Unlike many of those callers, I cannot attribute this loss to any one player or play. If I was pressed to place responsibility somewhere I would have to distribute among four areas: 45% defense, 40% special teams, 10% fourth quarter play-calling, and 5% turnovers. I'll break down my reasoning in reverse order.
BYU had three turnovers that TCU converted into 10 points. The turnovers also meant BYU's sometimes unstoppable offense was not able to expand the lead. Even with the turnovers, the offense played well enough to offset them and win the game.
Fourth Quarter Play Calling
I say fourth quarter, but I really mean one key drive that began with 6:02 left in the game. On that drive, Coach Mendenhall made a gutsy, crowd-pleasing call to go for it on fourth and inches. On the next series, the coaching staff called three straight runs to Brown. On two of those runs Brown tried unsuccessfully to get the corner. The call that proved the most damaging was a third and two toss sweep to the right that cost the Cougars a yard and led to a fourth and three.
What surprised me was the two attempts to go outside when TCU, with its impressive team speed, had handled Brown's attempts to get the corner most of the night. As the second down play showed, Brown was most successful on runs that started out up the middle. The delayed handoffs were especially effective. In a crucial third down situation that would have essentially iced the game if successful, I wonder why that particular call was made.
The other call I wonder about was the decision to punt on fourth and three. Coach Mendenhall elected to go for it on fourth and inches from the 29, why not fourth and three from the 37? Of course the answer to that question is that you punt the ball and expect the defense to hold TCU.
I guess that answer does not satisfy me. TCU scored touchdowns on its three previous possessions, with two of those scores coming off of 80 and 77-yard drives. BYU had lost all three starting defensive lineman, one starting linebacker, one starting corner, and its other starting corner was in and out with injuries and the starting middle linebacker was hampered by leg injury. In that situation, even facing fourth and three on your own 37, it seemed like the safer bet would be to keep the ball in the hands of the offense that had put up 41 points to that point.
As an outsider, who has never played a down at the D-I level and does not have the coaches deep knowledge of playbook and personnel, I am hesitant to question play-calling, and even more wary about suggesting an alternative. I imagine that Coach Mendenhall will provide and insider's take on my concerns to some degree as he speaks with the media in the days to come.
There were two things about special teams that I feel contributed significantly to the loss. First, BYU made two mistakes on special teams. The first mistake came on Cory Rodgers 100-yard return. That play silenced the raucous crowd and kept TCU from being blown out early. The second mistake came on the bad extra point snap in over time.
As I saw the game, you take away that first mistake and it is game over in the first half. You take away the second mistake and who knows what happens in overtime.
Second, TCU was great in its kicking game. Solid field goal kicking kept TCU in the game in the first half and a clutch extra point secured the victory.
The defense gave up 51 points. What more needs to be said? A few things actually.
The defensive performance can be split into two parts: the part played by the entire first team defense and the part played by anywhere from one to seven defensive backups.
If this game was only limited to the first part, there would have been little drama. BYU's first team defense proved very capable of holing the TCU offense to three-and-outs or at most field goals. They were not perfect, but they were getting the job done.
Unfortunately, things started to unravel when Cameron "the General" Jensen went down in the first half. That loss was soon followed by the loss of Paul Walkenhorst. We can only hope that after all Walkenhorst has been through, he will be able to return to the field soon. Nate Soelberg was the next to leave the game followed by Justin Robinson. The final, and deepest, blow came when the entire starting defensive line was lost at the start of the fourth quarter.
Decimated by injury, the defense proved incapable of stopping a determine TCU offense. Without good pressure on the quarterback, TCU backup quarterback Jeff Ballard was able to pick apart a struggling Cougar secondary, while TCU's running backs also got going, picking up large chunks of yardage by attacking the edges.
The Silver Lining
For Cougar fans who are still looking for the temper that they lost or the heart that was ripped out during today's loss, there is something positive to take away from this game. The offensive explosion against Easter Illinois has now been validated as more that just an anomaly against poor completion.
John Beck and the offense looked outstanding today. The Cougs got themselves into trouble with penalties and sacks, but outstanding play and play calling kept the ball moving despite several second and long situations. Beck was intercepted twice but both picks came off batted balls rather than errant throws.
Especially encouraging was the offense's ability to answer scores by TCU. A last-minute drive to kick a field goal to put the game into overtime was reminiscent of fourth quarter drives of old.
I also take hope from the fact that the first team defense was able to contain TCU for the most part. That hope will be tested, however, if the starters that were lost today are not able to return quickly.
On a side note, I have to take my shot at the ineptitude of the Mountain West Conference officials. They made AWFUL calls both ways. Both teams were helped and hurt by dubious penalty calls and no-calls. The most telling thing that I noticed was that every time the refs were challenged by the Cougars, the refs were proven to have made the wrong call. If the replay judges had had a better camera angle on TCU's overtime touchdown, that call would have been judged to be wrong as well.
Going back to the Utah-TCU team, the MWC referees made a couple highly suspect calls that cost the Utes the game and earned the refs the derision of the ESPN announcing crew.
Bottom line, what the heck is up with these guys? What coach in the conference is going to want these hacks making calls when the game is on the line? No wonder MWC coaches were in favor of replay.
Now back to the matter at hand, Cougar fans came away from this game brokenhearted and angry, and who can blame them? Despite the messages of tradition and returning to winning ways of the past, Cougar faithful have been treated to two home losses this season. That is in addition to 10 home losses over 18 home games in the last three seasons.
All that losing at home has left Cougar fans with little patience for more of the same. The offense certainly appears like they have arrived and are ready to put up enough points to win. The questions lie with the defense. Can they rebound? Can they get healthy? If not, can the second teams step up? The answer to those questions will likely mean the difference between the return of a winning Cougar tradition or maintaining the tradition of mediocrity and disappointment that was established the last t