Huskies Had More Bite Than Expected

BYU 28, Washington 27. The Cougars won a hard-fought, nail-biting, down-to-the-wire gridiron battle Saturday against a hostile foe in a hostile environment and against a hostile Pac-10 officiating crew that could have earned the men in stripes a silent MVP award for the obvious Washington penalties they turned a blind eye to ...

... until they yellow-flagged the Huskies for one in the final seconds they couldn't ignore and still keep a straight game-face.

Rule book aside, the 15-yard end zone celebration penalty on Washington quarterback Jake Locker with two seconds remaining was more questionable than all the calls they didn't make.

As flagrant, flippant and as facetious as I can be, the Pac-10 officiating head office should put a stop-payment on Saturday's game crew checks for allowing lowly BCS wannabe BYU to walk out of Husky stadium with a "W" tucked securely in their back pocket while their beleaguered counterparts with the actual "W" on their helmets remain sleepless in Seattle.

The irony is Pac-10 fans (add fans of powder-blue UCLA to the mix) are simultaneously squealing like banshees on Internet message boards about their own home-grown conference refs. Welcome aboard, brothers and sisters.

An unencumbered observer listening to TV talking heads or reading headlines and these same message boards might think the penalty prevented Washington from winning the game. NOT!

Excuse me, but Locker's ill-timed and unfortunate penalty simply moved the PAT to the 35-yard for a short chip shot any decent kicker should make to TIE – not win – the game.

Does anyone with an impartial set of eyes really believe the Huskies, check that… Jake Locker on his lonesome, would best Max Hall and company – given how unstoppable the Cougar offense was most of the game – in one or more overtime blue-zone cracks at the end zone? Yeah, right.

BYU quarterback Max Hall commented on the officiating and blocked kick after the game: "You can blame it on the officiating, you can blame it on plays, but there were a lot of things we thought we didn't get, holding penalties and things like that. So the bottom line is we blocked it," Hall was quoted as saying in the Salt Lake Tribune. "Bottom line."

Some may recall Oklahoma's highly-controversial luckless 34-33 loss to Oregon in 2006 in Eugene when the Pac-10 officiating crew made an egregious game-changing call that was reviewed and confirmed by a separate Pac-10 instant replay crew. A subsequent review/investigation by the Pac-10, initiated by an official protest from Oklahoma, showed both Pac-10 officiating crews blatantly made the wrong call in their conference team's favor and suspended the field officials and instant replay crew for one game and apologized to the Sooners.

"Errors clearly were made and not corrected, and for that we apologize to the University of Oklahoma, Coach Stoops and his players," (then) Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said in a statement.

Oklahoma should have won, but the Pac-10, despite their one-game penalty on the penalizers, did not change the score or the historical record since they were not required to do so. Typical B.C.S. finding (I was momentarily tempted to leave out a letter).

At a time when most conferences have switched to regional officiating game crews – e.g. different officials from different conferences working as a team to hopefully prevent similar officiating fiasco's like the Oregon-Oklahoma match – the Pac-10 has steadfastly refused to allowed mixed officiating crews for Pac-10 home games against non-conference teams.

Mendenhall addressed his Pac-10 officiating concerns with the media days before Saturday's game. He called the Pac-10's officiating arrangement "wrong" and said he believes it may give the league an unfair advantage.

"I try not to make a big deal about it. It isn't [being addressed], and it really doesn't do any good to address it," he said. "But we never expect, nor does any team that goes on the road, to get favorable calls. I mean, that's just part of the game. "

Speaking of Oklahoma, next up Saturday for Washington are the No. 3 Sooners at Husky Stadium. If Husky message boards are any indication, the Seattle loyalists expect the "dawg" days of summer to stretch even further into early fall with a 0-3 record to start this season.

Anyone looking at the final penalty stats showing BYU's seven penalties for 60 yards, compared with the Huskies' 4 penalties for 25 yards, would surmise it was about what you'd expect for a road game.

You might overlook the uncalled pass interference or holding infractions on the Huskies against Cougar receivers and tight ends. But the officials unofficially added another layer of protection for super-sophomore QB Locker, ignoring obvious holding penalties by the Husky offensive line – including a TV-isolated pull-down of Cougar lineman Ian Dulan from behind with no one else around as he was about to tackle Locker for a sack on Washington's pivotal touchdown-scoring drive.

To be fair, BYU was not without its uncalled infractions. Clearly, the Cougars emotional and immature true freshman O'Neill Chambers should have been flagged in the first quarter for reacting with a head slap to a Husky player. He was also involved in another heated wordy exchange and Cougar coaches will undoubtedly work with him to temper his enthusiasm and emotions before he costs the team yards and points in a critical situation.

