Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
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At 3-5 on the season, the BYU Cougars are three wins away from bowl eligibility. The next three teams they face are a combined 3-19 on the season. Three may just be BYU's lucky number, in a season short on luck to this point.
Saturday's 25-20 win over Wyoming should have been a more comfortable affair, but for a handful of key mistakes at critical times.
Leading 16-0 in the second quarter, and driving to the Wyoming, BYU faced a 4th-and-1 at the Wyoming 37, and was going to for it to keep the drive alive. False start, 4th-and-1 becomes 4th-and-6, BYU punts the ball; point-scoring opportunity wasted.
There was of course the "pick six" thrown by Jake Heaps, a pass Bronco Mendenhall told us he saw in "ultra slow motion" from his line of vision on the sidelines. BYU was in Wyoming territory at the time of the interception; another chance to score wasted, while the Cowboys scored on defense.
BYU's ensuing drive resulted in a Josh Quezada fumble at the Cougar 20-yard line. The Cowboys took over and went backwards (a running theme for most of the day), but still kicked a field goal; three more gifted points, and BYU found itself leading 16-10 when the game should have been over at halftime.
Leading 25-13 in the third quarter, BYU was given the ball at the Wyoming 24 yard line after an 8-yard Cowboy punt, yet came away with no points. Facing 3rd-and-3 at the Wyoming 6 yard line, another false start backed BYU up, incomplete pass on 3rd-and-8, and for the first time in his career, Mitch Payne missed from inside 30 yards; a blocked field goal kept the Pokes within shouting distance when BYU had another chance to seal the deal.
In the fourth quarter, trying to bleed the clock and win a game BYU led by only five points, the Cougars faced a 3rd-and-2 at their own 49-yard line. Short yardage specialist Bryan Kariya was taken out of the game, and J.J. DiLuigi gained only a single yard on the ensuing carry. When taking a handoff on 3rd-and-2, DiLuigi has now made first downs on only one of four conversion attempts. Wyoming got the ball back, and and had a chance to score the winning touchdown in the closing seconds.
Like the San Diego State game, a game BYU dominated was in doubt until the last minute, and right now, that's just who BYU is: a team that when it wins, tends to win by a narrow margin.
As Bronco put it in our postgame conversation, the final margin against the Cowboys "really didn't have to be like that, but we made enough mistakes, and Wyoming made enough plays."
Noting that "we did make those mistakes, and they are a part of our team right now... there is a lot that can be learned from those type of games, there's a lot that can be built on in terms of resolve and grit and determination and heart, and when that's demonstrated and displayed, it's a really positive thing and I love our team and who they're becoming in that regard."
"Eventually, the execution and the clean play and the ball security will catch up to where we might be able to have a larger margin."
The upcoming three games will give BYU ample opportunity to "catch up" and produce and end result commensurate with its level of play; the hope is the level of play will continue to progress, and a bye week should help (BYU has won five consecutive games after a week off).
The passing game produced only 81 yards of offense, along with BYU's first aerial touchdown in five weeks. Mendenhall characterized the throw game as progressing "inching forward... we're inching along. From last week to this week, I think there was a little progress, and a little is better than none."
With three wins in the final four games needed for bowl eligibility, and four more wins in five games (assuming a bowl game) needed for a winning season, the coach said "if we were able to put a winning season together and win post-season, I would be as proud if not more of this team than any team I've coached."
BYU LB Brandon Ogletree and KR Cody Hoffman were named as Mountain West Conference Defensive and Special Teams Players of the Week today.
The honors are the first for Ogletree and Hoffman, and the first for a BYU player since punter Riley Stephenson was tabbed after BYU's season-opening win over Washington.
In putting together my weekly Deseret News column (runs on Tuesdays), I spent a few minutes last night chatting with BYU Associate Head Basketball Coach Dave Rice. It's time to get excited about Cougar hoops, with football on a bye week and the basketball team appearing twice at the Marriott Center this week.
I'm excited to see which personnel combinations emerge as the coaches determine whose talents mesh together the best. As tomorrow's column will highlight, there is no shortage of alternatives as potential rotations are considered for this year's club.
I'll be at basketball practice later today and will post some post-practice interviews on "Cougar Tracks" this afternoon/evening.
FYI, I will broadcast BYU's two exhibition games to an exclusive online audience on Friday, November 5th (Laval) and Friday, November 12th (BYU-Hawaii).
The games will not be heard over-the-air on KSL Newsradio, but will be available for streaming at ksl.com via the secondary X-Stream audio channel.
On ksl.com's "Listen Live" page, scroll down the page on the right-hand side, and click one of the three X-Stream listen options to hear the games, which will start directly at 7:00pm on both nights.
Our over-the-air broadcasts will start with the regular season opener versus Fresno State on November 12th.