Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What We Learned in the Oklahoma Game

I was lucky enough to attend this one (making sure to gather a few extra game programs on the way out of the stadium), and then after some celebration pizza, returned home late Saturday night and proceeded to watch the entire game again on DVR. It was almost as good the second time.

After each game this season, I will post a weekly game recap along the lines of “what we learned in the fill-in-the-blank game”. There are already dozens of media outlets that will cover the game itself, so I will try to provide something that is unique and interesting (understanding that those reading this have likely already scoured the Internet trying to satiate their post-game thirst). Finally, given that this is the first game, and against such a quality opponent, there was a lot to learn.

1. Classy Fans—The Oklahoma fans were classy. In my conversations with them, I found them to be thoughtful, knowledgeable, and gracious. Before, during, and after the game, not a single four letter word was aimed my way… or my mother’s. As we were leaving the stadium, many OU fans reached out to congratulate us on the victory and a game well won. Having attended several Cougar non-conference road games over the last several years and been treated in just about every manner by opposing fans (at Arizona being the worst), this was refreshing and commendable. I can only hope that opposing fans are treated in a similar manner by the Cougar faithful.

2. De Facto BCS Game—This was a de facto BCS game for BYU. Nicest stadium in the world. Prime time ESPN. 75,000 Fans. Top 3 Opponent. Big Payout (only about $1.5M for BYU—compared to $9M for a non-AQ in a BCS game—but it didn’t have to be split with anyone else in the conference, so it is effectively about the same if not better).

3. Max Hall—Despite a few times looking a bit nervous as the stadium’s high definition cameras and big screen captured his eyes at the line, Max played a gutsy game, shedding the monkey from his back and redeeming himself completely from the last season’s forgettable ending.

4. This Isn’t Last Year’s Defense—the defense was the difference in this game and may end up being the biggest story of the year for this team. Across the board they were quicker, more assignment sound, and better able to disguise their formations. Not once did OU’s supposed superior “athleticism” appear to be a factor against the BYU defense. There were a number of defensive standouts:
  • Jamie Hill—In his first game with full defensive play calling responsibilities, he came through with flying colors—calling the right plays, mixing up the alignments, and confusing the OU offense.
  • New Positions—There may have been 8 starters back on defense from last year’s underperforming bunch, but several of them were in new positions—corners moved to safeties, safeties to linebackers, linebackers to ends, and ends to tackles. All of this added up to increased speed and the right people in the right spots.
  • Secondary—Brian Logan and Brandon Bradley were able to effectively lock down the outside, staying step for step with the OU wideouts, while Scott Johnson and Andrew Rich did the same in the middle.
  • Jordan Pendleton—Seemed to be all over the field. After bulking up somewhat and converting to outside linebacker from safety in the offseason, he seemed to be in on the action in several key plays and will be a handful for opposing teams all sesason.

 5. Preparation—The team seemed to be well prepared for just about everything from handling the noise in the arena with silent snap counts (several players said that the piped-in noise in the practice facility was louder) to having a go ahead fourth down play ready to roll without hesitation. Kudos to the coaches.

6. Chambers is Improved--With the caveat that he didn’t get a lot of playing time last season, when O’Neil Chambers did play last season he looked somewhat sluggish and hesitant. That is not the case this season as he appears confident and quick. Look for him to become a key part of the offense as the season progresses.

7. Pitta Is Back—After playing injured in the last few games last season, he appears fully healed and back to his clutch form. Future opponents be warned.

8. The Kariya Surprise—Brian Kariya, former walk-on, filled in admirably at running back for the injured two-time thousand-yarder Harvey Unga, and should be able to provide adequate shoulders to retain some of the load upon Unga’s return.

9. Kicking Game Questions—The punting game with freshman Riley Stephenson appears to be in good hands, however issues around place kicking and kickoffs that originally surfaced during fall camp almost prevented the victory. A missed field goal. Short kickoffs. A crucial kickoff going out of bounds. Hopefully Mitch Payne will be able to step it up and perform at a higher level, or this deficiency may end up costing BYU at least one game this year.

10. Upon Further Review—In a game filled with penalties on both sides, the refs seemed surprisingly balanced. However, there were three key penalties that appeared questionable in the single replay provided in the stadium. After watching them again several times at home, here is my take:

  • Late Hit Out of Bounds—After seeing it from another angle, this looked reasonable, if not clear-cut. Good call.
  • Pass Interference on BYU in End Zone—The replays on TV only reaffirmed my belief that this was a clean play on the ball. Perhaps even a textbook play. However, it would have been difficult for the referees to have seen the angles that TV provided. Poor but understandable call.
  • Pass Interference on OU in End Zone—I questioned this one at the time, thinking we caught a break and that George should have made the catch. While I still think George should have caught the ball, it looks like he was pushed in the back just before the ball’s arrival. Good call.
11. Weekend Spin—Despite ESPN’s continuous coverage of Sam Bradford’s status drowning out the story of BYU’s performance, anyone who watched the game knows that this was a game that BYU earned. They were step for step with OU if not ahead. After a missed field goal, a fumbled punt return at the 30 yard line, and a fumble into the end zone, OU was lucky not to be down 17-0 at the end of the first half, WITH Bradford in the game.

So now with game one in the books, the question remains as to how the pollsters will handle this one… The Wall Street Journal put BYU 5th in their poll over the weekend. The AP and Coaches poll will come out on Tuesday. Keeping in mind that polls don’t mean much at this point in the season, I expect them to land between 8 and 11.

Lastly, the team will now once again find itself in the media spotlight and in opponents’ sights—how it handles that pressure will determine the remainder of the season. Hopefully lessons were learned last year that will help the team avoid a similar fate, remaining focused on one game at a time and enjoying the journey.

What else did we learn? Post a comment and share your thoughts...


  1. #9-*Mitch Payne (Matt's younger brother). Matt Payne hasn't played for BYU since 2004, but it sure would be nice to have him back. Remember those big hits on he put on the punt returner for Boise State in 2004. Classic. Too bad Matt had one of his rare FG misses at the end of the game and we lost.

  2. Nice catch I'll make the correction. It would be even better if Matt still had some eligibility, wouldn't it. Here's to hoping that Mitch comes through for us this week and for the rest of the season... If not, I think we may end up losing at least one game due to a missed FG or XP.