Whether you acknowledge it or not, this particular Cougar team is a strikingly different breed of cat. They believe. They know. They will. Methinks this BYU defense would simply have risen to the occasion on any two-point attempt – yet again – and denied this Husky team a victory, keeping them mired in their current state of mediocrity. As it was, they did what they themselves expected to do – block a game-tying kick, buoyed by an inner-confidence gained from their past Utah and UCLA experiences.

This was not always the case for the Cougars, especially during the Gary Crowton era when they inexplicably lost too many games they clearly should have won. The Cougar faithful can county their lucky stars they have Bronco Mendenhall at the helm of a righted-ship at a time and place when the university and football program needed it most.

Seemingly, magic moments mysteriously happen for these "lucky" Cougars. Just ask the Utes of Utah, the victims from the last two rivalry games, and UCLA, a last-second blocked field goal loser in the last year's Las Vegas Bowl. Now you can add Washington to the list. Somehow, the adage that aptly describes these Cougar teams of late is, "The harder you work, the luckier you get."

Thank heavens.

I'm also inclined to believe BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, in quiet personal moments on his knees, credits the character and spiritual development he and his team derive from their immensely popular Friday night pre-game spiritual firesides. Word is Friday's fireside in Kent, Washington, was perhaps THE best attended of all, with more than 2,000 participants (1,500 in the stake center/gym overflow and another 500 in adjoining rooms in the building). You'd expect those attendance numbers in Mormon-country Utah. I lived in Seattle for almost two years where the LDS Church is NOT really that strong – compared to Las Vegas, Honolulu and now Salt Lake City, others cities I have lived at over the past 31 years.

The long and short of it was BYU eked out a hard-fought "W" Saturday against Washington (the Cougars' first road nonconference win in six years, and the first against a BCS opponent in seven years) with Jan Jorgensen's dramatic last-second heroics – sealing a pivotal win that was closer than it should have been.

BYU's offensive arsenal, led by Max Hall, Dennis Pitta, Harvey Unga and Fui Vakapuna, was unstoppable for the most past and the Cougars should have handily won the game by two or three touchdowns. Surprisingly, the normally sure-handed Austin Collie dropped passes he typically makes and was not as much of a game-changing factor as he usually is.

BYU's defense, right now, is in a place far removed from their potent offense. They have the potential to be good-to-great, but lack the synergy in their secondary. Interestingly, this year's unit is more athletic and talented than their overachieving counterparts from last season.

Just like Northern Iowa did the week before, the Huskies exposed some glaring deficiencies in BYU's secondary play. Locker overthrew wide open receivers three times on long bombs that would have been resulted in touchdowns had they been on the mark.

Expect UCLA and the offensive genius of Norm Chow – formerly of BYU fame – to further expose and try to take advantage of the Cougars' obvious and less apparent defensive shortcomings on Saturday.

The most disconcerting revelation from a week ago was Cougar defensive coordinator Jaime Hill identifying the long-bomb gadget play before the play, informing his secondary it was coming, and then watching his secondary allow UNI to execute it to perfection for a touchdown. Locker tried it three times and overthrew three sure touchdown bombs.

Regardless, you have to credit the Husky players for playing their hearts out Saturday. This is a proud program with loyal fans longing again for the gridiron dominance, respect and national recognition they enjoyed during the Don James era.

His successors, Rick Neuheisal, Keith Gilbertson and Ty Willingham, have all failed to live up the legacy James left behind. Neuheisal, now the UCLA head coach, was actually a celebrated winner in Washington, but he brought ignominy to the university because of illegal recruiting violations that plagued him earlier as head coach at Colorado.

All the posturing, venting and frequent media replays of Locker's game-ending penalty resulted in BYU dropping from 15th to 18th in the Associated Press media poll while the Cougars maintained their same No. 15 ranking in the USA Today Coaches' Poll.

At this early juncture, Mendenhall probably doesn't give a hoot about the rankings drop. The most important thing was setting another positive benchmark for his developing BYU football program in winning their first nonconference road game since 2002, breaking a streak of nine straight losses.

In the final analysis, it came down to a game of inches for BYU and a game of seconds for Washington.

On a lighter note, perhaps the biggest portend of things to come was a pre-game Washington press release that said their mascot had been placed on the disabled list and that it was uncertain when he would return.

Their mascot, an Alaskan Malamute named Spirit, missed the game due to injury. It seems the husky was chasing a squirrel the other day and injured his shoulder when he stepped in a hole.

Enough said.


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