Since most fans are Monday morning QBs and have all the answers about what went wrong over the weekend, what did the coaches and players do wrong on Saturday and what should they have done to avoid the loss? Who should shoulder the blame for BYU’s defense for the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s loss?
Carl: Overconfidence defensively. I don’t think the defense was prepared for the speed and quality of the SJSU receivers and the soundness of the offense. Our front four didn’t get the necessary push to keep our secondary from getting gashed. They finally adjusted in the second quarter, but it was too late. In my humble opinion, I think some players have booked their tee times in Hawaii and have given up on this season. Not what they wanted, but they are not physically or emotionally invested anymore.
Don: It is rare when you can put most of or all of the blame for a loss (or credit for a win for that matter) on one element of the game. It is usually a calamity of errors and bad judgment that results in losing a game you should have won. I really think it’s unfair in most circumstances to blame a single individual or play for a loss in most game situations. However, the loss on Saturday in San Jose is one where I can honestly say I feel coaching did not put the Cougars in the best position to win a game that really should have been won, despite an 8-2 record for the Spartans. The poor play by the offensive line was once again offensive and Riley was even more off target than usual, which is really saying something. But earlier in the season, the coaches made the mistake of playing and continuing to play an injured Riley Nelson for way too long against Utah and Boise State. Should they have played Lark in those games or Taysom Hill? I still maintain a healthy Riley, as bad as he is, still gives us the best chance to win. However, a Riley that is not at least 95% is a truly scary sight to see and should NOT be out on the football field. Had Hill or Lark played in either of those games, I think the Cougs win them both. The same goes for last Saturday. Watching Riley get up slowly with obviously limited motion and stay in the game told me the coaches did not learn a lesson from the painful losses earlier in the season. That was mistake one by the coaches. Mistake two lies squarely at the feet of Bronco himself. Having looked over the games stats of wins and losses for the Spartans on the year, I didn’t even need to watch game film to know that pressure on the QB and QB sacks were the key to winning against a Spartan offense that is led by a very smart and accurate QB. After only two insanely efficient TD drives to start the game, I cannot fathom why Bronco didn’t immediately make the same adjustments in the 1st quarter that he made at half time. I don’t think the Spartans score again after the opening 13 points had he done so. Head scratchers for sure, but NOT reasons to fire Bronco. More like a reason to reevaluate things in the off season and make educated decisions to improve things going forward.
Matt: This might be a bit unexpected but I don’t think much was wrong on Saturday, except one thing: Riley Nelson. I’m not sure when it happened but when his back stiffened up and he suddenly couldn’t throw without the visible pain he was throwing with, he should have been replaced. I blame that on Bronco Mendenhall. He should pull him and let someone who is not injured take a shot. Last season, Jake Heaps struggled through the first five games and Mendenhall finally pulled him to allow Riley Nelson to come in and Heaps lost his job. Nelson has been terrible in the five games he’s lost this season and only serviceable in the ones he has one, so why hasn’t Mendenhall finally said, “Enough is enough?”
As far as the defense goes, I don’t have an issue with the first three series of the game. Sure, it really, really sucked that they went 3/3 on touchdown drives but sometimes, you get surprised. I was happy and pleased that adjustments were made to end the half and at halftime (something we often are critical of with this coaching staff) and they played more than well enough to win the game.
If I have to assign blame for anything, it is on Riley Nelson, and more to the point, Bronco Mendenhall and his unyielding support for #MrGrit.
Mike: Bronco runs the defense so he needs to own the flat 1st quarter. My favorites are the apologists who suggest coming out flat vs. SJSU is byproduct of BYU being locked in to the Poinsettia Bowl. Coming out flat is a byproduct of poor prep. That falls on the defensive coaches. Monday morning QBs have had a lot to complain about in ’12. The poor prep and poor in game adjustments were at a season low vs. SJSU. Riley remaining in the game during critical moments, while injured reflects a coaching staff fast asleep at the wheel.
Last week we discussed what we wanted to see from this team to show signs of success and improvement. After referring back to your expectations, how did the team perform against your standard you set for them?
Carl: Referring back I said “BYU better not have packed it in, especially offensively.” Unfortunately, I was dead on. The end.
