John Beck wasn't perfect, but he was nails when it counted. Beck drove the offense the length of the field for the final two possessions in which BYU had to score stepping up making huge plays as he looked worlds better than he did last week.
Beck's efficiency throughout the course of the ballgame was huge. He converted critical third-downs all night long going underneath the coverage on most occasions. He was sharp and quick with his reads for the most part. His pocket presence was much improved, but still not perfect.
It's hard to state how pivotal this game may be for Beck coming off of arguably his worst outing since his freshman year. Tonight he did what makes names for Cougar quarterbacks of years past. He brought the team back driving the length of the field on two occasions. Building upon this will be important, but bouncing back from such a horrible outing against the Aztecs should prove huge for Beck and for the Cougar football team.
Running Backs: A
Fahu Tahi was out, but Joe Semanoff and Manasse Tonga both stepped up big time. Semanoff played like he practices. Not spectacular by any means, but made plays when he had to. He had a solid outing and did everything you could possibly ask of him.
Tonga's contribution was mostly seen lead-blocking for Curtis Brown. This was especially noticeable on Brown's final touchdown where he took out the middle linebacker on the play clearing the way for Brown. His catch out of the backfield was also huge on a crucial third down conversion.
Curtis Brown had to step up and step up he did in the absence of Tahi. He fell forward on most running plays and got two more yards than he should have by being aggressive and not going down. Hard to criticize anything the running backs did as a whole tonight. They were solid and made plays all night long.
Jonny Harline was outstanding as he continued to make a case to be one of the most promising prospects BYU has had at tight end since Chad Lewis and Itula Mili. He's won the confidence of Beck and is making himself an option on offense that opposing defenses will have to game-plan for.
Not much from Zac Collie as he didn't have many balls thrown to him. Matt Allen stepped up big making a grab on a sideline pass that he had no business catching. The open field juke to get into the end zone for BYU's final touchdown cannot be understated. Joe Griffin also stepped up catching a slant pass that continued a drive as he came off of his injury.
Again, Todd Watkins wasn't as involved as you'd maybe like catching no deep balls over the coverage. Then again, only one attempt at that was thrown his way for whatever reason. Watkins made one of the most important catches of the game putting the ball well into Lobo territory setting up the final touchdown.
Offensive Line: B+
The Cougar trench warriors had some breakdowns in pass protection leading to sacks, but gave Beck all the time he needed for the most part. New Mexico brought a steady diet of blitzes and they picked them up for the most part. They also got a push on most running plays as Anae focused on the run more this week. The O-line gets a large portion of the credit for Brown's 105 yards rushing.
Defensive Line: B-
I thought Manaia Brown had his best game of the year. Not a lot of individual tackles made by Brown, but he blew up his share of run plays to his side of the line. Daniel Marquardt did very well playing with a fractured rib as well.
The difference with Marquardt being in there opposed to Hala Paongo was stark. The Lobos made most of their yards on the ground running consistently to the side Justin Maddux and T.J. Sitake occupied. While they fared better than they did in the second half against TCU, they still struggled which is to be expected to some degree with second string DLs.
Kyle Luekenga got his share of reps at nose tackle and a couple of times at defensive end. Luekenga is a promising true freshman who played linebacker in high school. I look for Luekenga's playing time to steadily increase throughout the year as he starts to spell Marquardt when he gets breathers.
Cameron Jensen was absolutely huge in this game. Jensen is not close to being even passably healthy and sat out for most of the second and third quarters due to injury. The game started to turn back to BYU's favor when he came back in the fourth quarter. He was the one stuffing most running plays and the QB option run. It's difficult to say whether BYU would have won this game had Jensen not returned in the fourth quarter.
The frustration with the linebackers tonight came with where they were giving up outside containment when the defensive end strung out the quarterback on most option plays. When the end takes the outside move and strings out the quarterback, then the OLB should be there to take the running back but they were not for a large portion of the game for whatever reason.
Open field tackling remains a concern for this unit. Too many broken tackles by the Lobos and Moore and the rest fell forward on most running plays far too often. Lack of pressure on passing plays also remains a concern. Again, they did step up when it counted. This was especially true of Jensen.
K.C. Bills had a game he would probably want to forget about taking bad angles on running plays while committing a crucial pass interference as he played the ball badly on a third and 20 late in the ballgame. I like Bills a lot and he will get better with every game as he's just his fifth game into his career at the safety position. Bills is a play-maker, he just needs to learn better how to make those plays from the safety position. Bills has the ability to be a real difference-maker from the Kat position in this defense. He just had a bad game tonight as he continues to develop.
Spencer White was solid in coverage, but did not do much in run support and on blitzes. Dustin Gabriel had his best game since the Eastern Illinois game as he looks healthier, but he still wasn't the consistent difference-maker in the middle that you'd want from the Cougarback position. Very important to remember that Bills and Gabriel are only sophomores. They will both get much better.
Big cushions given once again, but both Nate Soelberg and Justin Robinson stepped up when they had to. When the game was on the line, Soelberg did not allow anything to get behind him. While he did not make any spectacular plays, he did make a huge play stopping Hank Baskett late in the fourth quarter on a big third down attempt by the Lobos. Also to Soelberg's credit, he did not allow any huge plays by the New Mexico.
Justin Robinson used every single bit of his 5'7, 154 frame to prevent Baskett from making two catches on fade patterns in the end zone. His size is a big detriment, but he's doing all he can in order to defend and deserves credit for it.
This was and absolutely huge game for the Cougars. A loss would have been devastating. Not only winning, but the way in which the win came with both sides of the ball stepping up when they had to is something BYU players and coaches can build on for the rest of the year.