This may be the most encouraged I've ever been when BYU is on the wrong end of an 18 point blow out. Riley Nelson was faster, made better decisions (for the most part), and was more accurate than Cougar fans have ever seen him against competition of this caliber. BYU scored 24 points against what is probably the best defense they've faced all year, and it looks like BYU's offense is the best it has been since Max Hall graduated in 2009. As the carney who was out-smarted by Homer and Bart Simpson once said, "There's no shame in getting beaten by the best."
I know it sounds funny giving praise to a quarterback who finished the game with a 99.8 QB rating, and Riley still has more trouble throwing a screen pass to the flat than any Division 1 quarterback should, but I was really impressed with how he played. In hindsight, I shouldn't have been so critical of Riley's ability to deliver when healthy. Of course he couldn't play well with fractured vertebrae against Utah and Boise State, nobody plays well with fractured vertebrae (which just shows how dumb the decision was to play him in those games in the first place)! He hadn't played well against a talented opponent up until Saturday however and I let myself believe that this was more the cause of his struggles against Utah and BSU rather than his fractured vertebrae.
Now that Riley's healthy he's suddenly fast enough to be fairly effective running the option, and he's definitely fast enough to get some big first downs with his feet when it is open. He also made some good decisions distributing the ball within the option with a couple forward pitches to Foote that gained some nice yards. Riley got away with one when he waited too long to pitch it to Williams and the ball ended up on the ground, but luckily for him Williams recovered it. Riley was decisive throwing the football, and really made some accurate throws on 3rd and 4th downs to move the chains. I was very impressed, he threw the ball well from the pocket, hit receivers in the middle of the field and even threw a couple of nice deep outs.
I thought that Doman really called a good game. I liked the integration of the forward pitch into those option plays, and I really liked the little screen passes to Williams in the middle of the field. Those were open and Williams is so fast that he turned those into big plays. As much as I like Falslev this year, I would love to see Williams returning punts and kickoffs, the depth at running back is good enough to where I wouldn't mind seeing the Cougars primary back in that capacity. I was very impressed that Doman's offense was able to move the chains so well without establishing a run game. That is a tribute to Doman's play calling, Riley and this Cougar offense. I also liked the use of Pritchard when running an option to the short side of the field, with there being such limited real estate to that side of the field I like how Doman turned that into 5 yards and cloud of dust with the personel that was in there.
Hoffman was so good, and so clutch. He had made so many big catches in traffic that I couldn't believe it when he dropped that ball on the goal-line in the second quarter. BYU got into the endzone on that drive anyway, and he really had a good game. Hoffman is going to be a nice possession receiver in the NFL. Friel didn't have a very good game catching the ball, but everybody else performed well and caught the ball consistently. Falslev did a good job getting open down the sideline on one play but Riley just overthrew him. There had been rumors that Wilson was going to take a medical redshirt because his knee wasn't fully recovered from last year, so it was good to see him out there running so well. He really runs well for having a knee that isn't fully recovered. Mahina also had two big catches, this tight end group is really talented and really deep for having two of last years top guys on the depth chart out with medical problems. Friel needs to catch the ball well this week, Wilson and Mahina are nipping on his heels for playing time.
As a quarterback Riley's communication to Apo on that pick-6 would probably be that it was his own fault because the throw was a little low. But really, Apo should absolutely make that catch. It looked like Apo slipped a little bit or else he probably would have caught it, he has certainly had plenty of practice catching balls in the dirt this year. Riley's first pick that he threw was a really really bad one, it was 2nd and 9 at the Oregon State 24 yard line, and a Senior quarterback should know to throw the ball away in a situation like that. If he throws that away then chances are that the Cougars either move the chains or kick a 41 yard field goal attempt, which we found out later in the game actually has a chance of going through the uprights. With it being such a close game through 3 quarters that play could have made a difference in the outcome of the game as there may have been some pressure on OSU and certainly less pressure on BYU in the 4th quarter. His 3rd interception was so far off that you wonder if there was a miscommunication, but he probably just overthrew Hoffman on that seam route. The game was over by then anyway, and he was just trying to make magic happen, so I didn't hold that against him. Overall Riley threw for 305 yards and ran for another 56 yards on 9 carries (not including the 4 times he was sacked) against a really good defense, and for the first time this year the loss was more the fault of the defense and defensive coordinator than the offense.
