Cougars handed a good old fashioned whupping
Jason Franchuk - Daily Herald | Posted: Sunday, September 20, 2009 12:00 am
BYU linebackers coach Barry Lamb lingered behind the locker room, consoling a young woman who was livid that fellow student section members were mocking her.
How dare this proud Cougar fan even think of trying to rally her team Saturday night, stand up and cheer for goodness sake, while all sorts of folks in the sold-out crowd were busy breaking a couple of ankles to flee the bandwagon during a 54-28 loss to Florida State.
Hard to blame either side for how it felt, actually.
Some had to feel like the magic was going to come sometime. A top-10 ranked team doesn't win 18 consecutive home games and usually go down without a belief that the night will wind up special.
And the other 99.9 percent at LaVell Edwards Stadium?
They knew of what Lamb pontificated. It might have been a rare home-field embarrassment, but it was still easy to spot.
"That was just an old-fashioned fanny whooping," he said.
That one was so bad, it was hard to even act hurt.
The mood around BYU's post-game cave wasn't upbeat, but it also was not down in the dumps like last year's first blowout loss to Mountain West Conference rival TCU in October that dashed those painfully elusive BCS hopes.
Beat Oklahoma in a landmark event and thump Tulane, put this season on the perfectly smooth track -- and then this?
It was surprising at how ... what's the word? ... matter-of-fact the Cougars were about this.
Trailing so big, for so long, definitely played a role.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall spoke of being "frustrated" but also coolly noted that BYU started 1-2 the two years he's won MWC titles.
Lamb was hardly the only coach able to let loose with a little smile, knowing that brooding wasn't going to stop Florida State's offense.
Defensive coordinator Jaime Hill offered a smirk, more awestruck than pained, when saying just how exasperating it was trying to stop Florida State's quarterback.
"The thing about the Ponder kid, every time he got in a third-and-medium situation," Hill said, "he would just take off and run. And we could not get him."
That Christian Ponder was something. And his effort was something to ponder.
Defensive coaches on BYU's staff agreed that the Seminoles -- after a 1-1 start, including last week's 19-9 struggle with Jacksonville State -- let him loose. Things they'd never seen before on film.
Eighty yards in 11 plays for a score on the game's first drive, and never letting up.
He converted 12-of-15 attempts on third downs.
"Some of those, he was getting by just maybe one yard or just barely to the marker. We were trying really hard. He just wore us down," Hill said. "And we tried everything. I mean, everything. We threw it all at them."
BYU failed at "gap containment," getting pushed most plays at the line of scrimmage. A far cry from the Oklahoma effort.
The sense of urgency to be physical and finish off plays was lacking, surprising for a home opener in such a critical and high-profile contest. Even Mendenhall couldn't explain it.
So many times FSU's running backs, blockers and Ponder just wanted it more, and they bounced off tacklers to get every little scrap of field position. A lot of extra yards added up. There were other times they simply had superior athletic ability. And then the second half was full of times when they made BYU panic.
"The game isn't just about the scoreboard," Lamb said. "It's about momentum. And I don't think (FSU) ever relinquished it."
BYU tried to take it away from FSU's offense. Different coverage packages. Dropping numerous men to guard the middle of the field.
FSU had so many answers, leaving BYU with so many more questions.
They start in the heart of the defense -- up the middle.
Nose tackle Russell Tialavea is likely out with a severe knee injury, the dreaded ACL tear that would end his season. Middle linebacker Matt Bauman suffered a less severe knee injury, but was not as effective wearing a brace. Free safety Scott Johnson was out the entire night with a concussion.
The Seminoles went outside, true, but they controlled the inside and everything forward.
BYU has tried to build from the middle and out, and to lose so many important pieces of that philosophy is surely a big reason why the coaching staff just couldn't be destroyed. The odds were just too stacked against them with such critical losses. And, then, they've all been around long enough to know that some games go really good and some go woefully awry.
A bad night, albeit at a really bad time.
Perhaps if the season ends with only one loss, the Cougars will look back and regret the night they lost by 26 points at their place.
But that's another story to be considered way down the road.
Right now it's worth wondering if this team sounded OK because things really will be, or if this one's going to stick around for a while.