Balanced BYU Beats Oregon St.

Jordan Poyer's interception for a touchdown tied the game at 14-14 just before halftime, but BYU pulled away in the second half to defeat Oregon St. 38-28. (Photo by Andy Wooldridge)

Final Score: BYU 38 Oregon St. 28

"We didn't play very well. That's the bottom line, and that's disappointing."

Head coach Mike Riley summed up another one that got away from Oregon St. on Saturday, and while that analysis isn't the complete story, it is an accurate assessment of the state of affairs with the Beavers.

There were some who played well, like Jordan Poyer, who had a pick-6 interception for the game tieing touchdown in the second quarter, 171 yards on kick returns, and some solid pass defenses.

And there were extenuating circumstances due to injuries.

But there also continued to be too many mistakes to beat a quality opponent, even one who had some of the same issues that Oregon St. had.

Before breaking down the break downs, its important to note that the analysis of what went wrong for Oregon St. should in no way detract from BYU's effort. The Cougars played well early, withstood the Beavers' battling back, and took control of the game late. The teams were actually rather well matched, and it resulted in a competitive game much of the afternoon. But BYU overcame injuries, and made the plays necessary to win a tough game, while Oregon St. made the mistakes that made it impossible to win a tough game.

Four turnovers and two missed field goals will lose most games, today's included, especially when coupled with a porous at times defense.

The number that jumps off the stat sheet is BYU's rushing 48 times for 282 if their 499 total yards.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall did note that "300 yards on the ground and 300 yards throwing is what we were looking for," and while the Beavers held the Cougars short of both of those goals, Mendenhall was able to accurately note "This is the most balanced we have been this season."

One of the big reasons the Cougars were able to run for so many yards was a series of injuries, which, depending on the severity of some of them, could be a major issue going forward for the Beavers as well.

DT Castro Masaniai, Oregon St.'s biggest defensive lineman, went down in the first quarter with a broken fibula in his leg, and will be out indefinitely. Both Andrew Semalo and Ben Motter played well at times in place of Masaniai, but both are 50 pounds lighter than Masaniai, and that's significant in terms of stopping the run.

But it was at middle linebacker that the problem really got ugly.

First, Feti Unga went down with a calf strain on the first series of the game. No problem, insert Tony Wilson, who was the starter at the position for much of last season. But then Wilson also went out with a hip contusion. Oregon St. then slid strong side linebacker Cameron Collins into the middle. And shortly thereafter, Collins left the game with a groin injury.

As a result, Reuben Robinson, who is the backup at both strong and weak side linebacker moved to the middle, Shiloah Te'o finished the game at strong side linebacker, and Benny the Beaver was told to stay close by, because he was next up on the depth chart at linebacker.

I've been around both college and high school football for 40+ years, and I don't ever recall a team losing a DT and 3 middle linebackers all in the same game. But I suspect the opposition proceeding to run up some sizable rushing numbers, and winning the game, was the result whenever it has happened.

The severity of the injuries to Unga, Wilson, and Collins won't be known until at least early in the week, but its something Oregon St. fans will need to keep an eye on.

And on top of all that, safety Lance Mitchell, a week removed from a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week performance, played only in nickel packages, a result of struggling with his lingering groin injury issues.

Not all of the defensive problems were entirely due to the injuries, which did contribute to making BYU quarterback Riley Nelson, who was making only his second start, look like an All-Conference (if the Cougars, who left the Mt. West to play as an independent starting this year, had a conference) quarterback, though.

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Nelson, above, completed 17 of 27 passes, for 217 yards, and also 3 touchdowns, against the one interception Poyer returned 51 yards for a touchdown, and also another 87 yards rushing. But then all quarterbacks with more mobility than the logo painted on the field tend to have near career days against defensive coordinator Mark Banker's scheme(?).

Lets play "You be the defensive coordinator", and take a look at the two fourth quarter touchdowns that turned a 24-21 game into a three possession lead for BYU.

In looking at JD Falslev's scoring catch,

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and then Kaneakua Friel on his route,

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can you find the flaw in the Oregon St. coverage? (Hint there isn't any. Coverage that is, not flaw.)

42,584 fans, including probably the largest visiting contingent ever (it appears a great number of Oregon St. fans resold tickets), watched BYU consume half the first quarter to drive 82 yards in 12 plays, and take a 7-0 lead on Michael Alisa's 10 yard run.

The Beavers responded with a 12 play, 65 yard drive of their own, only to have Sean Mannion throw the ball directly to the Cougars' Kyle Van Noy at the BYU 7. Van Noy returned the interception to mid field, and aided by an Oregon St. offside penalty on third and four, BYU mounted a short field drive capped by JJ Di Luigi's 3 yard run, below, to open the lead to 14-0.

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Perhaps we shouldn't have noted it last week when Mannion threw the ball directly to Benny when he couldn't find any other Oregon St. receiver; at least that wasn't as bad hitting Van Noy between the numbers with the ball.

Mannion led Oregon St. on an 11 play, 72 yard drive to get on the board, as Marcus Wheaton, below, the Beavers' leading receiver on the day, had 3 of his 8 catches, for 61 of his 104 yards. Mannion capped the drive with a 1 yard run to cut the deficit in half.

