This was one of the more interesting fall practices I have attended since I started covering the Cougar football team four years ago. The main story surrounded new offensive coordinator Robert Anae instituting a new offense based on the highly prolific scheme that he imported from Texas Tech.
Early on, most balls were thrown to a couple of guys like Jonny Harline and Nathan Meikle with no catches between them in past seasons. Hardly a deep pass was thrown to the best Cougar deep threat ever to pass through Provo who is Todd Watkins. Halfway through fall practice, the offense really started clicking and I was left to assume that both Harline and Miekle will be major focuses of the offense during the coming season.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall was very blunt in his assessment throughout the fall practices regarding the deficiencies in the secondary. These deficiencies were compounded with mass hamstring injuries to just about half of the defensive backs. While front six looked solid as Justin Leuttegerodt and Paul Walkenhorst reemerge as worthy starters, the secondary never got over that hump.
It seemed that the Cougars only hope was that the secondary's problems were largely proportional to how effective and prolific the Cougar passing offense was expected to be. In other words, it seemed like BYU's success would depend on the offense scoreing more points than the defense gave up. That hope would be tested in the first game against Boston College.
BYU's secondary is not tested all that much as BC mounts and consistent and unspectacular offensive attack, which allowed them to score a few points. In the end they did not need much to pull out the win. BC did all that was necessary and nothing more on offense to secure a victory.
My most vivid memory of this games came when the Cougar offense moved down the field with ease on their first possession with short underneath patterns. Lance Reynolds Jr. was pumping up the crowd on the initial drive as everyone is felt an offensive explosion would become the rule for most games throughout the year.
BYU only scored three points, but move the ball well for the most part. The running game was not a factor and neither is the deep pass to Todd Watkins. BC's head coach made a very prophetic comment after the game that the offense could become very potent once they figures out what they were doing.
The game went just about how most people think, and BYU wins easily. Nothing was really learned from that performance about how BYU will fare for the rest of the season. Fans would have to wait for a bye week to further assess BYU's return to glory on the football field.
BYU's offense and defense could do no wrong as the game commenced. The offense moved at will and did whatever they wanted to a hapless TCU defense. Meanwhile the Cougar defensive unit proved stout stuffing everything the Horned Frogs threw at them during the early stages of the game.
After BYU went up 14-0, TCU promptly returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. Since BYU was dominating on both sides of the ball at that juncture, fans shrugged it off, but wonder if it will come back to haunt the Cougar football team later on in the game.
Haunt the Cougars it did as BYU faithful watched nine defensive starters go down on route to TCU doing whatever they wanted offensively while the Cougar offense tried to keep pace. The game where to overtime where a special teams gaffe gave the Horned Frogs a most improbable victory on their way to an eventual conference championship.
BYU looked to rebound after a devastating loss and basically came out as flatter than anyone could possibly imagine. Nothing went right and the Cougar faithful are beginning to wonder if Gary Crowton was not really all that bad after all. The season hung in the balance as the Cougars stumbled out of the gate to a 1-3 record.
This was one of the better football games of the year in regards to both teams performing extremely well. Punches were met with counter-punches by both teams throughout the ball game. Then with time running out, New Mexico looked to put the game out of reach as they drove deep into BYU's territory with a 24-19 lead.
Then K.C. Bills made perhaps the defensive play of the year stripping the ball from the Lobo quarterback. John Beck promptly mounted a comeback drive for the ages, which was culminated by a touchdown pass to Matt Allen in the waning moments. BYU's season was alive, but just barely as they headed into the thick of the conference race.
This was the game that marked the arrival of the real Cougar offense—an offense that played to its strengths for the rest of the year. Amidst loud criticism that his players were not running the ball enough, Anae calls an offensive attack of 52 runs and 18 passes as the Cougar offense dominated the time of possession on the way to a 24-14 victory that was never really close.
The Cougar football team was back and looked to at least contend for the conference championship in the remaining games after heading to South Bend to play an explosive Notre Dame team.
Brady Quinn and company do whatever their hearts desired against a hapless Cougar secondary. BYU's offense proved effective despite numerous dropped passes, but fell way short of making up for a completely deficient Cougar secondary.
BYU's offense made the Falcon defense look at least as awful as Notre Dame made the Cougar defense look the week before. BYU did whatever it wanted against Air Force with little resistance. The game was a blowout and the talk turned to when exactly Coach Mendenhall should pull Beck as the fourth quarter rolled around.
Then, after doing a stalwart job defending the triple option for three quarters, the Cougar defense did their best to let the game stay interesting giving up big pass play after big pass play. The Cougar defense and special teams gave up 27 points in the fourth quarter, but BYU still managed to win comfortably 61-42.
The Rebels were arguably the worst team BYU played all year with excepting Eastern Illinois. UNLV did everything they could to help BYU win by a very comfortable margin. The Cougars won by a very comfortable margin a looked well on their way to win out the season with an invitation to the Las Vegas bowl in their back pocket.
BYU rolled the Cowboys in Laramie, but a closer inspection of the game would give the most insightful BYU fan pause as the Cowboys managed to turn the ball over on five occasions with three of them coming well inside Cougar territory. They matched BYU's offensive production for the most part. Only the turnovers held Wyoming back from putting that production on the scoreboard in the form of points.
The Cougars could not be more confident while the Utes could not be more unsure with their starting quarterback and top receiver out of the game.
BYU came out as flat. Their first drive involved Curtis Brown dropping a pass that would have gone for at least 50 yards, an illegal procedure penalty on a third and short that led to a failed third an long attempt and a personal foul on the ensuing punt.
Utah took every advantage of the Cougar's weak start by posting an impressive lead going into halftime. BYU was reborn after halftime led by a 64-yard Curtis Brown touchdown gallop, which should be remembered as one of the best runs ever by a BYU running back. However, the Cougars put themselves in a situation that called for no mistakes.
After BYU cut the lead to a touchdown, the secondary struck again in one of the worst blunders you will see when they allowed Utah to convert a 3rd and 23 into a touchdown and a two-score lead heading into the final quarter. The Cougar offense did everything necessary except putting up a game winning score on its final drive of regulation. Miraculously the game went into overtime, but after a Ute touchdown, BYU Beck tossed up a desperation pass on fourth and six in overtime that fell incomplete. The Ute fight song rang in Cougar fans heads for the rest of the evening and likely well thereafter.
BYU was matched up with Cal in the Las Vegas Bowl and came out about as flat as they did against Utah. The game was remarkably similar to the Utah game in how it unfolded. The Cougars once again found themselves trying to com from behind for a win or to at least force overtime.
While this past season did not give Cougar fans all they hoped for, BYU did earn a bowl invitation and showed improvement. At the very least it was far from being the disaster many anticipated after the San Diego State loss even if it ended on a couple down notes.
TBS will be back this spring to give you all the details and angles on the early version of the 2006 Cougars. In the meantime, there will be plenty of recruiting action to keep things interesting.
I look back to Tom O-Brien's comments following the first game of the season about BYU becoming a very good once they figure out what they are doing. With his first year under his belt, Mendenhall has a great point of reference from which he and his staff can work. They seem to have discovered who they are as a staff and a team. Now they must remember that identity and instill it within a new team in 2006