It's hard to blame a defense for having a hard time defending two elite wide receivers on the same team. Cooks and Wheaton could be the second best WR tandem in the country after USC's Lee and Woods. I certainly didn't expect OSU to have two of the better quarterbacks in the country. What a game by Vaz. I don't blame Bronco for game planning for an offense that mostly makes quick passes, I was very surprised that OSU aired it out as much as they did. Against UCLA Oregon State mostly threw short routes with Mannion under center. He threw some intermediate routes and went deep occasionally, but nothing like BYU experienced against Mannion's backup. If I were the defensive coordinator you would have seen me start the game making the same calls that Bronco did. Rush three and drop eight because blitzing on a quick pass just means there's one less defender in the secondary to make the tackle. But after that opening drive where Oregon State went 75 yards in 6 plays over the course of 2 minutes and 31 seconds, I would have changed up the strategy.
It was obvious after that first drive that Oregon State was going to throw the ball downfield, and they were going to take five step drops, use playaction, and use every second in the pocket that the Cougars would give them. Vaz had way too much time in the pocket and there is no way that the Cougar cornerbacks could be expected to cover those two receivers for that long against such an accurate passer. Van Noy got the sack at the beginning of the 2nd quarter, which seemed to throw Vaz off his game for the duration of the second quarter, but Vaz came back out of the locker room after halftime ready to roll. When playing against a pro-style offense that wants to make intermediate and deep passes a defense has to put some pressure on the quarterback. BYU showed blitz frequently, but rarely did it. Really a blitz should be considered rushing five since BYU only has a three man front in the first place, but they rarely rushed 4 and barely ever rushed 5.
There should have been a middle linebacker blitzing every play (namely Ogletree, he is just not very good in coverage) and one of the outside linebackers should have been trying to get to the quarterback in every passing situation. When an offense only converts two 3rd downs against your defense, but hangs 35 points on you, then it is time to get in that quarterbacks face and take away the big play. Dropping a linebacker back into coverage doesn't do much to prevent big plays, but getting to the quarterback, (as BYU fans are well aware) can certainly cause a big play for the defense. It hadn't mattered so far this year, and it doesn't matter in future games, as I believe that Oregon State is the only pro-style offense on BYU's schedule, but Bronco had a bad game plan for this game. His game plan works well for a spread offense that tries to make quick passes, but not against a team that wants to make intermediate and deep passes using the best quarterback that BYU will face and the two best receivers on the schedule.
Oregon State's O-Line was very good too. I was very surprised that there was enough running room for those running backs to average 5.2 and 8.8 yards per carry. The batted pass for a touchdown was a tough break for this defense, I thought that it was going to be intercepted when it popped into the air in the middle of the field. Even if it fell incomplete it would have brought up 4th down and the field goal unit to settle for field goal on 4th and goal from the 5. What really turned the momentum to Oregon State were the two pass interference calls. The first one came on 2nd and 16 after two consecutive penalties by the same lineman had set OSU back 15 yards. It felt like this defense was going to make a big stop and give the ball back to the offense with BYU only down by four. Then Vaz threw it deep and Bills was right there, but ran into Wheaton without even turning to look at the ball. I have no idea what the thought process was there. On the next play Jordan Johnson was there with the coverage but turned to look for the ball just a split second late so he was called with face guarding. That was great coverage on a perfect pass to an amazing receiver if he could have looked back for the ball just a moment earlier to avoid the call. Going down by 11 with only 5:30 left in the game was a tall order for this offense, but seemed possible until Apo's slip up.
BYU fans should be able to count on Bronco and this defense to rebound well from this game and get back to their nation-leading form. I know that this defense is just as talented as the Wisconsin defense that held OSU to 10 points, and more talented than any of the other defenses that OSU has faced this year, so one does wonder that if Bronco was able to make the proper adjustments how this game would have gone. Oregon State averages 27 points per game now, and was averaging close to 24 before BYU helped them pad their average a little bit this last Saturday. If Bronco had a decent defensive game plan for this one, BYU probably would have come away with a W. Cody Hoffman said it himself, "Their game plan I think was better than ours, and I think that's ultimately what won." Just chalk it up as another BYU coaching blunder, I guess there is some shame in getting beaten by the best.
Follow me on Twitter: @lancewarchibald
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