Yes, it was a contest. Not quite as close as the final score indicated, because the Cougars bottled up the TCU offense until late in the game. Yet, it was closer than it needed to be after a bad policy decision. Leading 27-15 with 10:45 remaining, the Cougars took over on downs at their own 27. They put together two first downs but couldn't sustain a drive and punted the ball away with 6:38 left. What followed was the biggest mistake of the game, as the Cougars went into a prevent defense and, as critics of the scheme claim, nearly prevented themselves from winning. The Horned Frogs moved the ball with their greatest ease of the entire game, needing only 2:55 to reach the BYU end zone and draw within a touchdown.
When the Cougars went three-and-out in 70 seconds, the game was truly in jeopardy for the first time all evening. The BYU staff had drawn the correct lesson, however, and there was no more prevent defense. The result was four straight blitzes, two short complete passes, and two sacks for a combined loss of 18 yards to effectively end the game. To the relief of Cougar fans, Coach Bronco Mendenhall agreed in post game comments that going to the prevent had been a mistake.
Max Hall had a very good - if not excellent - game, completing 26 of 44 passes for 305 yards and one touchdown. His only flaw was a first half interception that led to a TCU field goal. Hall pulled the ball down and ran for crucial yards when circumstances dictated, and had the moxie to abort an attempted handoff and take the lesser of two evils when his running back slipped down. Third down conversions were everything a coach could hope for - 13 of 20 - and for the first time in several games, Hall avoided taking any major hits, as he was able to move in the pocket and release the ball on time.
The Cougar defense was excellent, holding the TCU running backs to 49 yards. Although quarterback Andy Dalton was able to scramble for significant yardage, it was largely due to excellent downfield coverage.
Penalties were few, only four for 30 yards, and the Cougars had only one turnover other than the Hall interception.
With the win BYU advanced to 7-2 overall and 5-0 in conference, two games up in the loss column with only three to play.
Utah 50, Wyoming 0
The surging Utes romped over the free-falling Cowboys, scoring 30 points in the second quarter alone to go up 40-0 by halftime, despite Wyoming coach Joe Glenn's pre-game promises of bringing back a win. Eight penalties and five turnovers doomed Wyoming's hopes. So inept were the Cowboys that even when handed the ball at the Utah 34 in the third quarter, they ended up punting from the Ute 39 after a holding penalty and three incomplete passes.
50 points is more than 227 passing yards and 278 rushing yards usually warrant, but with all the help from Wyoming, those yardage totals were more than enough.
Utah inexplicably gave Wyoming a little help for the future, however. Although the Utes ran a fake punt when leading by 26, that was still in the second quarter, early enough that no offense need to taken. But an onside kick with a 43-point lead in the third? Although Wyoming recovered the kick, the very attempt drew an angry hand gesture for Utah coach Kyle Whittingham from his counterpart across the field. Think the Cowboys might remember that one next year in Laramie?
The Utes stayed in a four-way tie for second in the loss column with the victory.
Next up: for Utah, New Mexico. For Wyoming, BYU.
Chad Hall rushed for 142 yards in South Bend to lead the Falcons to a significant out-of-conference win. Although the Irish are having their worst year since going 0-1 in 1887, their name and national television contract ensure a wide audience for every game.
The Falcons are now 8-3, and with a likely win next week at home versus San Diego State, they would finish with a fine 9-3 record and no worse than second place in the conference. Not bad for a year that was supposed to be dedicated to rebuilding. Troy Calhoun would be a deserving pick for coach of the year.
Next up: San Diego State.
New Mexico 26, Colorado State 23
The Lobos bounced back from last week's drubbing at the hands of TCU, but a three-point win as time expired at home against the worst Colorado State team in 19 years would indicate little bounce in their step.
It was tied at 23-all with less than 25 seconds left when the Rams punted. O.J. Swift returned the punt 18 yards to the Colorado State 26 and the Lobos were lucky he didn't return it any farther, as there were only three seconds left when he went down. It was enough, however, for New Mexico to rush their kicking team onto the field, and John Sullivan connected for the fourth time in the game to give the Lobos the win.
New Mexico held on to their 25 percent share of second place and slim hopes for a conference title.
Next up: New Mexico is at Utah in a game which will end one team's hopes. Colorado State hosts Georgia Southern of the erstwhile I-AA, now the Football Championship Subdivision. Georgia Southern holds a win over giant-killer Appalachian State. An Eagle win would not be an upset.
San Diego State 38, UNLV 30.
The Aztecs, just 4-5 overall, remain tied for second in the loss column in the Mountain West. The home standing Rebels must be asking themselves how they can lose at home when they pick up 24 first downs while holding their opponent to 18, dominate them offensively 482 yards to 318, and having the same number of penalties (3) and turnovers (1)? The answer is "narrowly." The margin of victory was found in the fact that UNLV drew a blank on two more drives than SDSU did, missing a field goal on one and punting the ball away on another.
The Aztecs have a trip to Air Force next week, followed by TCU and BYU in San Diego. Although it's a long shot, should they win out they'll finish no worse than tied for second, and could still win the title. They're playing their best ball of the year and Kevin O'Connell is a very good quarterback.
Up next: for SDSU, at Air Force. For UNLV, at TCU.
The Bowl Outlook
BYU, now at 7-2 overall and 5-0 in conference, needs only one more win in its last three games to clinch at least a tie for the conference title and a third straight trip to Las Vegas.
Air Force now looks likely to be in the Armed Forces Bowl, as Poinsettia Bowl officials announced that a Navy-Air Force rematch would require both teams' consent. Air Force quickly agreed, but the Midshipman nixed the idea, having already beaten the Falcons.
Utah, with a win over New Mexico next Saturday, will likely be Navy's opponent in the Poinsettia Bowl, unless BYU stumbles badly enough for the Utes to claim a share of the conference title and a trip to Las Vegas.
New Mexico cannot play in the New Mexico Bowl but once in three years, meaning that after last year's trip they must look elsewhere. Winning out might send the Lobos to Ft. Worth, but another loss would certainly leave the Lobos home.
TCU will now likely finish 7-5. Albuquerque appears a likely destination.