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BYU defense critical in 20-14 loss to San Jose State

BYU defense critical in 20-14 loss to San Jose State

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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Maybe it was because BYU already had a locked-in slot in the Poinsettia Bowl that the motivation wasn't there Saturday night against San Jose State, but after coming off a 52-13 domination of Idaho last weekend, a 20-14 loss to the Spartans wasn't even on the agenda.

What was supposed to be win No. 2 of the three "cupcake games" ending BYU's season turned out to be a trap game. Simply put, the Cougars were careless in preparation and San Jose State wanted the win more.

What was supposed to solidify the appeal of players like Ezekiel Ansah and Kyle Van Noy as huge suppliers that would one day make it to the NFL turned into quiet, almost unnoticed efforts from the pair.

What was supposed to contribute to the rising trust of BYU's Riley Nelson fell apart at the seams as the starting quarterback was sacked four times and threw one interception.

A lot of 'supposed to's' fell short against the Spartans, but none so much as the struggling "Zion Curtain" defense.

Entering the game dubbed as the best defense in BYU history, recognized on a weekly basis by head coach and defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall as his favorite part of his job and the nation's 4th-ranked rushing defense, the Cougar D gave up three touchdowns on the first three drives.

And for a defensive unit giving up an average of only 170 yards through the air prior to San Jose State, those three first-quarter touchdowns were on the receiving end of 219 yards.

By the end of the night, the Spartans amassed 364 yards of offense.

Mendenhall's answer to the performance of his vaunted defense? San Jose's skilled offense.

"I think they (the BYU defense) played three quarters of good football," Mendenhall said. "San Jose has a good offense and can put a lot of points on the board."

And yet the Cougar defense has made a stand against other point-happy schools like Boise State and Notre Dame while still managing to prevent rushing touchdowns from one yard away of the end zone.

"We just were not concentrating very well on our assignments," said Mendenhall. "They had some nice concentration plays that forced our players to really concentrate from the beginning of the play to the end of the play. They had three big plays to start the game and then we decided to play and concentrate. Give San Jose State credit for the way they started the game."

That concentration resulted in two touchdowns from the Utah school — one to follow the Spartans' first, and one at the tail-end of the game.

When the defense finally seemed to get its rhythm, the offense choked: On a perfect set-up from the Spartan 21 with a first down, and just under a minute and a half left in the fourth quarter, Nelson was sacked and fumbled ball to San Jose State.

Nelson's gritty play throughout the game wasn't received well by fans, but Mendenhall was there to have his back:

"The guy (Nelson) is very resilient. We had (backup quarterback James Lark) ready because Riley (Nelson) was hurting. We weren’t sure how and if he was going to be able to continue and he just kept recovering and recovering. He gave us a chance to win the game."

With a win over BYU on national television, San Jose State jumps to a 9-2 season, while the Cougars fall back to a 6-5 record. Spartan head coach Mike MacIntyre dubbed this game as one of the biggest in the school's history, and coming out on top was a huge accomplishment.

"About all I can say is 'wow,'" said MacIntyre. "Watching those young men play and see them battling was great. That was a classic football game that will be remembered around here for many years. What (QB) David Fales and our offense did tonight, the way our defense kept battling, and the way BYU fought back made for an incredible game. ... This is a great win for our program and athletic department. The vibe out there was exciting. I love when I see the intensity and the joy in the kids’ eyes. They have earned this win and it was fun to be a part of."

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Alex Hoeft


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