“Yeah, we’re bowl eligible, which is great. It feels great,” said receiver Michael Reed. “It wasn’t something any of us were really thinking about going into the game or after the game until someone mentioned it in the locker room.”
Given a secure and enthusiastic fan following the Cougar postseason is virtually ensured with today’s win. More importantly for BYU, however, was that the team took one more step toward their ultimate quest of Mountain West Conference championship.
“This game gets us closer and now we need to look toward CSU,” said defensive lineman Hala Paongo. “A little time for celebration, but as soon as we get home. it’s all about the next game, which is against a tough Colorado State team.”
The defense showed up big today, holding the potent Air Force to under 200 yards rushing while allowing a paltry 4 pass completions for 39 yards. The offense did its job, but this game belonged to the Cougar defense.
“We did awesome,” said linebacker Aaron Wagner. “We shut them down and stuffed them up good. We made the proper adjustments throughout the game, and it got to the point where we didn’t even need to worry much about containment since the pursuit was so good on the edges. They weren’t getting anything on the edges.”
Cougar outside linebackers Bryan Kehl, David Nixon, and use their great lateral speed to hold the edges.
“Our pursuit to the outside was great,” said Kehl. “They got nothing out there. When were weren’t there to make the play our safeties and cornerbacks were. Everyone stepped up. I thought Kelly had a great game. The play where he jumped over the guy trying to cut block him and then make the tackle for a loss was one of the biggest plays of the game, I thought. It was just a great group effort defensively. We all stepped up our play.”
Defenses like to hit people, especially defensive linemen and linebackers. Very few linebackers like to drop into zone coverage time and again. As the game went on and the defensive stops became more and more frequent, it became apparent that the defense was not just playing well, but having a ball.
“I wish we could play Air Force every week,” said Wagner. “You get to hit someone almost every play, which is what you want. It was honestly a blast out there hitting guys and stuffing them.”
“It’s so much fun when you go against a team that runs a lot and you dominate them,” said Kehl. “It’s a credit to our coaching staff and how they prepared us. Coach Lamb told us before the game that if we thought about it, ir Force was probably the easiest team to prepare for since they run the same stuff over and over again. If you don’t prepare correctly they’ll kill you, but we knew that we had prepared and knew that we’d have success, which we did.”
Many observers commented that Beck was a bit off during today’s game. He missed some passes that he usually makes in his sleep and his timing was not quote there on some passes. It is remarkable that observers can make such statements about a quarterback who went 23-31 with three touchdown passes.
Beck has made a living of making difficult things look easy from the quarterback position. What Beck did best in this game was improvise, such as when he made underhand throws on two occasions in critical situations, of which one went for a touchdown. It is a tremendous credit to Beck and his level of increased level of play that such a performance could be considered an off game.
Running Backs: B
Fui Vakapuna wasn’t completely healthy and Curtis Brown probably shouldn’t have been playing due to his illness which had IVs pumped into him the night before and just up to the game. Brown spent the morning with IVs in his arm while spilling whatever meals he had the night before and wasn’t as effective as he otherwise would have been if healthy.
Brown and Vakapuna along with Joe Semanoff and Manase Tonga all had serviceable, but not breakout performances. All were efficient when they needed to be when sustaining drives.
Wide Receivers: B
The Cougar wideouts were not the playmakers they have been in recent games. This was largely due to Air Force’s consistent four-deep zone, which did not allow for many opportunities down the field. Michael Reed was the top performer of the wideouts with four catches including one touchdown.
Tight Ends: B
Jonny Harline had the type of game most fans expected him to have every game this season. Harline made several critical grabs on third down that kept drives alive. Daniel Coats did well save for a drop of an easy pass off play-action that would have probably gone for a touchdown.
Offensive Line: B-
The Big Uglies never managed the push up front that would be expected against a smaller Air Force D-line. The Cougar running game was not the driving force of the offense that it should have been against the Cadets. The pass protection, on the other hand, was good and consistent throughout the game.
Defensive Line: A-
The freshman-studded defensive front of the Cougars did their jobs effectively. They kept blockers off the linebackers and pursued effectively in the gaps and around the edges. They also managed a few sacks.
Today marked what may have been this unit’s best collective effort of the season. Poppinga and Kehl both made quite a few outstanding pursuit plays. The middle was solid as Cameron Jensen and Aaron Wagner stuffed whatever Air Force threw at them up the middle.
Air Force gained nothing against the Cougar secondary. Air Force had almost no plays over 10 yards, which is a credit to what is often the last line of defense. The defensive backs allowed only four pass completions, of which two came during garbage/prevent-defense time as the game wound to a close.
Special Teams: B+
It was an all-around great effort in coverages and returns save for a blocked extra point and a brain-fart on an Air Force kickoff that pinned the offense on their own five-yard line. Other than those two mishaps, the coverages and returns by the special teams were virtually flawless.
Offensive MVP: Jonny Harline
Defensive MVP: Bryan Kehl/Kelly Poppinga
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