Monday, November 23, 2009

What We Learned in the Air Force Game

Saturday was perhaps the most solid performance of the season for the Cougs. They played an inspired game against a quality opponent in an Air Force team that had taken two ranked teams into overtime and lost to another by only three points. They boasted the number one pass defense in the country. None of that mattered as BYU dominated from the opening drive. Last week I wrote:

“Hall and his fellow seniors know they only have two games left and will make the most of this one, having fun, playing relaxed, and showing a good first half… BYU 34, Air Force 24.”

They did exactly that, playing with more emotion and fire than in any game since Oklahoma. BYU’s seniors, recognizing the fleeting nature of their remaining opportunities to play the game, made it a point this week to focus on emotion (for the first time in the Bronco Mendenhall era?) and wanted to play fired up. It showed, as they looked almost unstoppable at times. It also showed that “execution” combined with emotion is a potent combination. Here’s to hoping they can duplicate that recipe two more times this season (and against TCU in the next).

What we learned…

• Will BYU’s offensive line be able to open up running lanes on the smaller Falcon D line? Yes, but…. In a rare change-up, the offense came out on the opening drive passing all the way down the field and continued to primarily pass on the second as well. The running game was almost an afterthought. When they did go to the run, it was effective, but the run game was much more limited than in previous years against AFA.

• Will Unga be able to go? Unga played and looked good. He primarily took his reps in the first half and then was “managed,” as Bronco put it, appropriately in the second half. He had a number of pounding tackle breaking runs and even several rare open field bursts into the secondary, but it was on a 4 yard push into the pile that he passed Curtis Brown to become the all-time rushing leader.

• Can the Cougar front 7 continue to contain the run? Yes. Convincingly. It wasn’t until late in the game, when the outcome was no longer in question that AFA was able to string together a drive or two on the ground.

• How much will the team miss Terrance Hooks in the middle? The team seemed to miss Hooks more from a camaraderie standpoint than from a contribution standpoint. Several players were sporting “47” in Sharpie art on the bicep. Doman and Hunter both played well filling in, with Doman doing more of what he has already done this season and Hunter getting more opportunities for the first time.

• Will Dennis Pitta get the big game that he needs to solidify his status as Mackey finalist? Definitely. I predicted that he would need 7 catches, 85+ yards, and a TD, to guarantee a finalist spot. He surpassed that across the board with 9 catches for 111 yards and 2 TDs in what was easily his best performance of the season so far. The finalists were announced this morning and they are Pitta, Hernandez and Dickinson.

• What impact will the weather have? Surprisingly little. Despite the wind, forecasted snow, and low temperatures, the weather didn’t seem to have much impact on the game.

• Can the team come out of this game without any significant health losses going into the rivalry game with Utah? Mission accomplished. There were a few guys that had to be attended to during the course of the game, but nothing serious enough to carry over into next week (at least as far as the team is talking about).

• Will the records finally fall? Many did. Hall is now second to Ty Detmer in just about every quarterback category and leads him in number of wins. Unga leads in rushing and can still get scoring and all-purpose yards before the season ends. Pitta closed in on Collie’s reception mark (needs 2 more to tie) and third in receiving yards (where he will likely finish).

In the books…
o 1 victory for Hall to break a tie with Ty Detmer for all time wins
o 20 yards for Harvey Unga to become the all time leading rusher in program history (67 rushing)
o 203 yards needed by Max Hall to become second all time in total offense (371 total)
o 359 yards needed by Hall to become second all time in passing yards (377 passing)

Almost achieved…
o 105 yards for Unga to move into third in all-purpose yards (only 79)
o 11 catches for Pitta to tie Collie for all time most receptions (9)
o 165 yards needed by Pitta to pass Margin Hooks as the third leading receiver all time (111)

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