Prior to the UCLA game, the thought of many was that a win over UCLA could vault the Cougars into the national scene and put them on the road towards a possible BCS bowl game. After the loss, the Cougars are doing their best to put that out of their minds and move on.
"It's tough," said quarterback Max Hall. "It was a loss and we hate to lose. Sure, it was the Rose Bowl and all that, but a loss is a loss and we move on, learn from our mistakes and continue to look forward. You have to put everything behind you, and that's the attitude we're taking today."
It's an attitude that has been forged by head coach Bronco Mendenhall since he took the head-coaching reigns. That same attitude has since rubbed off on his players. Prior to the season, Mendenhall talked about learning opportunities every team has to take throughout the course of the season. On the heels of the loss to UCLA, the team has started that learning process and will hopefully grow stronger as a result.
"I feel that we grew a lot over the course of that game," said Hall. "I know I did. We lost and that's all that matters, but when we went in at halftime down 20 to 3, I looked at it as a huge opportunity to bring the team back at the Rose Bowl, and looked at my guys and told them that we were going to come back and win the game."
Winning the game seemed very much in reach when BYU scored two quick touchdowns to pull within a field goal in the third quarter. The Cougars, and probably most of the fans for that matter, believed they would pull it off, but came up just short, losing by a score of 27-17.
"We didn't execute like we can," said Criddle. "If we execute at the level - both on defense and on offense - like we know we can, then we win. I know that on defense we didn't do all we could, and we'll work to fix that so it never happens again."
"We had ball security issues on three different occasions," said Mendenhall. "We also battled field position and penalties. Those three things were really the difference in the game."
In response to the field position issue, Mendenhall mentioned that most of it was due to bad punts and bad punt coverage, both of which he'll look to address this week. He said that he'll have an open competition between C.J. Santiago and Brian Smith to see who will be handling the punting responsibilities for the rest of the year.
Unga Moves Up
"The most touches right now would go to Harvey [Unga] based on the performance during the first two weeks," said Mendenhall when asked how the rotation at running back would be handled. "Manase [Tonga] will be in a similar role he was last year and Fui [Vakapuna] will sort of be the spell-player for Harvey going into this next game."
One aspect of a new quarterback that almost always comes into play is so-called "happy feet." Happy feet are contracted by a quarterback's uncertainty in the pocket as the defensive pressure starts to close in.
So far this season, Hall has shown almost no symptoms of happy feet. He has stood secure and confident in the pocket, willing to take everything that comes his way for the benefit of the team.
"I don't know what it is," said Hall about his lack of happy feet. "I just want a play to work so bad every time, and I have a lot of confidence in the system and in my teammates. I know that when I'm in the pocket, if I just wait even a half-second more, something will break open."
Indeed, Hall has had some success when he has stayed in the pocket in lieu of dancing in and out of it. Many new quarterbacks struggle with this aspect of the game, and end up losing the timing and flow of a play because of it. Hall has taken some brutal hits while standing in the pocket and making some gutty plays down the field. But does it hurt?
"Oh yeah, especially on Sunday and on Monday," said Hall. "But come Wednesday it's all good and I feel fine. Taking hits during the game, it's not big deal. I don't even really feel it. I'm just out there to compete and I know it's part of the game. I'm going to get hit every game and you just bounce back, talk trash to the defensive linemen when they do hit you, and try to do everything you can to allow your team to win."