The Cougars were poised to upset the 21-point favorite Broncos in the final 23 seconds until normally sure-footed kicker Matt Payne’s potential game winning 38-yard field goal sailed wide left.
There was no solace or comfort in this tough loss for Cougar fans, but the tenacity of the BYU players’ gritty comeback and the long-awaited return of the deep aerial game provided a cautiously optimistic glimmer of hope as they begin a full slate of Mountain West Conference games starting Saturday at Colorado State.
Continued breakdowns in the Cougars' offensive line, deep secondary and missed tackles continue to haunt them and must be effectively addressed soon if the Cougars are to seriously contend for the MWC title.
On the bright side, both the BYU offensive and defensive units should be collectively commended for their stout and sturdy play in critical situations while also exposing and exploiting new-found weaknesses in the Broncos’ game. That the Cougars held Boise State scoreless in the second and third quarters is very impressive considering the Broncos’ unstoppable record-setting offense in recent years.
Boise State’s offense, ranked No. 1 in the country and averaging 55 points per game in three games prior to the BYU matchup, got off to its typically fast start with a safety and two touchdowns to lead the Cougars 16-0 in the first quarter.
Their lopsided early lead had all the earmarks of yet another Bronco blowout of the Cougars, but a ferocious, jaw-dropping tackle by Payne knocked the elusive Bronco kick returner back into his tracks, reinvigorating his Cougar teammates as they rebounded with 13 unanswered points before halftime.
The Boise State kick returner had to be helped from the field and was obviously dazed on the sideline after the hit more reminiscent of a jarring linebacker hit than from BYU’s unusually stout kicker. The fact that Payne knocked him backward in another jarring collision later in the game generated the awe of the 30,000 capacity crowd and the ESPN commentators who showed the hits at least two separate times.
With the game on the line and less than a minute left, BYU head coach Gary Crowton did what any good college coach would do: he set up a chip-shot field goal in the middle of the field for his All-American candidate kicker Matt Payne, BYU’s “Mr. Automatic” who had not missed a single field goal attempt all season. But it was not to be.
It's too bad because Payne’s name and legend would have been forever etched in Cougar lore from this one game had he kicked the game-winning field goal.
With the unexpected missed kick and loss, Crowton and his Cougars must feel extraordinarily snake-bitten with an inexplicably unlucky streak of costly injuries and bad breaks the last few years.
With valiant play from sophomore quarterback John Beck -- who just started throwing deep balls in practice two days before the game, and receivers Todd Watkins and Austin Collie, Crowton has a firm foundation from which to build a revitalized and exciting offense again.
If Friday night’s hard-fought game is an indication of things Cougar fans will see from this resilient team the remainder of the season, buckle up and hang on for an interesting if not intriguing ride full of uncertain twists and turns.
In the short term, job security after this season is the $64,000 question for the embattled Crowton and his assistants. In the long term, continuity of what appears to be a good-to-great team slowly emerging hangs in the balance – along with at least three highly coveted recruits TotalBlueSports.com has learned who have privately verbally committed to Crowton.
One thing is for certain: This BYU Cougar team is not even close to quitting on their coach or themselves even as many fair-weather fans are calling for Crowton’s head.
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