Dick Harmon: 28 points should have been enough

Published: Friday, Dec. 23 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

LAS VEGAS — Welcome to BYU bowl heritage, Bronco Mendenhall.

It's called losing.

Mendenhall's charges proved that guts, hard work, living right and practicing tough are only part of the formula in bowl wins. It takes the horses, otherwise you lose — a trend BYU continued Thursday night in the Pioneer Pure Vision Las Vegas Bowl. It's simply the way the Cougars do these things. Now Mendenhall's wearing the same toe tag.

BYU has now gone without a bowl win for nine years, stretching back to 1997 at the Cotton Bowl, a win over Kansas State. The Cougars are 0-4 in bowls since then. Overall, they're 7-16-1. Not good. They are bowl-unable.

Effort aside, it takes better talent. Mendenhall's team worked as hard as, if not harder than, any bowl team BYU has ever had. Still, they were bowl-unable.

That was never more apparent than in Las Vegas, as the Cal Bears beat BYU 35-28 before a record bowl crowd. Yes, BYU fans did their part, but like so many bowl trips through 30 years, this one ended with a Cougar loss. This one could be chalked up to the defense and special teams.

Sure, Cougar defenders are hobbled. Yes, they made a final stop at the end and gave the offense a chance to tie Cal. But one simple fact stood out in Las Vegas —the Cougar defense entered this game undermanned to the task of consistently stopping Cal. And it showed.

This was never more apparent than Cal's 42-yard TD just before half. BYU's secondary was mere cardboard cutouts on that play. It was the difference in the game. And it was embarrassing to witness.

Defensive football players make plays, they tackle in the open field, cover receivers, hit the gaps, plug holes, bring down receivers, tackle ball carriers. There was little consistency in doing all of this Thursday night by the Cougars. It wasn't for trying — they simply didn't do it very often.

So, this is the starting spot for Mendenhall in 2006. His defense has to improve if BYU gets serious with Pac-10, ACC or any other battles in their own league. You know it is bad when BYU's scout team moves the ball on Cougar defenders and that was a trademark of BYU football in 2005.

Back in the old days — the ones Mendenhall wants to return to — Mike Holmgren, Norm Chow, Doug Scovil had a goal of scoring a touchdown every quarter — 28 points — and they'd win. Thursday night the Cougars had a goal of scoring 40. Had to. They ended up scoring 28. It wasn't enough.

But scoring 28 should have been good enough.

BYU's offense had scoring drives of 96, 91 and 93 yards on Cal. Folks, that's good football. Mendenhall and Robert Anae have that equation solved.

John Beck set a Las Vegas Bowl record with 35 completions and 352 yards. BYU resurrected Todd Watkins in this game. You could forgive Anae for trying to force Curtis Brown, an inside runner to the outside because 28 points should have been enough. You can forgive him for starting the game with passive plays, a lot of passes, allowing Cal to tee off on his blockers and set the tone for the game as aggressors, because 28 should have been enough.

But it wasn't.

"This is the way it happens sometimes," Watkins said, trying his best stab at diplomacy. "I felt we played really good today, but it wasn't good enough to beat this very good Cal Bear team."

Watkins refused to blame the defense. But the evidence was on the scoreboard: Cal 35. BYU's defense allowed 76 points in its final two games. Not good.

The Cougars ran 80 plays, gained 446 yards against Cal. But Cal got 469 yards on just 66 plays. The Cougars controlled the clock, had the pigskin for six more minutes. It wasn't enough.

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