Don: They took huge steps back in every area. They fell short of the 24 + points I felt they would need to win, they played one half of poor defense and one half of great defense, and offensively they did not take care of the ball or execute the offense efficiently. This was a very poor showing from the Cougars minus one half of great defense and excellent special teams play.
Matt: My suggestions were for Riley to stay in the pocket and for a few more calls on a deep ball. Both were executed as I had hoped, so as far as my benchmarks go, I would say it was a success; despite the overall lack of success. In my preview though, I suggested BYU would need to combine Stanford’s and Utah State’s successes to have success against SJSU and they didn’t bring it. The running game never got going. Jamaal Williams never found room. Nelson had too many carries (14 for 11 yards). Nelson finished with a good stat line, but 6.6 yards per attempt is too few for a BYU QB. And though the defense finished incredibly strong, they gave up three early touchdowns that force BYU to play from behind all game; a place they have struggled to play from for three seasons.
Mike: I felt SJSU week would be a challenge. Bronco said midweek his team was looking forward to the challenge. Away from a great week by Cody Hoffman and a successful onside kick it’s difficult to find an area even Bronco would be happy with. The defense was poor against the pass until SJSU stopped passing. Riley had over 300 yards passing but anyone watching would not consider Riley’s game as good. Jamaal Williams was a beneficiary of another poor run blocking performance by BYU’s offensive line. Overall SJSU proved how mediocre BYU is this season.
Bronco haters and disgruntled BYU fans are teeing off today after Saturday’s bluster in San Jose. Some are calling for his head, others are calling for Bronco staying HC but revamping the coaching staff, while others are just happy to be BYU fans, and though not happy about the season, want to stay the course and believe Bronco can right the ship. As an ATI panel, where do you stand on this and why? Do you feel BYU fans are justified or overreacting?
Carl: The more I watch college football in general, the more I don’t like seeing a head coach also acting as another coach. We know Bronco is a great mind defensively. But how has he coached entire teams? There are a lot of little items that have collected over time that don’t quite add up. For a small example, I re-watched Bronco’s post-practice Q and A from August 14th. In it, he makes firm mention that Lark is the second string with Taysom 3rd. If Bronco had full transparency of the offense, he should have easily known Lark was not fitting into Doman’s offense and listed him as 3rd with Hill second. Instead, Lark gets demoted for no apparent reason to 3rd so Hill can start against Hawaii. Why not just call a spade a spade? It’s because he doesn’t have all the information that he needs. But he can going forward; he just needs to get rid of the defensive coordinator title to make room for the entire team.
Don: Any fans calling for Broncos head are WAY overreacting IMO. With social media interaction and information overload at fans fingertips at all times, it is way too easy to oversimplify a problem and fall victim to a groupthink mentality based on irrational emotional fan reactions to a game. We revere the legendary career of LaVell while calling for Broncos head on a platter when reality is, Bronco wins more often than LaVell and against the same types of teams. Yes, LaVell did it for much longer than Bronco has and deserves every ounce of respect he clearly earned. But LaVell built his legacy on winning the games he should win sprinkled with losses that were inexcusable, and occasionally winning a game against big name opponents while losing most of them. Sounds a lot like Bronco to me. Bronco’s style annoys me and he makes puzzling coaching decisions to fans who are not privy to being inside the program at all times like he is. But fans need to remember that BYU has to be judged by a totally different standard than any other program because like it or not, it does stand for more and it does have standards that no other program has. For Bronco to win as often as he has with the limitations he has due to the honor code, etc is just as amazing as LaVell doing the same for so long. The difference is, Bronco has to do it under a massive magnifying glass while running a squeaky clean program. One last thought for any fans who still want to see Bronco fired and replaced….that’s all fine but with whom? There is a very small number of candidates who would fit at BYU and no one I can think of who is better known commodity than Bronco. Fans can throw out the name Andy Reid as an option, but right now he’s not an option and even if he was available, it may still prove to be a hard sell for BYU. Unless there is a proven winner at a level obviously above Bronco that would work for BYU, you would be way more likely to end up with another Crowton or even worse than you would another Bronco even. You cannot make a lateral or lower coaching move just because you are not happy with the state of the program unless you have a huge pool of successful candidates to choose from. BYU does not have that, and Bronco remains not only the best option, but the ONLY real option at this time for the Cougars.
