Rare is the game in which the BYU Cougars compete when and where they are mere bit players in the overall plot of the thing. At least, that was the thinking at game’s start against Washington State on Saturday.
By the end, the story had changed.
And BYU commandeered the script.
When the Cougars faced off against the Cougars, it seemed a whole lot more about Washington State’s pack of cats, although, ironically enough, people who know about such things say Cougars don’t travel in groups or packs or herds or prides, they are solitary creatures.
We’ll leave those specifics to Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom or to the folks on Animal Planet, but the real solitary creature connected to Saturday’s game was former WSU coach Nick Rolovich, who wasn’t at the stadium in Pullman on account of being fired this past week because he refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, as mandated for all state employees by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
What a waste of a decent coaching opportunity. What an unnecessary move on Rolovich’s part, and also on the part of a few assistants who exited with him. Why wouldn’t he — they — just listen to so many experts in the field, so many of his — their — coaching colleagues, who told, advised, begged him — them — to get the vaccination.
Those are more statements than questions.
Even Rolovich’s coaching mentor, June Jones, pleaded with him to do so. He told USA Today: “It may be against what he believes obviously, but there are more people at stake — the university’s credibility, the lives of the assistant coaches and their families. There’s a whole bunch more at stake than just him — and that’s exactly what I told him.”
Lives of others. More at stake than just him.
That’s what dudes like Rolovich never get, apparently won’t ever get.
Freedom is one thing, freedom to drive on the wrong side of the road, putting everyone else in danger is another. Vaccines are safe and effective. The science is real clear on this matter. But that didn’t matter.
Rolovich applied for a religious exemption to getting vaxxed, an application that was denied. It is said he’s a Catholic, but even the Pope has endorsed vaccinations.
Now, Rolovich, the only college head football coach in the nation to have been fired for refusing the jab, is suing everyone within earshot of the decision to dump him, the school itself and its administrators and anybody who’s name starts with the letters A to Z.
In a country that seems far too often to spin these days on the pivot of disagreement and controversy even over the obvious, finding all kinds of stupidity about which to argue and truth to fight against, even in the plain face of a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people in this country and millions around the globe, that country turned its lonely eyes, then, to Martin Stadium to see what would happen next against BYU.
Yeah, we’re getting to it.
Beyond all the rebels, dissension junkies and legalistas, maybe authentic sports fans wouldn’t have cared about Rolovich getting the boot, except for the fact that Washington State’s Cougars had flipped their season around, after a rough start, earning three straight victories since their last setback, a 24-13 loss to Utah, in a game that seemed like forever ago.
After all that, what would those Cougars do on their home field against BYU’s Cougars?
Lose, that’s what, by the count of 21-19.
It was up to defensive coordinator and now interim head coach, the vaccinated one, Jake Dickert to put the pieces back together in the short run-up to Saturday’s game. He’d already been circled by AD Pat Chun as a candidate for WSU’s full-time job, but likely, realistically, only if things go well in that interim.
They did not go particularly well on Saturday.
This game started in promising offensive fashion, WSU scoring on its first drive, and BYU answering in like manner. But that score is the way it stayed for the rest of the half.
BYU’s intention to regain its rush attack was partially effective, but its pass game was inconsistent. Sustaining anything positive was difficult, for instance, the Cougars were stopped on a scoring chance on fourth-and-2 at the Washington State 27-yard line with a few minutes left in the half. Earlier Jake Oldroyd missed a field-goal attempt.
Whether anybody considers a 7-7 score thrilling depends on one’s point of view — defensive or offensive. A few yards were gained, but resistance on both ends prevented the points.
In the third and fourth quarters, the scoring increased, both teams copying what they did in the first half — taking advantage on their initial drives, BYU scoring on a Tyler Allgeier run and Washington State going coast to coast on a nice mix of plays. A botched extra point kept BYU ahead, 14-13.
Allgeier scored again, punctuating a subsequent 11-play drive.
And the other Cougars fired back to get a TD with 4:14 left in the game, drawing within 21-19, they went for two and … no, a trick play failed.
From that point — and long before, actually — Allgeier brought the thing home, again and again hammering the Washington State D with physical runs. He answered an off game last week against Baylor, this time churning for 191 yards on 32 carries and those two touchdowns.
Kid’s a stud.
It was impressive, especially since a majority of those yards came in the second half, when BYU needed them most. All told, the Cougars rolled for 238 rushing yards and 147 through the air.
As for Washington State, those Cougars threw for 257 yards and ran for 94.
People wondered whether the turmoil amid the WSU program would be a shot in the arm — apologies — for it or have the opposite effect, dragging it down. The correct response was … a little of both, but more of the latter. The players and coaches linked arms before the game, but there wasn’t a whole lot of truly inspired play.
Or … maybe BYU was just better. That’s probably closer to the truth.
The Cougars from Provo were far from flawless, but they did many things a bit better than the Cougars from Pullman.
In a year like this, it’s too bad for BYU that it isn’t officially playing inside the Pac-12. The Cougars are now 4-0 against teams from that conference, with one more to play — against USC in late November at the Coliseum. From now until then, they face Virginia in the Bronco Bowl, Idaho State, and Georgia Southern.
It’s not hard to believe they could be 9-2 heading into that final game in L.A. And everybody knows how herky-jerky the Trojans have played at home this season.
Either way, this much is a fact: BYU is a quality football team this season, acknowledging that the Cougars messed up against Boise State and were not at Baylor’s level. But it’s obvious to anyone who pays attention that they have talent, that they are legitimate this season, and, moreover, have substantiated that 11-1 record against lesser competition a year ago.
So it is that a story that started with a senselessly stubborn head coach’s firing in Pullman and the attendant, resultant controversy and curiosity ended with a declarative statement by and about BYU.
These Cougars are good. Damn good.