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Monson: This BYU defense deserves to be remembered

Published November 10, 2012 11:38 pm

Cougars' best unit in history has been wasted on a so-so offense, but accomplishments remain.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Provo

The breath blew out of the facemasks of BYU's defensive linemen like steam out of the Polar Express as they did their nasty business on Saturday night. It was harsh out, frigid and miserable, with snow stacked up in the stands and on the edges of the field.

Perfect conditions for defensive football, imperfect conditions for any other human endeavor. And a fitting way, such as it was, for the Cougars to put a wrap on their home season at LaVell's Place.

Midway through the second quarter, Romney Fuga looked like Jethro Pugh, Ziggy Ansah like Bob Lilly, and, covering both sides, Brandon Ogletree like Ray Nitsche. You could almost hear Frank Gifford in the booth speaking the words: "I'm going to take a bite out of my coffee," and the whole arctic affair voiced over by the deep, dulcet tones of John Facenda.

The only things lacking were the heft and the drama.

The cold, though, was bang on.

BYU's 52-13 win over hapless Idaho wasn't the Ice Bowl, that wonderfully famous 1967 NFL Championship game played between the Packers and the Cowboys in subzero temperatures at Lambeau Field. Referees didn't have to ditch their whistles because their lips were freezing to them. But it was a setting in which only the hardy would show up to watch and only crazy men could have enjoyed playing.

Bronco Mendenhall said beforehand: "I think the [fans] who are Cougar blue deep in their hearts are the ones that will be there, and I will applaud them."

Maybe, but would he pay for their frostbite treatments afterward, with the blue deep now in their ears, brains, fingers and toes?

BYU's offense showed up to kick the poor Vandals around, but the best of the crazies were BYU's defenders.

Again, fitting.

Yeah, they gave up a few yards and points to Idaho, but, after they went up by three touchdowns with four minutes left in the first quarter, and after they scored a TD of their own when linebacker Spencer Hadley took a fumble into the end zone a few minutes later, who really gave a rip?

Defense has been the story of the Cougars' 2012 season. There's not much else at which to point as far as consistent excellence goes. But as that group put the finishing hits on the Vandals on Saturday night, sending them from 1-8 to 1-9, it wasn't that difficult to view this particular group as the finest defense BYU has ever had.

They play on the field as forcefully as they fight at Rancherito's. The now-absent Joe Sampson tweeted during the game: "They holdin' it down."

They've been holdin' it down for a while. The numbers are convincing enough, but there's also the athletes.

Before Idaho, the Cougars ranked fourth nationally, yielding just 263.56 yards a game. They were seventh in rush defense, first in red zone defense, ninth in pass defense, third in third-down conversion percentage and seventh in scoring defense. And that last ranking has suffered from an offense and special teams that have given up nearly a third of the points scored against BYU this year.

Not that it's any kind of measure, but nothing that happened against the Vandals in the freeze of Saturday night tarnished those stats.

As linebackers Uona Kaveinga, a senior, Ogletree, a senior, and Kyle Van Noy, a junior considering an early move to the NFL, alongside senior D lineman Ansah, worked their wonders for the last time at LES, you had to wonder what could have been.

If the offense had done anything more than stumble and bumble around in the Cougars' four defeats, against quality opponents, if it had been even an average BYU attack, if it had a relative midtier quarterback in the pantheon of past Cougar stars, think of what the possibilities were, paired with this defensive outfit.

If BYU had a decent shot at a big bowl berth, bolstered as it was by that talented, senior-laden defense, this would have been it. Bad offense, a bad kicking game and bad coaching decisions did that defense wrong. Pity for the Cougar offense it couldn't face the Idaho defense every week.

On account of that, the best BYU D in school history has been wasted.

Still, that does not diminish what that unit has accomplished.

By the time this season is done, it is likely that half of the opposing offenses it faced will have been kept out of the end zone. Only one offense — Oregon State's — made it look substandard.

Saturday night at Edwards Stadium in the numbing glacial conditions, then, was a time and a place and a setting for defense, for the celebration of defense, for hyperbolic comparisons to historic events of the past.

Let's say it this way, the way Facenda himself would have said it:

Defensive determination started with a whistle and ended with a gun. And now, many glorious falls — and bitter winters — will pass before BYU football sees another defense grace its gridiron and fight as fiercely as this one did this season. Remember what you saw.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM and 960 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.