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Monson: BYU, Utah, USU coaches find themselves in perfect place

Published September 1, 2012 11:54 pm

College football • Enough mistakes littered the opening-week wins to motivate coaches.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the aftermath of their season openers, Bronco Mendenhall, Kyle Whittingham and Gary Andersen were in perfect places, in perfect states of mind mostly because their teams were not completely perfect.

Perfect.

They all got wins — some might say impressive wins — by beating their less-than-stellar opponents by the collective score of 105-9 to display real glimpses of promise. But their teams also screwed up just enough to make the exercise useful.

Perfection for a coach doesn't come any more perfect than gaining a lopsided victory and still having a valid excuse to yell like a nutbag at his players all week. It's coaching nirvana.

Andersen framed the whole thing perfectly in his comments after Utah State crushed SUU, 34-3, on Thursday night: "A lot of youthful mistakes we are going to need to correct if we are going to continue to get victories. It was a great win for us, no question. … Overall, it's a good, solid victory. It's where we needed to be tonight."

Where they need to be tomorrow is a different matter, one requiring more focus, more dedication, more work. If the old cliché is true, that a college football team makes its greatest progress between games 1 and 2, then this is a perfect setup.

It will have to be for the Aggies, who go up next against Utah.

Whittingham said the same thing after his team rolled Northern Colorado, 41-0.

The Utes outgained their visitors by 300 yards in that game. They got 26 first downs to the Bears' 7. They yielded 35 yards rushing on 24 carries and gained 193 of their own on 47 rushes. They gave up 79 yards passing while one of their tight ends — Jake Murphy — finished with 78 yards receiving. They converted on 9 of 15 third downs and were 3 of 3 on fourth-down conversions. They never let the Bears cross midfield. They exploded for 21 points in the second quarter and got 20 in the second half. They compiled a scoring drive that lasted what seemed like half the night, going 91 yards on 21 plays in 10 minutes, 43 seconds. That was a Rice-Eccles Stadium record.

But — and here's the imperfect perfect part — they never scored in the first quarter. They turned over the ball when Jordan Wynn blooped a mess of a pass to a guy in the other uniform. Their kicker missed a field goal and an extra point. They didn't stretch the field enough.

Only the cruel could imagine what the score would have been if the Utes had.

Whittingham cracked a slight grin in the postgame, despite trying to be all serious, knowing he now possessed the ammo he needed to ride his players hard.

"We just have to get better," he said.

He also said: "It took four possessions for us to score. That's a negative."

He added: "Obviously, the degree of difficulty gets much higher next week."

I'm telling you, it's a coach's dream scenario.

He gets the W and the hammer.

BYU was no different.

The Cougars wiped the field with Washington State, winning 30-6. They were up by 18 at the half, and the game was pretty much done. They doubled up Mike Leach's team's total yards.

They threw for more than 300 yards, got another 123 on the ground, yet suffered zero turnovers. They possessed the ball for nearly 36 minutes, while the other Cougars had it for just 24. Their defense looked sound by keeping Washington State's throw game in front of it, making sure tackles and surrendering nothing on the ground. When a defense holds an opponent to minus-5 yards rushing, what's a coach supposed to say?

Well, he complains about 12 penalties, which cost BYU 112 yards. Some of those flags came on moronic infractions by players who didn't use their brains or keep their cool. And in the red zone, the offense too often settled for field goals when touchdowns were available for the mere price of crisp execution.

"We can play cleaner," Mendenhall said.

"We're excited because we played well enough to win the game, but we still have a lot of stuff to clean up and get better," said Bronco Junior, aka quarterback Riley Nelson, who isn't a coach but talks like one.

Andersen uttered the exact sentiments, if not the exact words, up in Logan.

All three teams are in that perfect place: They won big but are convinced they have to work bigger.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson. —