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But the Beavers got nothing out of Alisa's fumble that Scott Crichton covered at the Cougar's 27 yard line when Trevor Romaine missed a field goal from the right hash. After the Sacramento St. game wasn't won because Romanie's chip shot field goal hit the upright, this one was over-corrected, as Romaine hooked the ball wide left from the right hash. Quite evidently, centering the ball up is essential for Romaine, who has plenty of length, having already set an OSU record for touchback kickoffs at this point in the season.

However, 3 plays later, Poyer undercut a route, picking off Nelson, and tieing the game 1:38 before halftime.

BYU drove to the Oregon St. 32, but had a field goal blocked by Crichton on the last play of the half. Anthony Watkins picked up the loose ball, and almost gave Oregon St. the lead at the break. Watkins wove from one side of the field to the other, and then cut back, getting 60 yards up field before Matt Marshall was able to make a diving touchdown saving tackle.

The game might have turned out much differently had Watkins been able to escape.

Riley led the Cougars out of the locker room and into the end zone to take the lead back for good. Cody Hoffman, the game's leading receiver, had 9 catches for 162 yards, including the 12 yard touchdown pass against isolation coverage.

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Hoffman, above, at 6'4", had a field day against the shorter Oregon St. corners, who were often left without safety help, facing a mismatch, where Hoffman elevated and caught the ball before it came down enough to be contested.

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Poyer's 57 yard kickoff return, above, put the Beavers in position to answer, but Mannion had a pass deflected, resulting in his second interception of the day.

Oregon St.'s defense stopped BYU twice, but both of the Beavers' response drives ended in fumbles, the first an unforced drop by Malcolm Agnew that reminded everyone that Jacquizz Rodgers never did that in his three years of running into the middle of the line, and the second by TE Colby Prince after a Mannion completion.

The third time was the charm for the Cougars, as Justin Sorenson's field goal opened a 10 point, 24-14 lead.

Mannion made a beautiful throw, hitting Brandin Cooks in stride, below, for a 59 yard touchdown that pulled Oregon St. within 24-21 with still over 2 minutes left in the third quarter.

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The Cougars responded with a 12 play, 66 yard drive, that featured 8 runs against the Beaver defense that by that point was down 3 middle linebackers. Nelson's scoring pass to the undefended Falslev opened the lead to 10 points.

Oregon St. finally remembered that James Rodgers, who had only one catch so far, and Joe Halahuni, who had no touches to that point, were still on the team, and involved them in the game. Mannion completed 5 passes to drive the Beavers into the Cougars' red zone. But Mannion missed Rodgers, and after a false start penalty on Mike Remmers, Mannion also missed Wheaton. And Romaine missed another field goal.

Nelson answered with a scoring drive that opened a 17 point drive when Friel was turned loose on a roll out route for another undefended catch.

Mannion completed 8 passes on the ensuing drive, and got a pass interference call on the one ball thrown to Jordan Bishop all day, and Jovan Stevenson carried the ball the last 2 yards for the touchdown that made the final score 38-28.

The Beavers recovered the onside kick, but the kick didn't go 10 yards before Rashaad Reynolds plucked it out of the air, and the Cougars ran the clock out.

While Wheaton had another huge day, and the bomb to Cooks was as brilliant a call as it was a throw, the play calling that didn't significantly involve Rodgers, Halahuni, or Bishop, until late in the game was horrible. And on third down an 11 midway in the third quarter, why take Rodgers out of the game? Rodgers has often been used as a decoy this season, but he's not a concern for the opposing defense while standing on the sideline.

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Mannion, above, finished with 27 completions on 43 attempts, for 306 yards, but only 1 touchdown, against the 2 interceptions.

Agnew, in his first action since pulling his hamstring in practice after the Sacramento St. game, led the Beavers in rushing, but with only 49 yards on 10 carries. Oregon St. only managed 59 yards on the ground, on just 23 runs.

Nelson led the Cougars, with 87 yards rushing, with Alisa right behind, with 84 yards on 20 carries. Di Luigi added another 74 yards.

"We really wanted to run better than them, and obviously we lost that battle," Riley said. "That was probably, if you're summarizing this game, that's the biggest difference in the world. They rushed for almost 330 yards, controlled not only the yardage, but they controlled time. So that was a major factor."

BYU lost 2 defensive tackles, as well a couple of offensive linemen, to injuries as well, as the game was one of the hardest hitting games between the tackles Oregon St. has been involved in in some time. But the Cougars run game and run defense was not nearly as adversely affected as the Beavers' were when forced to use reserves.

BYU (5-2), as they were in their 44-20 win over Oregon St. 2 years ago in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, were not just the better team, they were the better prepared one. The win evened the all-time series at 5-5.

Oregon St. (1-5, 1-2) now hits the road for 2 weeks, playing Washington St. (3-3, 1-2) next Saturday at 7:30 PM at Centurylink Field in Seattle. The Cougars lost their second game in a row tonight, falling 44-14 to Stanford in Pullman, after the Cardinal scored 4 consecutive touchdowns to blow open what had been a 10-7 game at halftime.

The week after the second round of Cougarfest, the Beavers visit Utah. The Utes (3-3, 0-3) came from behind to defeat Pittsburgh 26-14.

Better execution and a better game plan will both be required if Oregon St. is to make good on an opportunity to still climb into the middle of the Pac-12 North Division standings.

The Beavers have now lost 9 of their last 11 games, and are 6-14 (30%) over their last 20 games. Its also the first time in 20 years that Oregon St. has lost all of their non-conference games.

(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

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