It was the tale of two teams that happen to be in the same program. BYU’s defense once again carried the program to victory, while the offense sputtered along like the little engine that couldn’t. The old problems that have plagued the offense throughout this season once again reared their ugly head.
Sure, San Diego State’s defense is well coached and plays very disciplined and with a high level of effort, but when BYU’s offense makes seven trips beyond the Aztec’s 40-yard line and can only score nine points, there’s a problem. The offense looked unprepared and without identity once again.
Offensive line: C-
As the offensive line goes, so does the Cougar offense. The grade here could be a little lower, but Christmas is around the corner and so we’re in a giving mood. The lack of execution in both run blocking and pass blocking was evident all night, as Jamaal Williams had few lanes to run through and Lark had few clean pockets to pass from. The targeting of SDSU’s blitzes was very difficult, as the Aztecs did a great job of disguising where they were coming from. Still, the offensive line’s lack of performance hindered the Cougars’ game plan all night long.
James Lark received the second start of his career, and wasn’t able to put up the same kind of numbers as he did again New Mexico State. He threw the ball 42 times, completing 23 for 244 yards and two interceptions. Lark did find his receivers when he had time and made timely throws to eight different players. Much of Lark’s lack of performance can be summed up in two areas. First, the consistent lack of success with the screen plays against single coverage early on. Coach Doman could have been trying to help Lark find his rhythm and chemistry with the receivers early with a dink-and-dunk offense, but it simply didn’t work against SDSU’s man coverage. It was only later when the offense opened up a little downfield through crossing and slant routes over the middle that the passing game found some success. Second, the offensive line struggled to allow Lark time to get in sync with his receivers downfield. Still, he performed better than quarterback Adam Dingwell from SDSU. Meanwhile, in an attempt to spark some offensive momentum, Riley Nelson replaced Lark in the second quarter but was intercepted. The interception was returned for a touchdown, but penalty for a chop block on the return cancelled out the touchdown. Nelson would never see the field again and was relegated to Lark’s consultant on the sidelines for the rest of the game.
Running back: C-
Jamaal Williams has been great all season long, and there is plenty of excitement that surrounds his future. Although he only averaged 2.1 yards on 15 carries against SDSU, he did manage to score the offense’s only touchdown with a 14-yard run. Williams simply had few lanes to run through and very little help between the tackles, which led to his worst running performance on the season. Despite the lack of a ground game in his first ever bowl appearance, Williams has a bright future ahead of him. With his touchdown, Williams finished with 12 on the season, setting a true-freshman record at BYU.
Cody Hoffman was the primary target once again, catching 10 balls for 114 yards. Had Hoffman been able to hold onto one pass in the fourth quarter down by the end zone, he might have turned it into a touchdown. Instead, the ball was tipped into the air and intercepted. Still, it was a very good performance by BYU’s leading receiver, who no doubt was the offensive MVP of the game. Against San Diego State, Hoffman logged his eighth 100-yard receiving performance of the season and is now fifth all-time at BYU with 2,718 career yards. If Hoffman returns for his senior season, he could become BYU’s all-time career-yard leader. Meanwhile, J.D. Falslev was a steady and consistent pass-catcher who made quick, tough catches on slant routes on the inside to sustain drives and keep the offense on the field.
Tight end: C
Not much to grade here since only three passes were thrown to the tight ends, and only two of those were completed. The longest passing play of the game was, however, made by tight end Devin Mahina, who had a 38-yard reception that set up BYU’s field goal right before halftime. Other than that, the tight end position wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game or run blocking game.
After trotting out onto the field time and time again after an anemic offense couldn’t produce results, there were a lot of reasons for the defense to simply give up. But it didn’t give up, and in the end showed why it’s one of the best in the country and in BYU history. The defense took the scoring into its own hands, scoring two touchdowns and setting up another thanks to a turnover. In the process, the defense sent the 29 seniors out with a Poinsettia Bowl victory against a good Aztec team.
Defensive line: A-
The defensive line, led by senior Ezekiel Ansah, turned in a very good performance against a well-coached offensive line and running back used to chewing up yardage like a wood chipper rummaging through a forest. The defensive linemen held their gaps, allowing linebackers to make plays, and were disruptive on passing plays while pursuing to the ball. BYU’s very good defensive line play allowed for much of the success of the Cougar linebackers. They made it difficult for SDSU’s guards to reach the second tier of the defense, which freed up the linebackers to pursue to the ball more easily on the edges. Ansah recorded his first ever interception to go with his five tackles, one pass breakup and one forced fumble.
How good was BYU’s front seven? Well, it was so good that it won the Poinsettia Bowl by playing both offense and defense. Led by outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, the linebackers absolutely dominated in every facet of the game, and that includes three sacks, eight tackles for a loss, five pass breakups, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and two touchdowns. Van Noy had one of the most dominating performances of his BYU career, turning in eight total tackles, five solo tackles, one-and-a-half sacks, an interception, a blocked punt, and two touchdowns to lead the team to victory. He was simply unstoppable and was the defensive MVP of the game. The middle of BYU’s defense was solid as well. Senior middle linebackers Brandon Ogletree and Uona Kaveinga combined for 17 tackles to hold SDSU’s run game to a 3.1 yard average.
Defensive backs: A
The defensive backfield held SDSU to only 12 completions for 144 yards. The defensive backs played with discipline and rarely got caught with their eyes in the backfield despite the heavy ground game of SDSU. Craig Bills showed BYU fans what’s in store for next season as he emerged as the hard-hitting safety they’ve been waiting for. Just ask SDSU junior receiver Colin Lockett, who was sent out of the game after receiving a textbook blow at the goal line. Overall the defensive performance from top to bottom was outstanding and lifted the Cougars to their fourth bowl victory in a row, which is a school-best.