Matt: That’s the beauty of being a fan isn’t it? Your entitlement to react how you like? Is it overblown sometimes? Sure. But it’s all part of being a fan. For my part, I’m done with the Bronco Mendenhall era. Here’s why:
- Everyone has been content with winning 9-11 games/season even if they were against the WAC or FBS teams. Well guess what? This year we nearly lost to Utah State and then we did lose to San Jose State; both WAC teams.
- Bronco hates the fans. He has called us uneducated. He has called us Pharisees. What he’s forgotten is that we are passionate. We’ve been BYU fans much longer than he has or at least certainly longer than he has been the coach. Don’t hate us Bronco, just do your job.
- He’s married to antiquated ideologies regarding tenure and playing time. In some cases, the guy that’s been there longer should play. Sometimes, he shouldn’t. Riley Nelson shouldn’t play just because he’s earned it from putting in the time. If he can’t make the throws, play someone who can. It took far too long to get Jamaal Williams to be the man even though he is clearly the best back on the team. I could go on, but I won’t.
- Communications fail. The Robert Anae era ended over a lack of communication. “Hey coaching staff, you’re all ‘sort of fired’ until I decide if I want you back.” Here’s my impression of that conversation afterwards (in Donald Trump’s best voice), “Robert, you’re not rehired.” Jaime Hill was unceremoniously dumped after losing at Utah State. Jake Heaps was benched and never spoken to again. James Lark was “demoted” and never told why. Now Bronco and Brandon Doman don’t speak. Communications fail.
Bottom line is 9-11 wins should not make up for a litany of failures in other areas. Its time for Bronco to go. Tom Holmoe knows it. Whether he can do anything about it is another matter.
Mike: Bronco’s last good season was 2009. In college football you work toward seasons like 2012 with a senior QB, a senior laden defense, and an accommodating schedule. The good news for Bronco is BYU’s fan base has a good percentage of fans who will blindly support anything Bronco puts in front of them. This season has failed to meet most expectations. I’ve mentioned the ’12 BYU defense is Bronco’s greatest accomplishment. He has built one of the greatest defenses BYU has ever seen. At the same time his performance as a head coach has never looked worse. The Riley drama, the QB depth chart and Taysom Hill’s injury, the gaping holes in special teams and the offensive line are all accountable by the head coach. I don’t think Bronco should lose his job but I think some personnel decisions need to be made for him. Bronco has yet to make a great hiring decision and his hires have been average at best. Hiring great people is key to any great organization. Bronco, put down Talent is Overrated and pick up Good to Great.
With Riley hurt for the second time this season, why is starting Lark such a difficult decision for Bronco and company?
Carl: The on-the-surface reason suggests he doesn’t fit in to Doman’s offensive flow. Yet I’m not buying all that, considering Doman doesn’t even know what his offensive identity is. Whatever may have happened with Lark to get him not in good graces, I truly feel for him. He has been nothing but kicked around for four seasons.
Don: No idea. Total head scratcher for me. It makes zero sense. If Riley were healthy I could see the debate and the reason for it despite my own opinions. But an injured Riley should not be out on the field. He’s terrible when he can’t play his style of mobile QB.
Matt: James Lark must have really pissed off the coaches. I’ve heard from a “source” that he had a falling out with Brandon Doman and Doman hasn’t let it go. Not really certain how I feel about that. If there is validity to that and it’s costing the program solid progress and wins, then the people involved should be terminated immediately. I know I’m not at practice nor am I a coach, but I do have eyes and I’m a passionate fan. Riley Nelson is incapable of being a BYU-type of quarterback for many reasons, the grandest of reasons being his talent limitations and his current physical limitations. Riley Nelson is one of the worst quarterbacks in the country. It says so much about the recruiting and coaching from this coaching staff if Nelson truly gives BYU the best chance to win games right now. Because that means our back ups are worse than some of the worst quarterbacks in the nation. And that just feels wrong for “QB U.”
