If I told you on Friday that BYU would hold TCU to season lows in passing yards, rushing yards, total offense, 3rd down efficiency, and 1st downs you would have told me that you would have expected BYU to win this game going away. After all, the Cougars had been playing at a higher level over the past month since Riley Nelson was inserted into the starting lineup. Those who endured what can only be described as a special teams meltdown coupled with Riley Nelson shouldering a hero complex, watched BYU come up short again against the Horned Frogs of TCU on a national stage.
What BYU did right was a lot. The defense played inspired football again. They forced punts on more than half of TCU’s relevant possessions. As far as my predictions go, I was pretty spot on, minus the turnover margin and the TCU rushing yards. We averaged over 4 yards per rush attempt, topped 400 yards, the running game was a little lopsided to Nelson’s favor and unexpectedly, JJ DiLuigi was the man, not Michael Alisa. We held them to almost 80 fewer passing yards than their season average and 50 fewer yards on the ground. But, just like in the Utah game, we did ourselves in with stupid turnovers and sloppy play in the special teams.
I’m in favor of Riley Nelson playing quarterback, I really am. I fully believe Jake Heaps played himself out of the starting role through a combination of diminishing confidence in himself and from his teammates and a plethora of stout top-30 type defenses in Texas, Utah, and UCF. Riley has come in and provided a spark for this team, not unlike what Jake did last year when he took over full-time as the starter, albeit against much weaker competition. What frustrates me as a Cougar fan is watching him try to play the hero and make plays where the best option is to take a sack or throw away the ball. Three times I saw him throw the ball while being sacked and twice it resulted in a turnover. I saw him throw a “flies up” type pass that was picked off by TCU; all that was missing was a call of “500” from Nelson as he heaved it in the air. I know it’s not “sexy” football, but BYU really should be throwing many more of the quick screens and 7-10 yard outs. Three steps drops and get rid of the ball should be the Riley Nelson mantra. I was watching a little of the New York Giants game yesterday and watched Eli Manning throw a ball out of the back of the end zone while under no pressure. They talked about his “internal clock” and I wondered if Riley Nelson has one of those. If he developed a 3 second clock and throw, we’d be better off. It’s something to work on this week and we prepare for a stretch of easy games.
The special teams debacle was highlighted by a return for a touchdown by JD Falslev, even as my little brother David protested his effectiveness as a returner. It was the first time since 1996 that BYU has returned a kickoff and a punt for a score in the same season.
BYU needs to find some consistency from the offense to balance this defense that deserves to be on a championship-caliber team. Hopefully, as we run down this final stretch and into the off-season BYU can find that consistency and show its true potential as we progress down the path of Independence.