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The Cougars played better than the final score showed on Saturday in Provo. I’m not going to go as far as to say that Riley Nelson gave up or quit, but after that first key interception late in the game, the frustration in his eyes was evident and his head was not in it the rest of the way. The next interception was a direct result of that frustration.
For those saying that the BYU defense was finally exposed, that’s only kind of true. The drives Oregon State put together were consistent and sustained, so it’s hard to point to big plays that, if stopped, would have changed the whole game. However, the offense looked better than it has with Jamaal Williams finally getting the amount of touches he deserves in situations that will allow him to have success.
BYU was matching a good Oregon State offense punch for punch until the turnovers blew the final score out of proportion. So if the Cougars could have taken care of the ball better, they’d have been in it and had a chance to win. However, if "ifs" and "buts" were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas.
Meanwhile, the enigma that is Riley Nelson continues to baffle BYU fans. Without his over-aggressiveness, it seems like BYU would not have won some of the games that they’ve won nor been in some of the games that they’ve been in. However, with his over-aggressiveness, he continues to make big mistakes in big moments.
It is very hard to overlook the fact that in 11 starts as BYU’s quarterback Nelson has thrown 15 interceptions and fumbled the ball 10 times, luckily losing only four of them. Yet as hard to overlook that as it may be, offensive coordinator Brandon Doman and head coach Bronco Mendenhall seem to do that very easily.
Whether it’s because the two of them share a bizarre love triangle-type man crush on Nelson or they simply despise quarterbacks who can actually throw, we don’t know. But it has to stop. With nothing to lose, James Lark needs to be the guy going forward for the Cougars. You’ve got to try something new.
If Doman chooses to stick with Nelson, Notre Dame may force his hand. Manti Te’o and the rest of that defensive front seven will not allow Nelson to continue to do what he does and stay healthy, especially with fractures along his vertebrae.
If Nelson continues to try to make ill-advised throws while he’s being sacked, fighting for the extra meaningless yard instead of going out of bounds or sliding and throwing his already busted up body around the field, a hard-hitting, fast Notre Dame defense will put him back on the sideline.
I know toughness is a quality to be admired, but there is a difference between toughness and stupidity. Derek Jeter may be able to stand between second and third base for the Yankees with his broken ankle but he will be less effective than I would be. That’s not being tough, that’s being an idiot.
I wonder if some Cougar fans would prefer a game-manager at this point, someone like Jon Hays. Think about it. If BYU had a solid, safe quarterback, where would they be? Just a thought.
In Kyle Whittingham’s weekly press conference on Monday, he said that the Utes are closer than a lot of people think they are. He’s right.
There’s a lot of frustration within the fan base, which has led to a lot of sweeping and generalized thoughts about this team. Just search the twitterverse. You’ll find a lot of, “This offense sucks,” or, “This defense is about as strong as wind.”
These mass generalizations are not true, but easier to believe because of how frustrating this team is to watch for fans. There are three main reasons this team is so agonizing to watch.
First, the Utes are making big, stupid penalties in big situations. The Utes only had four penalties for 30 yards against the Bruins on Saturday, but they all seemed to come in big situations. The first touchdown of the game for the Bruins would have never happened if Joe Kruger didn’t line up offside on a third down. On the play, UCLA didn’t get the first down on the play and an easily avoidable penalty kept the drive alive, and eventually the Bruins cashed in with seven points that would have never been put on the board.
The other penalties all either negated a positive play for the Utes or put them well behind the chains. That stops drives like nothing else can.
Second, the Utes give up too many third-down-and-longs. With UCLA this was especially frustrating, because mobile quarterback Brett Hundley constantly scrambled for first downs on third-and-long.
UCLA was 10 of 17 on third downs in the game; six of the 10 conversions were in third-and-long situations. One of them was on third-and-16, another on third-and-14. On another occasion, just when the Ute defense thought it had gotten itself off the field after a Hundley 9-yard run on third-and-10, the gain allowed the Bruins to go for it on fourth-down and get it. That led to another touchdown.
The Utes are 68th in the country on third-down defense, giving up first downs 38 percent of the time.
Third, the Utes' poor fundamentals are what’s leading to the two above frustrations, and it is very visible. Poor angles to the ball have lead to very poor tackling, which can be attributed to having to tackle better athletes in the Pac-12, but the rate at which opponents are breaking tackles is unacceptable.
It seems like a lot of this has changed since Brian Blechen came back. There have been a lot of breakdowns and confusion in the defensive backfield since he came back; maybe that’s not a coincidence.
All this combined with the fact that the Utes have the athletes and playmakers to compete with the teams they are losing to has Ute fans, coaches and players very aggravated.
However, just as these things can be sources of irritation, they can also be sources of hope. These are things that can be fixed. If the Utes simply didn’t have the talent to compete, then Ute fans could be discouraged.
There are positives for the Utes to take from the UCLA game. Freshman quarterback Travis Wilson looked solid. He only really made the one major mistake, and he made some big plays as Brian Johnson hesitantly opened up the offense for him. Also, the defense seemed to make some good adjustments to keep the Utes in the game during the second half. And how about the offensive line? It looked good again in both the ground game and in pass protection.
The Utes' offense also gained 319 total yards to UCLA’s 354.
- John White averaged almost four-and-a-half yards per carry in the first half and then only got one touch in the second half. One. That can’t happen.
- Cody Hoffman played well for the Cougars with 10 catches for 102 yards. Imagine the numbers he’d rack up with a quarterback who could get him the ball.
- The BYU run game is still an issue and that will be something to watch against the Notre Dame front seven. The Cougars will need to continue to use Williams out of the backfield through the air if they have a chance to be effective against the Fighting Irish defense.
- Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor was in on both third and fourth down. Pac-12 officials. Enough said.
- In the same game, said Pac-12 officials announced at the end of the game that the Notre Dame fans and players who ran onto the field at the end of the game would not be penalized because they “thought the game was over.” I guess that doesn’t apply to Utah fans.
- Texas Tech beat West Virginia, 49-14. Apparently you do have to have a defense.
- The first BCS polls came out this week, and two SEC teams are again at the top with Alabama at No. 1 and Florida at No. 2 Don’t worry, this will change after the Gators lose the next two weeks to South Carolina and Georgia.
- College football legend Beano Cook passed away over the weekend. It’s hard to imagine a bigger college football fan on the earth. His passing reminds us that covering the game of football is just about the most fun thing you can do in life.
For more opinion including bowl projections and power rankings, go to BYUtahInsiders.com.
Trevor Amicone is the founder of byutahinsiders.com, which covers BYU, Utah and national college football with weekly polls, bowl projections, opinions and analysis. Follow its brand new Twitter page at @BYUtahInsiders and Trevor's at @TrevorAmicone.