Mike: This is a mystery to me. A healthy version of Riley isn’t very good. An injured version of Riley is downright awful. If Bronco and Doman had a couple walk-ons behind Riley I understand. Lark was a four-star recruit and one has to believe he can throw the ball better then Riley Nelson The only explanation is Doman needs a running quarterback, even an injured one to make his run first, second and third offense go. Lark staying on the bench vs. Boise State was interesting. If Lark doesn’t suit up vs. NMSU something is going on. Either Doman doesn’t know how to build a game plan for a throwing QB or Lark looking like Tom Brady vs. NMSU makes both Bronco and Doman look bad for not going to him earlier in the season. Either case makes a very dull NMSU game semi-interesting.
How do BYU fans feel about the recent “BYU back to MWC” chatter?
Carl: It’s not really MWC chatter; it’s the beginning chatter of ‘the best of the rest’ conference, or the ‘Continental Athletic Conference.’ It will comprise the very best of the non-BCS teams from the former Big East, MWC, WAC, and C-USA. Like it or not, something to that effect is coming. Maryland and Rutgers moving to the Big-Whatever it is let’s the world know that super-conferences are coming. I don’t see BYU being part of a power conference at this point, so leading the best of the rest wouldn’t be terrible.
Don: I think I threw up in my mouth the first time I heard it. Note to BYU admins: hell to the no. Never go back to your psycho ex for any reason, even if she did find meds that work for her. BYU should give up independence for only two reasons: One, they are forced to and have no other real option and Notre Dame has already gone the same route, or two, you are invited to a conference that is a no brainer, like the Big XII. Until then, Viva La Independence for the boys in blue.
Matt: In a word, m’eh. Does the Hair really feel he can make any waves with rumors that BYU is coming back and BSU and SDSU are rescinding their move out of the conference? Puh-leeze, Mr. Hair. You’re ineptitude ruined what was quickly becoming a very good conference by making it more attractive for your top teams to go independent or to the Big East (lets not kid ourselves by thinking Utah ever should have turned their chance down.) BYU buttered the MWC bread for a long time and the Hair kept telling everyone else BYU wasn’t that big of a deal. If you are so inclined to get wrapped in the hype here, please do yourself a favor and ignore the Hair and enjoy your Thanksgiving Day football, family, and food.
Mike: This BYU fan thinks the suggestion of BYU groveling to Craig Thompson to return to the MWC is absurd. BYU’s ego will not allow such a thing. I think the realignment chatter is nothing but good for BYU’s campaign to join the BIG 12. Look for an LDS General Conference statement around Hell being frozen before BYU joins the MWC.
Last week we talked about the top three teams in the BCS and what would happen if each remained unbeaten. As you know, both Kansas State and Oregon faltered this past weekend and only Notre Dame remains. Assuming Notre Dame takes care of business in Southern California, who do you predict will be their opponent in the National Championship game and how do you feel about that match up?
Carl: I stated in Dog and Deuce’s pre-season college football episode that Georgia was my sleeper team to win the National Championship. I’m going to stick with them. They’re not as talented as Alabama, but they’re playing better team football right now. Georgia and Alabama are far more talented than Notre Dame top to bottom, so I expect the winner of the SEC championship to beat Notre Dame. Sorry Golden Domers.
Don: Alabama vs. Notre Dame. I like the matchup, but I think despite my wanting Notre Dame to come out on top, Alabama would take care of the Fighting Irish.
Matt: It disgusts me that it will likely be Alabama again. It seems that barring an Auburn upset this weekend, Alabama will face Georgia in the SEC title game and then be poised to return to the title game once again in the most unlikely of fashions. This weekend I become a huge Auburn fan and next week, I’ll be cheering on the Dawgs. Either way, should Notre Dame make the Championship Game, I’ll be cheering them on, no matter who they line up against.
Mike: I think Alabama is the best team in the country. After watching ND live vs. BYU I’d like nothing more then to watch ND play for the national championship. I expect Bama to take care of business vs. Auburn and Georgia. Notre Dame by the “luck of the Irish” gets USC without Barkley. I see Bama beating ND in a game closer than people think for another Nick Saban Championship. The rich get richer.