Gridiron "Groundhog Day"



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So, here I am watching ESPNU tonight, and it's a discussion of BYU-Washington. Again.

It's been more than 72 hours (!) since BYU won 28-27 at Husky Stadium, and the national commentators cannot let this one go. And it's not as if the time for reflection has improved or clarified their perspective.

"Terrible rule... horrible call... not taunting...not excessive... flipped the ball... could cost Willingham his job... can't take emotion out of the game... Huskies were robbed... officials determined the outcome...blah, blah, blah..."

Enough, already, really.

And I realize that I am prolonging the discussion by writing this, but...

Let's imagine for a moment that Jake Locker was not flagged for throwing the ball in the air on Saturday. And let's say Washington went on to win the game in overtime. Do you honestly think there would be even a single commentator who would say BYU was "robbed" because an official swallowed his whistle on an obvious rule violation? We know the answer to that question.

But, because a popular player from a popular league committed a foul that analysts deemed unreasonable, BYU pays the price, to the extent that the Cougars' victory has been rendered all but illegitimate in the eyes of the national media (I call it the "virtual asterisk").

There is a lot of football to be played between 2-0 and 12-0, but should this win ultimately be considered anything less than it was, it will be a shame--and just the latest evidence that life as a "non-BCS, non-ESPN" entity is akin to being the black sheep of the college football family.

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Every commentator refers to the Locker penalty as a violation of the "excessive celebration/taunting" rules, and while it's a minor distinction, it bears noting that while there are a variety of offenses listed in that particular section (pointing, taunting, inciting, choreographing, bowing, etc.), the rule violated Saturday is actually a separate rule, relating to the disposal of the football after a score or other dead ball. Yes, celebrating players often throw, spike or spin the ball, but the specific rule violated Saturday also covers players who might kick or carry the ball in a manner that forces the official to go a distance to retrieve it. It also covers any other unsportsmanlike offenses that delay the game.

So, it's NOT IMPORTANT that Jake Locker didn't intend to "show up" or "taunt" the Cougars (as practically every national expert argues). He wasn't flagged for violating the "taunting" rule--he was flagged for "throwing the ball high in the air" after a score.

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UW head coach Ty Willingham showed his true colors at his Monday press conference, changing course from his sensible gameday statements by going back and assailing the officials and the unsportsmanlike conduct call in question. As quoted in the Seattle Times:

"I think we all know that it was not the right call," Willingham said, before then comparing it to the cliché that holding could be called on every play. "There are rules written for them to use discretion, and in this case we didn't do that. Proper judgment was not used. That was not an act of a young man taunting, not an unsportsmanlike act at all, and therefore it should have been viewed in its totality and not just isolated as to the letter of the law."

Clearly, this is a man under fire and looking for cover, and instead of acknowledging that the players ultimately determined the outcome of the game, he joined the "nattering nabobs of negativity" in grasping for an excuse, and failing to take accountability for his team's shortcomings.

Without canonizing Bronco Mendenhall, can any of you imagine Bronco saying anything other than what he said on Saturday ("the rules are the rules"), even had the call gone AGAINST him? Bronco has been on the receiving end of some bad fortune and questionable officiating in the past, but his tone has never wavered. He never allows anyone but himself or his players to take responsibility for their performance, and he would neither seek nor accept sympathy for a call that might have gone the wrong way.

Does Bronco think the Pac-10's officiating system is just this side of unethical? I think he does. But he doesn't use it as an excuse, and he wouldn't be using it as an excuse had the official in question kept the flag in his pocket on Saturday. He would have said what he said on gameday: there was one more play to make.

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By the way, for all the talk about player "intent" and the "spirit" of the rules, I have searched the rulebook for the "Intent and Spirit" section, and I can't find it.

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Tomorrow night's "Bronco Mendenhall Show" is live at Ken Garff Ford in American Fork (south side of I-15 in A.F.), and gets underway at 7:00pm. As always, listeners will be in for great giveaways and free burgers, dogs and drinks from Iceberg Drive-Inn. See you Wednesday night!

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Trivia Time:

BYU has gone 2 consecutive games without allowing a sack. Since the NCAA started keeping track of sacks in 2000, BYU has never gone 3 in a row without allowing at least one sack. The last time BYU went two in a row with zero sacks allowed was in 2000.

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I'll have some more interesting facts (well, I think they're interesting) tomorrow morning.

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