I have nothing but nice things to say about Oregon State—the university, the athletic department, the players and the fans. But, this is not the place where I am going to say them. Rather, this is a rebuttal to all of the OSU and PAC-10 apologists out there making excuses for why OSU lost the Vegas Bowl to BYU. I understand that many of the people making these excuses are not exclusively or even primarily the OSU fans themselves, so I address this to the apologists collectively.
These are the primary excuses that I have heard from TV talking heads, sports writers, bloggers, and just plain old fans leaving comments wherever they can:
1. The wind determined the outcome of the game. Are you kidding? The wind was clearly a factor in the game that both teams had to deal with, but…
A) Each team played 2 quarters into the wind. BYU won the coin toss and elected to receive, so OSU selected which end of the field they wanted—if the quarters that they had to drive into the wind (2nd and 3rd) were to their disadvantage in any way, it was also their choice. However, in exact contrast the disadvantage would seem to be going into the wind in the first (getting a quick start) and fourth quarters (in case of needing a field goal or late score).
B) In addition, a team with a strong running game (a la Oregon State) would seemingly have the advantage in 40mph winds, as the ESPN announcers opined early in the contest.
C) And, as far as kicking goes (per ESPN’s continuous replay of the 6 yard OSU punts), BYU punted 3 times into the wind and kicked off 4 times into the wind, while OSU only punted 2 times into the wind and never kicked off into the wind—the result is that OSU had great field position off of each of those kicks, seemingly winning the straight-up field position battle (turnovers not included).
On the surface, wind would seem to be a neutral factor, but if the apologists want to push the issue, then it appears that if anything, the wind factor was, if not neutral, then an advantage to the Beavers.
2. OSU was not motivated to play. Granted, there is disappointment in losing to your rival in the last game of the season. But this excuse deserves another multi-shot take down.
A) The coaches and players themselves have discredited this by saying both before and after the game that they were ready for this and there would not be a motivational letdown.
B) OSU started out strong and on fire getting big stops on both of BYU’s first two possessions and scoring a quick touchdown on offense. Motivation was clearly not a factor in the first 10 minutes of the game. So, what, did they become unmotivated after a couple of possessions and change their minds?
C) BYU was playing in the Vegas Bowl for the fifth time in a row. The Cougars also met with disappointment this season at more than one point and were looking forward to playing in a BCS game and ended up in the same location again. The Cougars should be clearly tired of the same old song and dance and yet were able to overcome that just fine.
D) BYU was ranked in the top 15, and higher than Oregon State in every poll. Any team that claims to not be motivated to play and try to beat a top 15, higher ranked team—for the glory, perception enhancement, program advancement, bragging rights, recruiting advantages, ranking ramifications, etc. that come with beating a highly ranked team—is either trying to create a distraction, or there are deeper issues within the program.
3. BYU is older and more mature and its players were men against boys on the field and much less distracted off the field (among the temptations and vices of Vegas). This excuse is getting old.
A) The actual age advantage that BYU has on average is about 1.1 years—19.7 years old for the national average vs. 20.8 years old for BYU (see http://www.byucougs.com/2009/09/numbers-inside-missionary-advantage.html). Yes, all other things being equal an additional year of age is an advantage. But all other things are not equal. OSU has four returned LDS missionaries in their team, yet none of them start. If it was such an advantage, why don’t they start? There are another 4-5 LDS players on their team that have not served missions for whatever reason. If it were a significant advantage, why aren’t the coaches pushing those players to leave for two years?
B) Due to the same religious and cultural influences that cause Cougar players to leave on missions, the BYU football team did not practice on Sunday, in what is usually a key two-day-prior to the game practice. Did anyone ever make that out as an excuse for the Cougs? No.
C) Many of the players are married. You could argue that BYU players were actually more distracted having wife and (in some cases) kids along on the road trip and staying in the team hotel for the first time of the year.
D) Any “distractions” that the OSU players may have felt (this argument coming from fans/apologists, not from the players or coaches themselves), could have been mitigated by personal discipline and team rules. All of the same “distractions” would have existed for the BYU players as well.
