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PROVO — BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum and his teammates sure have a flair for the dramatic. Besides a blowout victory against a winless FCS program, the Cougars have caused gray hairs to sprout for coach Bronco Mendenhall and BYU fans alike in the Y's other six wins. The contest against San Jose State was no different. Nine games through the season, here are some observations about the cardiac Cougars.
The Cougars are winning close games
Some call it magic. Others call it pure luck. There's probably an element of both. Either way, the Cougs have come out victors in all but one of their close games. So far, the Y is 3-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Take away a last-minute pick six against Boise State and that record moves to 4-1.
In all but the Wagner game, BYU has been tied or losing going into the fourth quarter in all of its wins. The Y could easily be 1-8 this year. While this has caused more heartburn than Cougar faithful would like, the past three seasons were disappointing due in large part to the Y's inability to pull out wins in close games.
In 2012, the Cougs were an unsightly 1-4 in games decided by a touchdown. In 2013, BYU was 1-2 in contests decided by a touchdown and lost two more by 10. Last year, BYU finished 4-3 in matchups that were within a score. This included two overtime losses. It would be nice to see the Cougs dominate their competition, but it says a lot about the character of a team to win games in which they could have easily lost. Which brings me to my second observation.
The Cougars appear to have good leadership
A lot of the struggles last year can be attributed to a lack of leadership. When Cougar signal caller Taysom Hill went down, BYU didn't only lose their best player — they also lost their leader. Without Hill, the team imploded en route to a four-game losing streak. The lack of leadership was fully on display in the Miami Beach Bowl against Memphis. The team's performance on the field and the brawl that ensued were embarrassing and could have been avoided had the team had a clear leader.
This year, the Cougars could have easily folded after Hill went down again. Or after a heartbreaking loss at UCLA. Or maybe especially after being dismantled in Ann Arbor by Michigan. But the Cougars have stuck together through the ups and downs of the season. I attribute a lot of that to better player leadership.
The offense and defense have both contributed to the Cougars' successes and failures
In 2012, BYU had arguably its best defense in school history. Led by future early round NFL draft picks Ezekiel Ansah and Kyle Van Noy, the Cougars dominated on the defensive side of the ball and held teams to a paltry 14 points a game. The defense kept three offenses out of the end zone and were affectionately known as "Zion's Curtain." Unfortunately, the Cougars also fielded an inept offense that struggled all season and was the main reason for the disappointing 8-5 season.
In 2013, the defense wasn't quite as dominant but was still by far the stronger unit on the team. Last year, it was the offense who carried the team all season. This season, both the offense and defense have played well overall and seem to feed off of each other. They have traded off picking up each other's slack. In the team's two losses, the offense and defense both could be blamed. Finally having solid play on both sides of the ball has helped the Cougars have a strong year thus far.
It will be interesting to see how the rest of the year plays out. BYU still has two stiff tests against strong defenses from Missouri and Utah State. I don't know what will happen in either game, but I believe Cougar fans should get the Tums ready.