Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What We Learned in the TCU Game

There is something about being a BYU fan that allows for rugged optimism and hope in the face of diminishing possibility. There nearly always remains a way to win, a path to victory, or some combination of great playmaking, lucky breaks, and a touch of magic that keeps the dream alive. Yet, despite this, at some point the possibilities and optimal combinations become no longer viable. For fans of some teams, this may have happened early in the first quarter down 14-0, or at half time down 21-7, or even when TCU went up 31-7 ten minutes into the third quarter. But for BYU fans, it likely wasn’t until midway through the fourth quarter when defeat was acknowledged. They stay until the end of the game. They believe in the possibilities.

Here is what we learned this week in response to last week’s questions:

Can Max Hall get rid of the ball in time? For the most part. There was quite a bit of pressure on the pocket, but Hall seemingly had enough time to get rid of the ball, and despite a couple of sacks, for most part was able to do so. The real issue seemed to be that there were no open receivers to throw to, resulting in coverage sacks or dumps for short to no gain.

Will the BYU defensive front seven be able to contain the TCU run game and still get some pressure on Andy Dalton? Yes and no. Run game contained? Check. Pressure on Andy Dalton? Non-existent. For the third week in a row, BYU was able to contain the running game (giving up 127 yards on 37 carries to TCU is respectable). But until late in the game, there was almost no pressure on Dalton, allowing him to take his time waiting for something to open up. In the fourth quarter, when pressure was finally applied via blitz, Dalton threw several bad passes and looked flustered. And although too little too late, hopefully the coaches will identify this and incorporate it into future game plans a bit earlier.

Has the BYU defense learned to adapt to the Wildcat and can it contain Jeremy Kerley? Yes. Kerley was held to 12 yards on 3 carries.

What impact will the return of the injured have? Slightly positive. The return of Tonga improved the running game. With several players back special teams coverage was improved. The secondary, with a still hurt Johnson playing and flu-recovered Bradley, was not significantly better. McKay Jacobsen, still out with a hamstring, would have made a difference in this game, but did not play.

Will BYU win the turnover battle? No. BYU 2, TCU 0. I wrote last week, “whichever team wins the turnover battle on Saturday is likely to win the game.” The interception in the opening drive of the third quarter leading to a TCU field goal was ominously reminiscent of a similar outcome in the FSU game. The best way for BYU to come back at that point was to get a few turnovers, but it never happened as the Cougars gave up a fumble to go with it.

Will BYU’s running game find success? Not when it counts. The total yards were decent (Harvey had 123), but much of it came near the end of the game, when (surprise) TCU was giving up some room to run. The greater question is why BYU was running at that point. When it mattered most—on third downs, short distances, etc.—the run game was essentially shut down. What really hurt is that the passing game, was similarly stymied, and as mentioned already, the receivers appeared unable to get open when they needed to.

Will BYU have the emotional intensity to match TCU without letting it interfere with their execution? Mostly. TCU did not appear to dominate the emotional battle as they obviously did last year. Nor did it seem to be primarily lack of execution that lost the game as it did in the FSU game (missed tackles, turnovers, etc.). BYU seemed focused and prepared to play, but matched up with an superior team (at least on this night) and with a few bad breaks, got behind early and was unable to overcome the deficit.

A few other things of note:
• Looks like the Poinsettia Bowl for the Cougars this year. The Vegas Bowl has already said that they would like to change it up and fans feel the same way, so with a BCS game out of the question, San Diego seems the likely destination. For your Holiday planning, that game will be played on Wednesday, December 23 at 5pm (PST) on ESPN. This will be the fifth year of that bowl game (first played in 2005), with the MWC playing in it each year, going 3-1. Interestingly, BYU has played in the Vegas Bowl all four years of the Poinsettia Bowl’s existence.

• Good time for a bye week. McKay Jacobsen will likely be back to full speed by the Wyoming game on Nov 7.

• Fans will always question the coaches’ decisions and play calling. But there are some plays and decisions that are easier to question than others. In particular, I thought it curious that they called a running play on third and eleven when we were within scoring range and that they decided to punt on fourth and two near midfield, down big in the second half…


  1. That was some extremely optimistic spin on the game. Especially when TCU was able to execute their offense at will against BYU's defense.

    BYU's offense reminds me of Nebraska's old wishbone-option offense. It was unstoppable when they had superior athletes executing it to perfection in the 80's. But once teams caught up to Nebraska on the talent level they could stretch out the option and render it useless. BYU's offense will always be able to move the ball on opponents that don't have the same talent level. But when equal (or more) talent lines up on the other side of the field BYU's offense can't get it done. The scheme isn't aggresive enough nor is their enough deception in it to really put other defenses on their heels.

  2. What makes me more frustrated than anything is to have TCU stuck with a 3rd and 14 and we only rush two guys. I think that the defensive "philosophy" hampers the type of athletes BYU has. If you have inferior athletes, as most people seem to think BYU has, making them predictable is going to aid in exposing that inferiority. Becoming unpredictable is far more helpful to a 5'6" corner who can't keep up, than by putting him 12 yards off the ball every play in cover 4. If he mixes up what he does play to play and makes opposing off. coordinators and QB's guess what he is going to do next, it will hide his weaknesses to some extent and at least give him a chance to "better execute."

  3. Great points. Thanks for weighing in. You both point out some key issues that Bronco has gotten away from--defensive aggressiveness and disguise. As was pointed out, if you only rush two or three, any quarterback in the country is going to have a good game and any secondary in the country is going to look bad. And if teams know what you are going to do on defense, then you are basically inviting them to take what you are giving up.

  4. This is a great blog and analysis. The key plays that stand out in my mind were: interception on 3rd quarter opening drive, roughing the passer on Hooks and PI on Brian Logan. I'm not whining about the calls, only stating that they were key plays. Those three plays go differently and the outcome may have changed.

  5. Dave Haynie, u need to start paying more attention to the play calling of Robert Anae, He's terrible!! BYU needs to start running the ball right up the throat of the opponent, and believe its offensive line can get it done with Unga coming behind them. And Anae keeps calling a game as if you need to fool the opponent. He's clueless !! Wear 'em down running the ball and quit making Max Hall "THE MAN" to make the play, he's not capable of being it. Harvey Unga is BYU's best attack, NOT MAX HALL ! And Robert Anae is starting to look like an old washed up Norm Chow, he needs to reasses his concept of winning football, and what really works. POINT IM MAKING is, the offensive line is where it's at and the running game, when you have the players to use the run to set up the pass you do it. I think BYU's offensive has evolved actually pretty well, but how can u see it that way WHEN THE OC DOESNT CALL A GAME THAT SHOWS THAT STREGNTH?? oh well, BYU will stay in mediocrity with R A calling the game on offense. DKB

  6. nice blog; I just bumped into you (hat tip: Phil Steele) and look forward to some back and forth this season.

    Here is this TCU fan's take on the game: