What a great game. So great in fact that it took me more than 24 hours of celebration and 4 replays of the game before I could believe everything that I saw yesterday. Other than the traditional blue and white uniforms, there was nothing the same about the team that played yesterday. The drastic change that took place last Saturday with the firing of assistant coach, Jaime Hill, sparked a wave of tweeks and adjustments all throughout the BYU Cougar football. Unfortunately for the San Diego St. Aztecs, they were the opponent who had to deal with them all.
On at least two occasions this week in San Diego head coach, Brady Hoke was quoted as saying "BYU is a wounded bear, and I don't like wounded bears." Although I would have preferred him use the term wounded cougar for obvious reasons, I liked the analogy, and that is how the Cougars played.
Let's start with the numbers. 65,000, 24, 271, 63, 45, 2. Then we will explain how we got there.
65,000: As a former player, let me just say how proud I was to see that even with a 1-4 start and sloppy, un-entertaining play the last 4 games the stadium was still sold out. The fans were still jumping up and down, and believed from the first kickoff until the clock read 0:00! Keep it up fan base!
24: Obvious...BYU won 24-21. What is key about this is that it is one of the weekly goals and the pillars of BYU football. Each week it is the offense's goal to score 24 and the defense should hold the opponent under 24. Both sides accomplished their goal!
271: BYU rushing yards. The Aztecs who have been running all over opponents this year only eeked out 53 yards against what many considered to be a porous rush defense.
63: BYU's 3rd down conversion percentage (12-19). The Aztecs were only 3-10 on the day for 30%
45: Minutes of possession for BYU to SDSU's 15
2: Number of BYU turnovers that occurred in the red zone = points left on the field
OK, now let's get down to the nitty gritty. As mentioned BYU changed everything about its approach to this game on both sides of the ball. After firing a coach for, in a nutshell, complacency, Coach Mendenhall must have had a firm talking to with all the coaches about getting out of whatever rut they were in and start bringing in some fresh game plans.
Personnel: You saw a better mix of personnel on the offense which gave them a tremendous boost. I love JJ DiLuigi, and he is by far the heart and soul of the offense, so don't think for a second I ma taking anything away from him. What I loved about the run game is that we brought Kariya in on short yardage and down by the goal line. He is the bigger back and has the power to punch through and get those extra inches when needed. We have not seen enough of him in short yardage this year. Let's not go away from that.
Play calling: On the offense I was so proud of Coach Anae. He took the Air Force approach to the game by saying that if we can control the clock, regardless of the score we can stay in the game by negating the number of times the opposing offense is on the field. This was also a good strategy for slowing down the blitzing defense of Rocky Long. Their defensive line sat in their stances for a long time, which had to wear on them at least a little after BYU kept running and running and running (Forrest Gump style).
You have to give HUGE props to our offensive line though, because without them, this game plan does not work. They forced their will upon the SDSU defenders and dictated the pace and physicality of the game. This was clearly evident when BYU had 3rd and 5 with 1:26 left in the game. Bryan Kariya takes a lead handoff right up the gut for 5.5 yards with no resistance.
Personnel Changes: A new FS (Travis Uale), DE (Matt Putnam), and two new OLBs (Jadon Wagner, Brandon Ogletree) gave the Cougars a new look on defense. All four players played up to the expectation. You could tell how hungry they were to make plays and earn their rights as defensive starters. All made big plays at one point or another in the game.
Defensively, man what a difference a week makes. Brady Hoke was asked how they would prepare differently now that Bronco was taking back over the defense. He said basically that they would expect BYU to play with more passion but that you can't really change that much schematically in a week. I have to say that I agreed with him. But let me assure you that the staff of the BYU defense coached their butts off this week and the players worked so hard. One coach described the week to me as "a 4 day fall camp." Things were so out of sorts on that side of the ball that many players had to learn their positions all over again so that everyone was on the same page. A big hats off to the players and coaches for buckling down and doing what needed to be done.
Then comes the new plays. BYU showed different alignments up front than they have in the past which I believe was very effective in messing up the blocking scheme of the SDSU run game. BYU showed a lot better gap control as the RBs were constantly forced to the sideline. The only effective run play was a tackle trap late in the game that cut off our backside linebacker in pursuit and sprung Hillman for a big gain down the SDSU sideline.
Next was the blitz package. I love how we finally decided to blitz SS, Andrew Rich and get our best tackler more involved in the run game without compromising the integrity of the pass defense. Meaning - Give Andrew Rich calls that bring him up in pressure and run defense without forcing him to creep, because he feels a need to "help out."
Special Team Changes:
A FAKE FIELD GOAL?! I love it! I never saw a fake kick in my time at BYU! That was awesome to see.
Finally the overall intensity of the Cougar football was unspeakably obvious to all who watched. The defense was once again gang tackling. Guys were flying around and actually HITTING people, not just diving around on the ground at ankles. I was fired up! We have to ride this momentum and attitude into TCU. We can't have an emotional let down. One thing to be careful of for Coach Anae...this game plan won't be as effective against the TCU Horned Frogs. TCU has a stout rush defense, and unlike SDSU has shut down real running teams, but we have all week to talk about those Frogs! I am still celebrating for a few more hours, because unlike when I was a player, as a fan, I don't have to move on until Saturday morning.