Perhaps one key factor that hasn't been talked a lot about from last Saturday's BYU game against Notre Dame was the fact that the Cougars lost starting center Braden Hansen in the third quarter to a groin injury. Hansen, a senior, had been neutralizing ND's talented nose tackles for most of the game, but once he was replaced by Blair Tushaus, the Irish started to get a much better push up the middle.
"We just need one break this year. We were really physically doing some great things up front until we lost [Hansen]," said BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. "It caused them to play some four-down, even front stuff. Which I like better."
Hansen's condition will be updated at practice Monday night, but this particular groin injury has been an ongoing problem that Hansen has battled through the last few games. If he can't go the rest of the way, it will be a big blow to BYU's already-depleted offensive line. Houston Reynolds and Famika Anae have already been lost for the season.
The Reynolds injury hurts the team even more now because he could also play center. Tushaus is undersized, and it showed on Saturday in the fourth quarter.
My story in Monday's Tribune is about the Cougars' lack of big-play capability on offense. So far, BYU's longest play from scrimmage this season has been a 68-yard run by a freshman quarterback, Taysom Hill. Tough to win when you can't break off a big play or two each game.
Given their limitations (has anyone seen Ross Apo?), the Cougars were quite creative offensively against the Irish, although they still don't throw downfield all that much.
"I liked the plan, i really did. I was pleased with what we came into the game with. It was maybe the best plan I think we have had coming in, and we needed one more play," Doman said. ""I liked the scheme, I liked the plan. We just need to get one break here, I think. It is going to come. At some point it is going to come."
Nelson was 23 of 36 for 177 yards and two TDs, with two interceptions. The first interception was costly. The second one came on the last play of the game and was meaningless.
"I thought he did good. I would love to take that first turnover away," Doman said. "He makes that throw on that first drive, the tight end delay [and things are better]. We got exactly what we wanted, the tight end running down the middle of the field. No one around him. The ball was thrown behind him, got tipped in the air.
In 2012, that ball gets tipped, it means an interception this year. So it is just tough right now, particularly in this stadium against the top-five ranked team in the country.
I thought we were going to score on that first drive, and I don't think they knew what we were doing. That's a good feeling.
Then goodness, coming back there in the second half, we called a third and medium play, and Riley breaks out from the pocket, and Cody is running down the field wide open. He just missed the throw. That would have won the game for us."
Interesting to note that coach Bronco Mendenhall didn't seem to irritated by the fact that BYU was down to one timeout in the second half when Notre Dame took over with around six minutes remaining. But Doman didn't like it.
Said Mendenhall: "I felt good about it. I don't think there was any fault. about that and I'm not sure I would have done anything differently."
Said Doman: "I think we mismanaged at least one of those timeouts. ... I think one of those timeouts we probably didn't need to use."
Here's Nelson on the offensive game plan:
"We wanted to get down the field more, and we weren't able to do that. Some penalties helped us march down the field, on their part. We got to find a way to take the top off, because defenses are kind of socking in against us right now. But it is easier said than done. You gotta protect, you gotta throw it, you gotta catch it, you gotta run the routes right to get open. So we will find a way."
Nelson on the frustration level:
"It is frustrating, because we are right there with them. And we come in here believing, and 100 percent confident that we can beat them. So when we come up empty handed, in these tough venues, against these tough teams, it is maddening. .. It is like when they dangle a carrot in front of a horse. It is so close, but you can't quite grab it."
Nelson on the mindset going forward:
"We do not want to feel that way again. Here we go, another tough opponent on the road. It is going to be a long trip to Atlanta [against] another team that is just as hungry as we are.
I know their season hasn't gone the way they envisioned it. Neither has ours. And so it is going to be a dogfight. We don't want to feel that way again, coming off the field, this season."