Bruce Springsteen sings a song featuring the lyric, “With every wish, there comes a curse.”
That tune became BYU’s sad-and-sorry requiem on Saturday at Coastal Carolina, where the Cougars had their hurried, jangled chance to prove to all of college football, most importantly to the postseason presidium that sits atop that world, how good they really are.
Did. Not. Happen.
Instead, Coastal Carolina, which has been playing FBS ball for a mere fistful of years, showed it was the better of the two undefeateds.
“Things didn’t go our way,” Kalani Sitake said afterward. “… I look forward to learning from this game.”
It’s a little late for education.
Having been ranked just 13th in the most recent CFP poll despite a 9-0 record and being miffed at that disrespect, the Cougars already had demonstrated how desperate/hungry they were to play another game, to do their proving, agreeing just over 48 hours beforehand to travel more than 2,200 miles to Conway, S.C., to face the Sun Belt team, unconcerned about the game’s shortened run-up.
Preparation? Pppfffwww. They laugh in the face of preparation. They didn’t need no stinking proper preparation.
Um … yeah, they did, losing by the count of 22-17.
Turns out, a game too eagerly agreed to is only a wish and a curse — and a defeat.
Actually, this result, surprising as it was, was bigger than just that.
It was the truth.
The Cougars are not what they seemed to be, not as good as they appeared to be, not able to stand up to the pressure that comes against righteous competition, not good enough to stop a run game that dazed and confused them, and then, ultimately, killed them.
Those stiffs on the CFP committee were right, after all.
The hard chaos on a faraway teal-colored field that made that evident, the learning that Sitake said he’d absorb, stemmed from BYU betraying itself by making so many mistakes. Errors such as a 91-yard touchdown pass on the Cougars’ first possession being erased because of a holding penalty. And a dumb play call by offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes on fourth down and short, opting for a double-pass back to Zach Wilson, who threw the ball deep to Gunner Romney, who dropped it, leading to Coastal Carolina’s second score, giving the Chanticleers a 13-7 advantage late in the second quarter. And missed tackles and consistently out-of-position defenders and fumbles and … you get the idea.
The deficiencies ran deep.
“I know we can play better than that,” Sitake said.
But they didn’t.
BYU’s defense was especially bad. If any particular aspect of the Cougars’ weaknesses were exposed against better opposition, it was that resistance against the run. The same D that had limited lesser offenses to an average of fewer than 90 yards rushing gave up 281 against Coastal.
The Chanticleers’ spread-option attack teased and frustrated the Cougars, unable as they were to interrupt long, sustained drives, allowing CC to hold possession of the ball for a majority of minutes, as Wilson stood on the sideline over brutal stretches, left to simply watch, unable to do anything about it.
All told, Coastal held the edge in time of possession 37:51 to a mere 22:09 for BYU.
As a result, Wilson and the Cougar attack lurched in their repeated failed attempts to find rhythm, to get into the groove that had been so easy and wide for them in the past, the groove that punished so many less-talented teams that had come before. At times, it was apparent that BYU tried to pass when it should run, and ran when it should pass.
Wilson did not look like the kid who had garnered so much praise for his poise and polish over the first nine games. Not only had he been pronounced as one of the college game’s best passers, he had risen on NFL mock drafts to as high as the No. 2 overall selection, behind only Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Those are only guesses, but they indicate how highly thought of Wilson had become.
On Saturday, he completed 19 of 30 throws for 240 yards, one touchdown and one pick. He got little help from receivers who too often dropped balls and struggled to get open. And that slab of humanity in front of him, the one that had kept him clean and comfortable all season long, could not keep the pressure off him in this game.
Of all the surprises here, that was the biggest — that BYU could not dominate in the trenches on offense and defense against the much smaller Coastal Carolina fronts.
When Sitake was asked about that, he had no answer, saying he had to check the film.
He won’t like what he sees.
“Our guys are hurting right now,” he said.
Indeed. Discovering the truth left a trail of pain across all the Cougars, as they now know to be careful for what they wish.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.