they had BYU on the ropes, the Cardinal delivered a knockout blow behind the gutsy and inspired play of sophomore quarterback Trent Edwards, who was 20-41 for 297 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

To add injury to injury, the Cougars may lack the services of one of their top defensive players in lineman Manaia Brown for next week's critical showdown at home against No. 1 ranked USC. The Trojans whipped Colorado State 49-0 today at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Brown was helped off the field limping and holding his previously-injured shoulder. Brown suffered a torn MCL midway through fall camp.

Brown sacked quarterback Edwards in the first quarter and was frequently in Edwards' face with at least three other near-sacks.

The defense was impressive at times with frequent blitzes that Edwards' effectively negated with quick outs or by simply throwing it away. However, BYU's defense was woefully exposed for its poor tackling techniques Saturday, repeatedly failing to wrap up the Stanford tight end, wide receivers, running backs and special teams specialists.

Overall, the Cougars looked as bad against Stanford as they looked good against Notre Dame. Obviously, Bronco Mendenhall and his defensive braintrust will likely dedicate a fair portion of their defensive practice this week to the basic fundamentals of arm tackling.

Clearly, the heroes of the night were Stanford's defensive front seven which kept Jason Beck off balance most of the game.

Cardinal tight end Alex Smith led all Stanford receivers with 6 receptions for 87 yards and one touchdown. However, it was 6-7 Cardinal wide receiver Evan Moore, who caused a lopsided mismatch all night against cornerback Brandon Heaney and BYU's secondary. He had four receptions for 56 yards and one touchdown.

"We had an opportunity to get off to a good start with our challenging schedule, but we were inconsistent. We've got to put it behind us and come back and regroup and get ready for Southern Cal," Crowton added.

The embattled Crowton can take solace in the fact that Saturday's snake-bite at Stanford is wholly treatable and would be miraculously cured next weekend in Provo with a major upset of the Trojans or a total team effort resembling last year's closing comeback against USC in Los Angeles.

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