Euphoria? Jubilation? Bliss? Nirvana? It's somewhere in there. After the officials signaled that the 54-yard field goal attempt by Tress Way was no good I fell into one of those states-of-being. Nobody could have logically anticipated the way the game played out, let alone the final outcome. (However, I am a major San Francisco Giants fan - and after CF Aaron Rowand had a surprisingly clutch hit Friday night in Milwaukee I realized something strange and wonderful was in the air.)
There are some big wins in BYU football history. The 1980 Holiday "Miracle" Bowl over SMU. The 1984 Holiday Bowl win over Michigan. The 1990 victory over Miami in Provo. The Cotton Bowl win against Kansas State on New Year's Day 1997. Obviously there are others. The most recent games being wins over Utah and Oregon in 2006.
This game certainly ranks among those. Oklahoma has multiple returning All-Americans, including a Heisman trophy winner. Some analysts project them to win the Big 12 and play in a consecutive National Championship game. The Sooners offense averaged over 50 points last season and returned sensational players at key positions including QB, RB, WR, TE, and OL. The defense was similarly heralded - especially the D-line.
Critics will say the Sooners were playing on a neutral field. Their All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham was out of action. Heisman winner Sam Bradford missed the entire second half. All seemingly legitimate arguments (though I'd argue that Bradford's injury is a result of the game itself and couldn't be used as an excuse). In turn however, BYU could argue their principal offensive weapon, RB Harvey Unga, missed the game and that he was in the least as critical to the Cougars offense as Gresham was to the Sooners. BYU's best O-lineman, LT Matt Reynolds only just returned from a broken left-hand and had not played at all over the weeks immediately leading up to the game. Additionally, the Cougars traveled only seven O-lineman total - with most of them having only limited starting experience (similar to Oklahoma this season). Finally, BYU was missing last season's leading tackler, linebacker Matt Bauman, for much of the game.
In summary, both teams were battling injuries and inexperience during this matchup. It was a hard fought game with plenty, plenty of mistakes. Of course, that is typical of a lot of season openers. Still, there were some phenomenal performances by many players - and they deserve to be recognized. Let me say this though, whatever the 2009 season brings for BYU football, this was a major leap for the program in general and a contest that Cougar fans will always remember.
Links, quotes and more after the jump...
There are a lot of players I could discuss here, but on the offensive side you have to start with Max. The concerns with Hall's record of choking in big games were well founded. After the end of 2008 Hall was carrying not just a monkey on his back - but King Kong. Hall came, saw and conquered. Sure there were flaws. But he shrugged off a couple of interceptions, stayed cool and collected, and led the Cougars to score the would-be game winner with 3:03 remaining. Clutch. He finished with 329 yards passing, two touchdown passes and a respectable 147.99 passer rating. There were a couple of those 4th quarter completions to Pitta and others, where he shot off some rockets that simultaneously weaved perfectly through multiple Sooner defenders. Overall, outstanding night for the senior.
Next you have to move to sophomore RB Bryan Kariya. The former Davis Dart walk-on was stellar. He did more than just fill in for Unga. Kariya made a legitimate case to see significant playing time throughout the season. His yards per carry (2.5) doesn't tell the whole story. OU's D-line is fantastic - especially DT Gerald McCoy who's really in a league of his own. This dude battled. He layed some Sooners out too - one play in particular nearly sending LB Travis Lewis back to Norman. Kariya's 76 yards receiving were another added bonus. I can't say enought good things about him.
There were some other fantastic players on offense. The O-line deserves major, major props. LT Matt Reynolds was remarkable. Braden Hansen was terrific too. Other players, WR McKay Jacobson, TE Dennis Pitta, TE Andrew George, FB Manase Tonga and RB J.J. DiLuigi all made key plays down the stretch. Pitta looked like an All-American himself, especially in the second half. Jacobson deserves props for coming back after his fumble and having several key catches - including the game-winner. O'Neill Chambers was having a wonderful game until his fumble - look for him to have a big game next week at Tulane.
BYU's defense though...WOW. Going in I thought there was no chance the Cougars could hold OU under 35. TCU didn't last season and the Frogs were sensational defensively. Apologies to Mendenhall, Hill and their crew. Despite the loss of Bauman, they hung in there against a very good Sooner offense. Even without Bradford and Gresham - DeMarco Murray, Chris Brown and all those uber-athletic wideouts will put up some big numbers in 2009. I don't care if the Sooners were battling inexperience on their O-line: BYU's D-line played pretty well. The linebackers were exceptional. The secondary was the best I've seen at BYU in a long, long time. A few player shout-outs: Coleby Clawson for the monster hit on Bradford; Brandon Bradley and Brian Logan each with great coverage on some post patterns and in the red-zone; Jordan Pendleton for some massive tackles; Shawn Doman and Brett Denney with fumble recoveries; and Terrance Hooks sack of Landry Jones. Props to both starting safeties - Andrew Rich and Scott Johnson - who were awesome as well.
We'll be able to discuss more of this leading up to next week's game in New Orleans. We're certainly be discussing the BCS system repercussions of this game (or lack thereof). In the meantime, I'm going to simply enjoy. Florida State is in two weeks and that will be another tough, tough opponent for the Cougars...
"Where it's going to rank and all that, I'm not certain, but I know there are a lot of people who are going to benefit from the way these kids played today."
"Unbelievable. For us to come out and pull off a win is a special night. I'll never forget it."