Two teams with shaky starts and recent big wins faced off over the weekend when Colorado State, the only unbeaten team in conference play other than TCU, traveled to Provo. Each team featured a good quarterback, a good running back, an excellent receiver and a suspect defense. For BYU, the biggest question was John Beck. Although the junior has had some excellent games, he has not strung them together. The way the game was called left Beck few opportunities to put together outstanding back-to-back passing performances.
The Cougar coaching staff, and Robert Anae in particular, had an excellent game plan, going straight at CSU's weakness, its run defense—dead last in the MWC. BYU rushed 52 times counting Beck's scrambles and threw only 18, a ratio in Provo reminiscent of Ronney Jenkins. Curtis Brown had 31 carries for 147 yards, and Fahu Tahi added 88 yards on only 14 carries. All told BYU averaged 5.3 yards per carry. (For comparison, although BYU's season average is less, only 12 teams are averaging more than 5.3 yards per carry through Saturday).
The game was closer than it needed to be, however. While the Cougar defense played its best game of the season, the offense committed two crucial mistakes in the first quarter. Beck and Watkins got their wires crossed, and an overthrown ball was intercepted inside the CSU 20. Next, Jonny Harline broke wide open, took a pass from Beck, and looked ready to steamroll the last Ram defender at the one yard line. Instead he coughed up the ball and the score remained knotted at zero.
The 14-0 BYU lead at the half was extended by a Jared McLaughlin field goal early in the third quarter, and with only seconds left in the quarter the Rams committed an error that could have slammed the door but for a BYU error in return, one for which we must write up the head coach. A bad exchange between CSU quarterback Justin Holland left the ball rolling in the BYU secondary. In a wild scramble David Tafuna recovered the ball and could have fallen on it at the BYU 14, killing the Rams' scoring hopes. Instead, he tried to "make a play." The ball was knocked out of his hands, and recovered, by receiver David Anderson, and on the next play the Rams scored to cut the lead to 17-7. Consider the difference: if Tafuna simply falls on the ball, and the Cougars pick up even single first downs before punting, CSU would have been faced with a 17 point deficit to make up in about 10 minutes, starting from deep in their own territory. Instead, they have to make up only a 10 point deficit in a full 15 minutes, which they nearly did.
That they did not quite do it is thanks to the Cougar offense, which after another CSU score cut the lead to only three, went on a grinding seven minute drive which sealed the win when Curtis Brown punched it in.
The win, coupled with Wyoming and Utah losses, left the Cougars in a four-way tie for third, one-half game in back of Colorado State, which must still play Wyoming at home, as well as at TCU and New Mexico.
Next up: BYU @ Notre Dame, Colorado State vs. Wyoming.
New Mexico 27, Wyoming 24.
Rocky Long's Lobos, reeling after three straight losses, came to Laramie desperately needing a win to stop their free fall and salvage their season. After losing quarterback Kole McKamey early in the second quarter it didn't look good for New Mexico, but DonTrell Moore is the man and he showed why, rushing for 181 yards on 36 carries. For the second successive week Wyoming quarterback Corey Bramlet was the MVP – for the other team. Last week Bramlet threw four picks and fumbled the ball away three times to hand the game to TCU. Against the Lobos he threw two crucial fourth quarter interceptions, giving New Mexico the ball at the Cowboy 19 and 29, but the Lobos could muster only three points out of the two miscues. Wyoming had a chance to tie it with just under three minutes left, but Deric Yaussi's 42-yard attempt sailed directly over the left upright. The officials in such circumstances must make a judgment call: would the ball have passed through the uprights had it been low enough to do so? In this instance they ruled not, and New Mexico picked up the first downs to run out the clock.
Next up: New Mexico @ San Diego State; Wyoming @ Colorado State.
It was get better week for the Falcons, and get better they did, albeit against a weak UNLV squad. Air Force racked up 31 first downs and 316 rushing yards while holding the Rebels to 14 first downs and two net rushing yards, and held the ball for over 38 minutes. Sophomore quarterback Shaun Carney ran for four touchdowns. For once the Falcons had no kicking game errors. Still, the Academy must with three of its last four games – TCU at home, at BYU, Army at home, and at New Mexico – to become bowl eligible and avoid the first back-to-back losing seasons in Coach Fisher DeBerry's 22 years at Air Force.
Next up: Air Force @ TCU, UNLV vs. Utah.
San Diego State 28, Utah 19.
The Utes, playing at home, had 15 first downs to the visitors' nine, and 18:26 of possession to only 11:34, yet still trailed at the half 21-13. That's what happens when you give up 56-yard pass plays (Kevin O'Connell to Jeff Webb) and 61-yard running plays (O'Connell).
The final stats were similarly in favor of the Aztecs, yet the Utes never led. The closest they came was 21-19 with 2:42 remaining in the third. A two-point conversion attempt would have tied the game, but it was stuffed by the SDSU defense. That defense had two other big plays in the fourth quarter to win the game, causing a Quinton Ganther fumble into the end zone which the Aztecs recovered for a touchback at 5:05, then stopping Ganther on fourth and one at the SDSU 30 with 2:23 remaining.
Utah has now lost three straight, has lost its 10-game home win streak, and is tied with UNLV for dead last in the conference after being picked by pundits to win it all.
This game did produce a Pearl of Wisdom from color man Jamaal Anderson on ABC regional television. After the camera showed backup Ute quarterback Danny Southwick on the sideline, Anderson confidently vouchsafed to viewers that Southwick started his college career at BYU, but transferred "when Chow and Crowton and all those guys left." Let's see. Chow left after the 1999 season. Crowton left after the 2004 season. Hmmmm. For the record, Southwick signed with BYU in 1999 out of Timpview HS and immediately went on a mission. When he returned in 2001, Chow, who had recruited him, was long gone, first to NC State then Southern Cal. Dennis Erickson recruited him to Oregon State but was fired before Southwick enrolled. Southwick did participate in spring practice for the Beavers under Mike Riley, but decided to seek his fortune elsewhere. Not wanting to lose a year of eligibility, he took the JUCO route at Dixie for two years before walking on at Utah, and is now a junior. Barring injury to Utah starter Brian Johnson, Southwick may end his career without ever playing a meaningful down of Div. I-A football.
Next up: Utah @ UNLV, SDSU vs. New Mexico.
TCU 38, Army 17.
Bobby Ross was brought in to make Army tougher, but results are not showing up in the won-lost record yet. The Black Knights came to Ft. Worth 0-5, gave TCU a game, but in the end went home 0-6, their 11th straight loss. The score was 24-17 until TCU pulled away with two touchdowns in the last six minutes of the game. The Horned Frogs intercepted three Army passes, without which it would have been interesting indeed. TCU has now picked up 16 opponents' turnovers in the last three games, while giving up only four.
Next up: TCU vs. Air Force.