Trouble Bruin...



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back on the blogwatch after a weekend in Southern California, and another loss that looked familiar to almost every other loss Bronco Mendenhall has suffered during his tenure as BYU's head coach.

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Bronco's Cougars have lost 9 times in 2+ seasons. In only 3 of those losses were the Cougars out of the game: v. Boston College (-17), San Diego State (-21) and Notre Dame (-26), all in 2005. The other 6 losses were by 1 point (OT v. TCU in 2005), 7 points (OT v. Utah in 2005), 7 points (v. Cal, LV Bowl in 2005), 3 points (@ Arizona in 2006), 3 points (OT @ BC in 2006), and 10 points (@ UCLA, but down a field goal until the final minute).

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In each of the close losses, I am certain you can come up with one key play, or one key call that helped shape the outcome of the game. Whether it was the phantom fumble v. TCU, the botched kicking plays at BC, the push-off on Matt Allen at Arizona, Nate Miekle getting destroyed on a play that wasn't flagged in the same game, etc., etc,. BYU has been victimized by seemingly unfortunate and in some cases unjust twists of fate.

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And so it was at UCLA, that once again, a single play, or a single call (or non-call) could have swung the game the Cougars' way. It appears BYU may have been poorly served on at least 2 of the 4 video reviews--those plays being Vic So'oto's ruled fumble, and Bryan Kehl's ruled "non-dig." In both instances, there was video (reportedly, from the stadium replay on the Kehl play) and/or photographic evidence showing the calls on the field to be incorrect, but for whatever reasons (technical or otherwise), the Pac-10 replay officials judged the rulings on the field as correct.

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The play on which Max Hall fumbled was accurately called a fumble, in my estimation--and that's something I did not believe at the time. Calling the play live, I thought his arm was moving forward when hit, but having seen the replay numerous times, it appears Bruce Davis hits Max's arm at apex of his backswing. It would have been tough to conclude that "intentional forward movement" had begun when Davis contacted Hall, but, I will once again stress that according to the NCAA rules, "when in question," it is a forward pass and not a fumble. Certainly, there was some "question" about whether Hall's arm was moving forward. BYU definitely did not get the benefit of the doubt on the play, but then, when was the last time BYU came out of a Pac-10 venue feeling it got a fair shake from the officials, either in football or basketball?

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The old axiom is that you should never let one play or one call determine the outcome of the game, and it's true, in that BYU need look any number of other places before the Cougars lay blame at the feet of the officials or the fickle football fates.

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BYU's inability to establish a running game, its propensity for penalties, handing UCLA a defensive touchdown, not to mention favorable field position--these were all factors as important as any missed call or poorly judged replay.

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Against UCLA, BYU handed the ball off to running backs 19 times (10 times in the first half, and 9 times after halftime). Only 5 of the running back carries went to Harvey Unga, who through two games is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Fui Vakapuna has one more carry than Unga (21 v. 20), for 36 fewer yards (2.8 yards per carry). Against the Bruins, Unga had only one first half carry, and none in the first quarter, when BYU struggled to escape the shadow of its goalposts, while UCLA enjoyed a starting field position edge of some 23 yards.

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Fast Fact I:

Under Bronco Mendenhall, BYU is 0-7 when attempting 48 passes or more. 5 of the 7 games were aforementioned "close" losses, so BYU's deficits did not necessarily dictate abandonment of the running game. More accurately, BYU was "unbalanced" in those games, and more often than not, when the Cougars are off-kilter relative to the pass/run ratio, the result is not a positive one.

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Fast Fact II:

Update: Since 1972, BYU is now 170-48-1 when passing for 300 yds or more (78% win percentage), but 233-38-1 when running for 100 yards or more (86%).

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The UCLA game began ominously enough, with BYU flagged for holding while returning the opening kickoff. Backed up to the 10, the field position pendulum had already swung UCLA's way. After getting a nice bounce on a low short kick to start the game, C.J. Santiago's next two punts went 28 and 35 yards, and the first quarter die was cast. In two first quarters of play, BYU's average starting field position in relation to its opponent has been -23 and -18 yards.

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Back to penalties for a moment. In Bronco's 18 wins, his team has been penalized an average of 6.8 times, for an average of 59 yards. In his 9 losses, BYU has been flagged an average of 9.7 times, for an average of 76 yards. While one cannot draw a direct correlation between penalty incidence/yardage and wins or losses, the higher number of penalties in losses appears symptomatic of lapses in concentration that seem to victimize the Cougars at inopportune times--namely key moments in games for which the margin for error is narrow indeed.

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UCLA should be the toughtest test of the season for BYU, and if so, look for the Cougars to finally top the 20-point plateau, then double it at Tulsa this Saturday. The Cougars have scored 45 or more in each of the last 4 meetings with the Golden Hurricane, and expect BYU frustration over the Rose Bowl setback to manifest itself with an overpowering performance.

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While the UCLA loss kept the Cougars from jumping into the top 25 and the BCS discussion, there remains the slimmest of chances BYU could sneak back onto the BCS radar between now and late November. It will require winning out, TCU winning out until they play BYU, and it would also help if UCLA attains as high a national profile as possible. Having Hawai'i lose would also be beneficial, and I believe the Warriors are good for at least one loss, considering both Boise State and Washington are on the Warriors schedule to end the season. For that matter, Hawai'i could lose at UNLV, given the islanders trouble with La. Tech, and the Rebels' inspired play v. Wisconsin (or were the Badgers merely blearly-eyed from too many "hit me's"?). Either way, while anecdotal evidence exists to suggest a one-loss non-BCS team could still finish in the top 16 and ahead of a BCS league champ, "BCS busters" have to this point been undefeated teams, so the odds are not favorable for BYU, TCU, Boise State, or any other team with a blemish on its record. Such is the way of the new college football world--you might get one chance to make a national splash and stake your claim, and this past weekend, BYU came tantalizingly close to doing so. Second chances don't come often--now, BYU will have to create that chance with a combination of sustained excellence, and some timely failures from other teams elsewhere.

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