Well, there's that old saying--a win is a win. And it's true. Especially against an SEC team in their backyard on opening day. Despite being ugly, I'm thrilled with the result.
Some take home points without reading too much into one game (least of all the first game):
The Bright Spot. I never thought I'd live to see the day, but the aspect most firing on all cylinders for the Cougars was actually the defense. Jordan Pendleton seems fairly back with a vengeance, and the run defense was rock solid. USC transfer Uona Kaveinga capably filled the role of general menace at the Linebacker position, and Daniel Sorenson seems intent on making a big impact as well.
If you just saw the score, you wouldn't know that the defense basically pitched a shutout--conceding two field goals after special teams blunders gave Mississippi a short field, and Jake Heaps' interception-touchdown accounting for the other score.
The Glaring Weakness. BYU's red zone offense continues to un-impress. The offensive machine started sluggishly, but was eventually able to shake the rust off and move the ball. The problem is the seemingly inevitable slow-down as they zero in on the goal line.
This blogger offers his opinion that the main issue is really the ground game. J.J. DiLuigi is great in the flat, a serviceable backfield blocker, and (too often?) a reliable check down option for Heaps. But a pure rusher he is not. (And Bryan Kariya seems incapable of running downhill either, enough to make you pine for the days of Harvey Unga like a middle school boy after his first crush.)
And without a ground game to keep the D honest, play action can't do what it's designed to; Mississippi was able to cheat and play more earnest pass defense.
But still. A win is, as we've said, a win. And looking at BYU's schedule this year, the goal was always to get through this first month or so with as many Ws as possible. Not a bad way to start.
Where do I start? This was everything but a normal BYU football game. If you have followed this program at any point during the last decade you have found these all-too-familiar and predictable scenarios to be true: a high scoring Cougar offense that puts plenty of points on the board and a defense and secondary that we constantly pray can avoid giving up the big play.
In this case today playing in Mississippi, however, I never once felt nervous when our defense was on the field and, contrary to popular speculation prior to the game versus Ole Miss, BYU’s offense struggled to finish drives and we found our Cougars sitting on a whopping total of 0 points through three quarters.
Fortunately, the dice rolled BYU’s way in the 4th quarter and they were able to score 14 unanswered points to beat Ole Miss 14-13. Let us dissect each side of the ball in more detail:
The immediate reaction to the offensive performance today versus Ole Miss would be a negative one. BYU was unable to put a point on the board till the 4th quarter and Jake Heaps was far from the gunslinger he proved to be during fall camp. But I argue we need to analyze this a little bit deeper. During the “offensive drought” through the first 3 quarters BYU managed to take the ball inside the Ole Miss 40-yard line four different times.
We can thank a penalty, a bad snap, an interception (that turned into a pick 6 and the only Ole Miss touchdown of the game), and a missed field goal that these drives resulted in 0 Cougar points. I am not making excuses for the BYU offense, they definitely need to limit these mistakes, but I would like to draw attention to the fact that the offense was capable of moving the football consistently against a stronger and more athletic Ole Miss defense. The Cougars accumulated a total of 316 yards in comparison to the Rebels 208, and BYU also converted 20 first downs compared to the Ole Miss 13.
Although the run game was limited to only 3 yards per carry, BYU still out rushed Ole Miss by 30 yards. The Cougars outplayed the Rebels in every aspect of the game and deservedly got the victory. While there needs to be improvement in the execution of the offense (especially in enemy territory), I am surprisingly optimistic going into the Texas game next week. Bring on the haters, but I stand by what I am saying.
The law of averages tell us there is no way that BYU moves the ball that effectively again while only managing to score one offensive touchdown, I guarantee it.
There is not as much to discuss regarding the Cougar defense as they completely dominated the Rebels in every aspect of the game. They held Ole Miss to 2.2 yards per carry on the ground and limited them to only 144 total passing yards. Without question the defense won the game for BYU today, and more specifically, Kyle Van Noy. He was able to force and recover the fumble late in the 4th quarter that lead to the go ahead touchdown that gave the Cougars the victory. He actually scored as many points as the entire BYU offense.
To play devil's advocate though, we need to recognize that Ole Miss was using two quarterbacks throughout the game and neither had ever started a collegiate game in their lives. The Cougars hard-hitting also managed to knock two of the Rebels running backs out of the game and ruined any chances Ole Miss had of getting the ground game going.
So, like my analysis of the BYU offense, I will actually go against the public perception here and say that I am more worried about the Cougar defense going into Austin next Saturday than anything else. They looked great against Ole Miss, and they literally won the game for BYU, but with all the question marks on the offensive side of the Rebels’ squad, I am skeptical to believe that the defense can bail them out again against a much more experienced Longhorn team.
I could also see the defensive players getting a little bit too complacent during the week as I am sure BYU will be putting a great deal of their focus in practice on the offense and special teams. This will presumably put more pressure on the offense, which I believe is a good thing in this case, and I would be surprised if Bronco Mendenhall and the BYU defense can duplicate their performance they had today against the Ole Miss. In fact, I dare them to.
Despite the strange mood and flow of the game today, BYU got the victory, and that is what ultimately counts. To win a game and open the season on the road against a SEC school is a feat in and of itself.
My early analysis of next week’s game against Texas is a positive one. While I will not pick an official score or winner now, I am definitely a believer that the Cougars can win the game. They will compete and make things interesting, I promise you this. If not for any other reason than the fact that as I wrap up writing this post-game review, Texas is only beating Rice 20-9 at the end of the 3rd quarter… they typically beat the Owls by 50-60 every year. #BeatTexas