Monson: BYU football conquers demons in big win
By Gordon Monson
Tribune ColumnistFirst published Sep 10 2013 10:14AM
With the clench of a fist at the end of the night, Bronco Mendenhall punctuated one of the most impressive wins he’s had as BYU’s head coach. Beating Texas, especially the way the Cougars did, was exactly what his team needed — and that need went beyond the numerical leveling of the win-loss record just two weeks in.
It bridged a widening gap over recent seasons between what the program intended to do and what it did do. On so many earlier occasions, BYU football had outwardly perceived itself to be more than it actually was. There had been a whole lot of wins against lesser teams and some tight losses against better ones, but not much in the way of convincing victories over outfits like the Longhorns. Which is to say, in the vernacular of the inner sanctum, the credibility of the Cougars had gone long on faith, short on works.
Until Saturday night.
And on account of that preparation and performance, everybody involved deserves praise for what was accomplished. The walk in Provo finally followed through on the talk. The Cougars crushed one of the marquee names in the college game. They pushed Texas up and down the field, setting school records en route. Even if it turns out that the Horns aren’t what observers thought they would be, BYU deserves credit for helping pull the cloak off a talented fraud.
One of the reasons why what Mendenhall, his assistants and players accomplished in Week 2 was so consequential: The Cougars were in a deep hole after Week 1.
Their showing, particularly on offense, at Virginia was abysmal. Talk all you want about excuses — the inclement weather, playing on the road, suffering bad bounces — but the Cavaliers are a mediocre-to-bad football team that had no business beating a self-respecting opponent. They were picked to finish 13th in their league, and were taken out by Oregon this past weekend by a frighteningly easy margin of 59-10.
It was more of the same for BYU.
In 2010, the Cougars finished at 7-6, including losses to Air Force, Florida State, Nevada, Utah State, TCU and Utah. In 2011, they stacked up 10 wins, but got to that number by taking mostly easy pickings and losing to Texas, Utah and TCU. In 2012, with the best defense in school history, they still lost to Utah, Boise State, Oregon State, Notre Dame and San Jose State. Their most notable outcomes were a win over Georgia Tech and a close defeat at South Bend.
Victory, then, against Texas was significant for a team whose competitive credibility banana, as Bradley Whitford once put it, had turned brown.
When Cougar running back Jamaal Williams said early last week that "… if everybody works hard, we can beat anybody," and "… if we cut down on mistakes and keep executing, do what we need to do, they’re going to get tired and bow down to our will," it sounded like more of the same BYU bravado.
Then, Williams went out and gained 182 yards in a 40-21 win during which everybody worked hard, did what they needed to do, and the Longhorns bowed down to BYU’s will.
One thing to say it, quite another to do it.
The Cougars did both, and much more.
They pulled themselves out of a mess of disappointment, reorganized their offensive line, fixed their deficiencies on third-down conversions and brought an all-around strong effort against what was thought to be a quality opponent. They also got that opponent’s defensive coordinator fired in the aftermath.
Coaches were perceptive enough to note and exploit a weakness in Texas’ defense, basically using the pass game as a decoy and pounding away on the ground, gaining 550 rushing yards, 259 of them from Taysom Hill.
"I was really encouraged by how hard our team played," Mendenhall said Monday. "After watching the film, they were physical, they sustained blocks, they blocked downfield, they ran the ball well, the entire team played with the same effort and intensity and were determined to win. Certainly, it looked great as we watched it and on paper, there’s a lot to improve still. And I think the players left today encouraged and optimistic on what they saw. But also believed they can be a lot better."
Mendenhall found himself in an advantageous position to enjoy all those positives, but also point to the benefits of good effort and to, as he said it, "keep asking for more."
The Cougars will need it. They have some softies on their schedule, but they also have Utah up next, a team that has regularly beaten them over the past decade. They also get Utah State, Georgia Tech, Houston, Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
Somewhere along that line, Hill will have to improve as a passer — he’s hit just 22 of 66 throws for 304 yards, with two picks. Many foes will not be as accommodating on the ground as the Longhorns were. Equally important, the Cougars will have to stay dialed in. If they get sloppy or fatheaded, disappointment will come calling, again.
It was nowhere in sight on Saturday night, and the Cougars got what they’ve lacked in recent years, but what they deserved for their big effort — a win that meant more than just another number on the positive side of the ledger.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.