4. OSU played their worst game of the year. Maybe they did. I haven’t seen many of their other games this season. But in any case, you have to believe that the team on the other side of the line of scrimmage had something to do with that. Especially when you see that BYU was able to contain the running game (hard to just have a “bad game” with the PAC 10's best running back), run down Beavers from behind (nothing to do with a bad game), and break up pass after pass (OSU receivers would have made those catches if the defense weren’t there).
5. BYU played “dirty”. I can only think of two plays that would lead to this conclusion (maybe there are others?). One was when Harvey Unga slapped the helmet of the defender who continued to engage him after crossing the goal line and scoring a touchdown. I agree that he should not have done this and wish that he hadn’t, but it wasn’t much of a slap and I probably would hesitate to call it dirty. In any case, I challenge anyone to claim that this changed the outcome of the game. The second was when Scott Johnson hit the OSU receiver on the BYU sideline breaking up a pass. It appeared that Johnson “launched” himself and hit the receiver in a “helmet to helmet” infraction. Upon watching the replay at home (I was in attendance at the game), it appears that Johnson missed the helmet and hit the shoulder of the receiver in a great defensive play (albeit jarring hit). In this case Johnson was flagged—15 yards automatic first down—an even better outcome than had the receiver caught the ball. Dirty or not, how does that hurt the Beavers?
A) BYU was physical. Maybe more physical than the Beavers are used to. This is football. Deal with it. UCLA said the same thing when the Cougars beat them up in Pasadena.
B) To their credit, Oregon State was also very physical. Max Hall said afterward that he has not been so beat up since that same UCLA game in 2007. There were a couple of late hits on Max Hall, which I would argue are not just physical but do border on dirty when done intentionally (throwing the QB to the ground several seconds after the whistle?). There was also the apparent “helmet to helmet” decleating after a pass that nearly knocked him out of the game. I did not hear BYU fans calling OSU players dirty or making excuses.
6. Refs handed the game to BYU. There were lots of calls going both ways (11 on OSU, 9 on BYU). On my way out of the stadium, I heard the BYU fans commenting/questioning/complaining quite a bit about the officiating. So, I was actually surprised to find the OSU/Pac 10 fans complaining about the officiating on fan boards and article commentaries. Whatever gripes the OSU fans have (of which I am not aware), there are equal gripes on the other side. From a BYU fan perspective, there would be the curious time elapse at the end of the first half, the aforementioned helmet-to-helmet on Scott Johnson, the also mentioned no-call hit on Max Hall, the Unga fumble that was apparently caused by the ground… etc. The fact that both teams were unhappy, means that there was equal if not great officiating. My personal take is that the refs made the calls as they saw them and did a reasonable job. And, in an apologists world, even if there were a couple of calls that they think should have gone the other way, that doesn’t make up for a 30 point deficit going into the 4th quarter.
7. MWC teams can get up for PAC 10 games like it was the Super Bowl, because they don’t have to get ready week in and week out for big games. This one almost makes me laugh. Of BYU’s 13 games this season, 5 were effectively played against teams that were ranked—Oklahoma, TCU, Utah, Oregon State, and FSU (just outside the polls at #26). There was the Utah State game, where USU gets up for BYU as a rivalry game. Air Force (7-5) was still playing for a conference title and offered the #1 pass defense in the country. In conference, BYU played Wyoming in Laramie, New Mexico in Albuquerque, and San Diego State in California. While not striking fear into the hearts of opponents, all of those teams get up for BYU as much as any game on their schedule (as BYU is essentially considered a rival by all of them) and play among their best games of the year. If anything, BYU knows better than Oregon State what it means to have to prepare for games week in and week out. How many teams in the PAC 10 see Oregon State as their rival?
So why did Oregon State lose then? Take your pick…
• They were outcoached
• They were outplayed
• BYU was more physical
• BYU was faster
• BYU had better QB play
• BYU had the better defense
• BYU was better able to handle adversity (turnovers, etc)
• BYU had better mental fortitude to drive into the wind
• BYU’s receivers and tight ends were able to get open almost at will
• BYU’s linebackers had a bigger impact
• BYU had the better secondary
• BYU’s power running game trumped OSU’s
• The Cougars had a better game plan
• The top 15 Cougars were clearly the better team