Monson: BYU’s big problem is that sleepy football leads to boring losses

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU hosts Northern Illinois, NCAA football in Provo, Saturday Oct. 27, 2018.

Provo • There was no need to dig deep into a dictionary at LaVell Edwards Stadium during the BYU-Northern Illinois game on Saturday to check on the official meaning of a word not usually associated with college football, but most relevant on this particular occasion: monotonous.

That adjective was defined, all spelled out in dying color, on the field.

As everybody on hand — about a third of the venue was empty — waited for some football to happen, a soccer game broke out.

It was victory and defeat by the slowest of drips.

If scoring is your thing, this was not a game for you.

If afternoon napping is your thing, this was your baby.

Final count: NIU 7, BYU 6.

Even NIU coach Rod Carey called the game “ugly.”

It was uglier for Kalani Sitake, who said afterward: “We didn’t make enough plays. … We didn’t have enough guys making plays.”

True, true and true.

As the warm autumn sun blazed down on their shoulders, these two attacks, if that’s the word to use for them, set offensive football back 50 years. It was all good, except for the fact that neither team could actually gain yardage or score points. George Halas may have approved, but somewhere, if you believe in such things, LaVell Edwards wanted to peel his name off the side of the stadium. Pele or Messi, though, would have loved it.

The whole matter looked as though it was going to have to be decided on penalty kicks.

Or field goals. BYU had two and missed one. NIU had one bounce off the left upright.

Or punts. The teams combined for 16 of them, the best being a 53-yarder by NIU that went out at the 1-foot line, with 6:24 to play, the Huskies up by one point.

BYU had 301 total yards, NIU 204.

If you paid close attention, there were a few bursts of action.


For instance, the Huskies on their first possession of the second half drove 65 yards for a touchdown, to thunder ahead of the Cougars, 7-3. That came after a 13-play BYU drive in the first quarter that resulted in the aforementioned field goal. It was a quintessential BYU drive in that it was earned in bits and pieces, on account of the Cougars having — and having had — no playmakers all season, unless they were lining up against Hawaii.

BYU had a terrific touchdown opportunity with just more than three minutes left in the third quarter, but a couple of false-start penalties short-circuited that, resulting in a field goal. And it was 7-6, heading into the fourth.

Return man Michael Shelton did provide some excitement when he muffed a punt deep in BYU territory, but the Cougars covered it. And Skyler Southam missed a 51-yard field goal attempt. That was kind of stirring.

Ultimately, though, nothing for BYU’s offense really worked.

An interception thrown by Zach Wilson with 1:39 in the game made it official.

And the worst part about the sleepy deal for the Cougars was the opponent against which it came. It was the least favorable kind for BYU in its independence, as it is trying to impress the power leagues and, well, everybody else. The troubled scenario: Playing a team that is much better than its name. What benefits the Cougars best is playing a marquee team that for whatever reason is nowhere near as good as its reputation.

NIU solidly fit the first category.

From jump, this affair had no real cachet, no regional significance, no national prestige, no history, no buzz, and then, it ended in defeat.

The Huskies were best known around these parts for having made Utah’s life a bit miserable in September during the Utes’ difficult win in some place called Dekalb. That small community, the home of NIU, happens also to be the hometown of Cindy Crawford and the place where barbed wire was invented, if you didn’t know and wanted to know.

You didn’t and you didn’t.

What you do need to know is that BYU is hurting. Its offense is not good, and that predicament has little to do with who’s playing quarterback. Wilson is not the solution, nor was Tanner Mangum the problem. The troubles run much deeper. The Cougars lack talent, those playmakers, individual players who remove the necessity of methodical 15-play scoring drives. Those are too arduous to sustain.

BYU needs explosive skill guys who can gain big chunks of yards on a single play. As long as they don’t have them, the Cougars will lose to teams like NIU.

Saturday’s loss was a snooze. Even worse, it was no big surprise.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.