After perhaps the most complete game of the year against perhaps the worst team played against so far, it is time to assess where improvement was made. Last week I wrote:
“UNLV will come out swinging in the first half, play a good game, but will be outmatched by BYU’s talent. The Cougar offense will cut down on the turnovers (but likely still have at least one) and get into the end zone more than last week as they pull away in the second half. BYU ends up winning big and Sanford is out of a job before Monday. BYU 52, UNLV 13.”
I was essentially short a kickoff return TD for each team and only premature on the formality of Sanford’s resignation/dismissal, but otherwise, was pretty close in what I thought at the time was a rather gutsy call. Here is the outcome of the things to watch for:
• A Clean Game—BYU played its cleanest game of the year. Zero turnovers. Eight of eleven on third downs. Relatively few penalties. Not only was it clean, but the level of play was maintained for all four quarters, as the team scored a touchdown in all four for the first time this season.
• Health and Concussions—There were no serious injuries, although Scott Johnson left the game with a sprained ankle, and Manase Tonga suffered a knee injury. Both players status remains in question for the game with San Diego St. The absence of five players on special teams primarily due to injury was a likely contributor to the UNLV kickoff TD.
• More than Cover the Spread—Check. The spread was 16.5. The MOV was 38.
• Rushing and Total Offense—The box score victory was also secured as the offense and defense seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. Harvey Unga (20 carries, 149 yds, 3 TD) continued to improve and had his best game of the season, including a 52 yard TD, the longest Cougar rushing TD since 2006. Overall the team had 611 yards of total offense (320 passing, 291 rushing), well above the 500 or so total needed to solidify the win on paper.
• Filling in for McKay Jacobsen—Due to the lopsided nature of the game and the success of the running game, the receivers were never really tested. That said, Hafoka and Ashworth were relatively quiet with 1 and 2 catches each. It was Brett Thompson that stood out with 52 yards on only 2 catches, with a 46 yarder on a beautiful cut into a wide open post.
• Dennis Pitta Encore—Pitta had a solid, if unspectacular game with 2 catches for 60 yards and one touchdown (Andrew George also had a great game from the TE spot going for 61 yards on 3 catches). Pitta continues to lead all tight ends nationally in receptions (28) and yards (399); he is third in touchdowns (4).
• Mike Sanford’s Final Game—UNLV never appeared to give up (and so Sanford will likely coach again this weekend against Utah), but they did not deliver the job-saving performance that was needed. After five years, it is apparent that Sanford has not been able to turn the program around and no doubt the UNLV athletic director is already compiling a short list of replacement targets.
A couple of other notes from this game:
• In the second half, Max Hall threw a pass to Andrew George on the left side of the field that was overthrown and uncatchable. I realized as I watched that and thought about how long it had been since that had happened, how rare it was to see him overthrow someone, and that it has become easy to take his accuracy for granted.
• It was good to see Hall finally break his streak of interceptions.
• The rankings appear on the surface to not have given the Cougars any love, but in reality they gained a significant number of votes in each of the polls.
• O'Neil Chambers' 97 yard kickoff return was a long time in waiting, and as he has guaranteed a TD return, almost made good on his promise.
• The kicking game was much improved over the beginning of the season, as several kickoffs went into the endzone, and all of the PATs and the long field goal sailed through the uprights without any drama. Surprisingly, it was the punting in this game that was below par.
• The defense came through with a big game (aside from giving up the 75 yard TD pass), and managed three game changing interceptions—Pendleton’s in particular was an incredibly athletic and on-the-ball move to make the catch and stay in bounds.
• Manase Tonga, prior to getting injured looked better than he has all season, a positive sign that he is working hard and regaining his playing shape. He actually had a nice run in the second half where he outran several linebackers, something I didn’t think I would see him do this season.