Kragthorpe: BYU defense finally gets rewarded in bowl win
With their entertaining, high-scoring offense of the previous century, the BYU Cougars helped build the Holiday Bowl into a premier postseason game.
In their return to Qualcomm Stadium for the spinoff Poinsettia Bowl, the Cougars were happy to let their defense do most of the work especially the scoring part.
Seriously, who needs offense?
BYU's defense deserved to be rewarded for its season-long effort, so linebacker Kyle Van Noy personally produced two touchdowns in Thursday's 23-6 defeat of San Diego State.
"A great night to be a Cougar," declared BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, and that certainly was true from a defensive perspective.
"Our defense was phenomenal," said BYU receiver Cody Hoffman, who was named the game's Most Valuable Offensive Player, partly because organizers needed to give someone their nice trophy.
By the end of the night, it was getting ridiculous. BYU's defense forced four turnovers in the fourth quarter, with Jordan Johnson's fumble recovery leading to the Cougars' only offensive touchdown via a one-play, 14-yard drive.
The story of 2012 for BYU (8-5) remains how the offense failed to adequately support the best defense in school history. But that's sure not how the year ended thanks mostly to Van Noy and the defense being unwilling to let anything like that happen one more time.
"The bowl game played out exactly as the season has played out," said Mendenhall, in a statement that was partly true.
Van Noy's strip of SDSU quarterback Adam Dingwell and recovery in the end zone gave the Cougars a 10-6 lead early in the fourth quarter, and that was sufficient. Just to make sure, Van Noy returned an interception 17 yards for another score.
BYU's defense wobbled in the first half, allowing 193 total yards, but made the Aztecs settle for two field goals. "We just have a simple saying that touchdowns aren't good," Mendenhall said.
In the second half, the Cougars were absolutely dominant. Former Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's Aztec offense registered only 70 yards after halftime, while never remotely threatening to score.
BYU linebacker Brandon Ogletree made a game-high 10 tackles and Van Noy accounted for 3.5 of the Cougars' eight tackles for loss. SDSU's Adam Muema earned every bit of his 103 rushing yards.
It helped the defense's cause that BYU punter Riley Stephenson continually pinned SDSU deep in its territory. Incredibly, the Aztecs started consecutive drives from their 1-, 2- and 3-yard lines the last time, following an interception. Van Noy then blitzed, creating the kind of game-changing play that the Cougar defense was going to have to deliver somehow, some way.
The Aztecs forever will argue that Dingwell's arm was moving forward, but the call stood after a review.
"Replay never lies, usually," Van Noy said.
And the Cougar defense was brilliant all season, usually.
Mendenhall was so giddy during the postgame news conference that he made fun of Van Noy's supposedly bad hands, kidding him about finally holding onto an interception.
BYU quarterback James Lark played reasonably well in his second and last career start, passing for 244 yards with two interceptions. But the offense earned only nine points, and even that production required some assistance from the defense. This was not a great sendoff for Lance Reynolds, a 31-year offensive assistant coach who's retiring, and certainly not for senior quarterback Riley Nelson, who threw an interception to spoil his only series.
The season's ending was highly satisfying for BYU's defense, though. As for the offense, well, nobody could say it was responsible for another loss.