In the Pioneer Pure Vision Las Vegas Bowl, Cal came out clicking and the Cougars sputtered. As a result they played catch-up all night long and could never quite get there, although BYU twice tied the Bears. Eleven penalties in the first half revealed an out-of-sync football team. The end result was another disappointing loss – disappointing in that "what could have been" was all too apparent. The Cougars had one more first down than the Bears (27 - 26), more time of possession (33 minutes to 27) and were nearly equal in total offense (446 – 469), but 12 penalties to Cal's nine, and two crucial turnovers to none for Cal were more than enough to tip the scales.
The game's most crucial play may have come at the end of the first half. After rallying to tie the score at 14, BYU needed only solid defense for 25 second to go into the locker room in a dead heat. Instead, BYU allowed a 42-yard kickoff return, committed pass interference, and then two incomplete passes later the defense gave up a 43-yard pass play to hand the lead back to Cal.
It cannot be over-emphasized: BYU needs to get fundamentally, radically better on defense. Poor tackling was prominent as Cal's backs repeatedly broke tackles to reel off long runs.
Bronco Mendenhall promised much better discipline. Off the field, he has delivered. On the field, the Cougars have retreated. BYU ended this year with 8.33 penalties per game, and one every 17.65 plays (both offensive and defensive snaps), up from 7.25 per game and every 19.11 snaps in 2003, and 7.54 and 19.42 in 2004. Good teams do not beat themselves.
The turnover ratio was much improved, although still not great. This year the Cougars suffered 20 self-inflicted wounds to opponents' 22. In 2003 BYU committed 39 turnovers to opponents' 25, and in 2004 it was 30 to opponents' 19. Yes, that is a significant improvement, but still leaves room for plenty more. How much more? BYU's 2005 "turnover margin" is 0.17 – tied for 50th nationally with San Diego State, and behind such as Virginia, Arizona State, Alabama and Georgia, not to mention the very top teams. Good teams do not beat themselves.
Even modest improvement in these two areas would have given the Cougars at least three more wins, even with the same porous defense, against TCU, Utah and Cal. Does 9-3 sound better to you than 6-6? It sure does to potential recruits, fans, and TV networks. These are two areas in which a modest degree of improvement is 100% within the control of the coaches and players. Can you imagine what a modestly improved defense would add to this equation?
Utah 38, Georgia Tech 10.
Utah provided the biggest surprise of all conference bowl teams. Not in beating the Yellow Jackets, but in dominating them, jumping out to a 20-0 lead and never looking back. Quarterback Brett Ratliff, in only his second start, threw for 381 yards and four TDs, while the Ute defense allowed Georgia Tech only four more yards of total offense than Ratliff threw for. Brian Johnson may as well change his name to Wally Pip.
What a difference two games make! Utah was 5-5, and picked to stay home for the holidays after a loss to surging BYU in Provo. Instead, the Utes pick up two big wins and finish at 7-5. They are still the second-best team in the conference despite what the official standings will tell you.
TCU 27, Iowa State 24.
The conference pinned its hopes on TCU, and the Horned Frogs didn't disappoint, although it took a 44-yard field goal with 5:25 remaining to provide the margin of victory.
Uncharacteristically, TCU committed four turnovers after being second in the nation to USC in turnover margin all year. Fortunately for the Frogs, the Cyclones committed six turnovers to negate TCU's sloppiness.
Earlier bowl losses by #6 Oregon and #9 Miami, and a guaranteed loss by either #4 Ohio State or #5 or #6 Notre Dame (depending on your poll of preference) in the Fiesta Bowl, could have TCU in the top 10 if #22 Florida State can upset #3 Penn State in the Orange Bowl.
In a game featuring virtually no defense at all, the Rams rolled up 572 yards of total offense while surrendering an amazing 611 yards (467 on the ground), and the game, to the Midshipmen.