Final Score: BYU 44, Oregon State 20
Either OSU didn't learn from the year's first venture to Las Vegas, or maybe they did. After one of the weaker performances of the season in the second week, also on a windy night, the return trip was a poster case for the saying that what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.
After four losses by 25 points all season, this one was by 24. And it wouldn't have been that close but for a pair of perfect passes by quarterback of the future Ryan Katz.
The Las Vegas bowl was the worst defensive outing of the season, and the 12th. worst of 13 offensive showings, and it came at a bad time, in front of the entire country.
After struggling with the Vegas desert winds earlier this season, and then the two home losses that followed, also in the wind, a passing attack and a kicking game that wasn't prepared for windy conditions was inexplicable, and inexcusable.
The effects of the wind was one of the biggest "what's" that beat the Beavers, but not being prepared for it is the "why".
The second game at the end of the season with a national audience on ESPN, on nights with no other football, this one was much more damaging to the OSU brand than a close loss to Oregon was. That game was generally seen as a good game, one that either team could have lost, but one both teams walked away from with more respect than they entered with.
This one was a lost opportunity to look like OSU belonged in the national spotlight. A spotlight that they will again be in come September, in Dallas, against a TCU team that is markedly better than the BYU unit that reeled off 37 consecutive points when the game was in question. A spotlight that will be harsh if another effort that looks like something less than the showing that emerging power Middle Tennessee displayed Sunday results.
Instead, the skeptics from the rest of the BCS regimen, as well as the Mt. West Conference, saw nothing that will cause them to take another look. Poor fundamentals and poor decisions don't just produce poor results, they expose poor preparation.
By all pregame analysis, the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas, matching two ranked teams for the first time ever, was expected to be one of the top five post-season contests of the season. Instead, the Beavers were beaten in every quarter, so much so that most of the country probably didn't stay around to see anything after midway in the third period.
All-Pac-10 first team quarterback Sean Canfield, who had a 70% completion rate in the regular season, was below 50%, as was Katz. The Rodgers brothers, usually good for around 300 yards between them, were held below 200 yards total, and rarely saw any space to run against a BYU defensive unit that dared OSU to show them something different.
Only Damola Adeniji had what could be considered a good night, hauling in seven balls for 107 yards and a touchdown. No one else among the other eight Beavers with a catch exceeded 40 yards.
And while Oregon St. started strong, with two defensive stops and two sacks, once the Cougars adjusted, the Beavers never counter-adjusted. BYU running back Harvey Unga was held to 71 yards, and no rushes for over eight yards, but quarterback Max Hall overcame the windy conditions that confounded Canfield for much of the night for 19 completions out of 30 attempts, producing 192 yards, and three touchdowns.
Hall had receivers open all night, the product of precise route running, and another indication of preparation, while Canfield threw into double and even triple coverage repeatedly.
One touchdown was thrown away due to poor fundamentals, not making sure a problem with the pitch would be an incomplete pass. Then another was promptly wasted on poor punt protection technique. Those kinds of mistakes shoudn't happen at this level, and certainly should be addressed early on, just to make sure they don't. To have that happen at this point in the season was amazing for all the wrong reasons.
You know you are in trouble when it's hard to decide which is worse, to have three drives end in turnovers, four end with failed attempts at fourth down conversions, or two that culminated with six net yard punts.
The theme of the night was a surprising lack of adjustments from the OSU side. With nearly three weeks between games, BYU shouldn't have taken OSU by surprise, or without options. Unless there was an assumption that this might somehow be easy?
The institution didn't approach the event that will be the lasting showcase of the year with a sense of urgency at any level. While it was evident the team was unprepared, that was just symptomatic of the approach to the event. Around campus almost daily, there was never any indication from the top administrative level that this event happening, much less important.
That message trickled down the chain. For example, while BYU sent their full band in support, OSU decided that they should leave 2/3 of theirs at home. When there is a lack of commitment from the powers that be, is it any surprise that's the message the team, that left apparently about 2/3 of their game at home, got?
As a result, the ESPN money for the preseason trips to Texas and Boise, plus the Louisville game, will have to go a long way. Because the Las Vegas audition won't produce a rush to pick up Oregon St. for a lot of weekly games as next season rolls along. Should the daunting task of two road games against BCS bowl teams that return as many or more starters than the 17 the Beavers bring back not go well, the marketing department could well be looking at a team that is on a 1-4 run come the start of conference play.
And BYU's well conceived defensive strategy, one that absolutely pushed the Beaver offensive line around almost all night, put the Heisman Hype for Jacquizz Rodgers on the back of the bottom shelf, at least for a while. That takes away another reason for lucrative television selections, and makes filling Reser more unlikely.
In difficult economic times, wasting a rare opportunity to showcase your most marketable assets by being unprepared when the lights go on is hard to fathom. And not what you would expect from those we all pay a lot to make sure Beaver nation is at their best.
No one will accuse Oregon St., or at least their students, of not trying. But the old college try doesn't displace SEC programs, or even the leading mid-majors. BYU recognized the magnitude of the opportunity, and came loaded for bear. The Beavers didn't.
And while an eight win season isn't bad, it was the fewest wins in four years, and the most losses. Also the first time a Riley squad has been beaten in a bowl game, much less embarrassed. Only in his first year as head coach in Corvallis (1997), then in the 5-6 2005 season, and now in 2009, has a Riley team finished the season with two losses.
Here's hoping for a successful showcase season in the all-star games and then the scouting combines for Sean Canfield and Keaton Kristick. Otherwise, Las Vegas, known for separating visitors from money, and a poor plan, may cost these Beavers far more than any casino could.
The returning players are the type that will come back from holiday break and on their own go to work. Anyone really think James Rodgers won't take it to yet another level in his offseason work?
But the most important off-season work won't be on the field in spring practice. It will be done in offices in the Valley Football Center and Gill Coliseum, when what went wrong is (hopefully) carefully analyzed, and a new plan is crafted.