Dick Harmon: Maybe a baby step for BYU, but at least it's in right direction
CORVALLIS, Ore. — It is a sight Bronco Mendenhall could put to reel and review time and time again.
It was a breakout scene in BYU's convincing 38-28 win over Oregon State on Saturday.
Junior linebacker Brandon Ogletree's helmet popped off and he came off the field with blood running out of both nostrils and into his mouth and smiling said, "This is fun."
That one memory of BYU's trip into Pac-12 territory sums up BYU's fifth win of the season.
Mendenhall returned to his home as a former Oregon State player and coach on Saturday and in Reser Stadium he unleashed a big dose of physical play on the Pac-12 home team.
BYU was the far better team on the field Saturday. It was obvious from the first play to the last. The Cougars were bigger, stronger and had a far meaner demeanor. And for the first this season, BYU looked like a team that took to the field with a ton of confidence in one another.
In elevating its season record to 5-2, the Cougars amassed 599 yards total offense to OSU's 365 and 285 of BYU's work came on the ground, in the trenches.
"We wanted to run better than them," said OSU coach Mike Riley. "Obviously we lost the battle. That was the biggest difference in the world."
The Cougars took their opening possession and rammed it down the throats of OSU's defense. BYU went 82 yards on a drive that ended with Michael Alisa's 10-yard run. On defense, BYU smothered OSU's fledgling run game and forced four turnovers as the Beavers tried 43 passes.
The game should have been a 50-14 blowout.
But cautiously, Mendenhall said BYU's consistency isn't up there enough to make that happen. "We aren't there yet," it's a work in progress."
Still, it was good enough for the largest margin of victory for the Cougars this year, the most points scored and the best offensive output since leaving the New Mexico Bowl just before last Christmas.
Ogletree, who forced two of those fumbles, had an interception on a tipped pass. "They weren't running it, I knew I wouldn't get a lot of tackles, so I just wanted to help the team so I tried to make big hits and go for the ball and make something happen to help my teammates," he said.
And he did.
Riley Nelson continued his fired-up role as a playmaker at quarterback. He shook off a pick-six interception just before half and continued making remarkable plays and extending BYU's offensive capabilities with his legs and arm.
"He has changed their team since he took over," said Riley of Riley. "He is tough to deal with."
Nelson led BYU in rushing with 87 yards on 12 carries, a 7.2 average. His ability to scramble has given other players on offense more chances to make plays.
Riley was 17 of 27 for 217 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception. His pass efficiency rating of 159.73 is the type of efficiency BYU needs.
As a passer, Riley missed a few big plays, but he made others time and time again.
Offensive tackle Matt Reynolds described it this way: "Normally we are a four-second offense. But because Riley can run around and scramble, we are a 5, 6 or 7 seconds with our offense. I know I have to block longer, until the whistle because I don't know where he's going to be and he's making a play last longer."
Cody Hoffman, who had a career day with nine catches for 162 yards, said Nelson's scrambling ability gives him more time to get open and make a play.
Mendenhall, who praised Nelson, said BYU is closer to disclosing its identity after the OSU win, but isn't there yet, calling the Cougars a work in progress.
But for anybody who saw the game, BYU's identity appeared more definable in Saturday's win over the Beavers than at any time in the season.
The Cougars hit hard on defense. With Nelson at the helm, the offense plays hard, albeit mistakes continue with untimely penalties and a pair of turnovers. BYU is a balanced team that has to run the ball to make everything else click.
In a sense, BYU has taken on the personality of its defense and its QB.
"BYU is about winning," said Nelson when asked how his run game goes over in a Cougar system that historically has some storied passers. "Putting points up there makes us happy."
Now, before anyone gets too giddy over Saturday's Cougar win, the Beavers are not the cream of their league, not at all. The Beavers lost to Sacramento State and although Riley has made huge progress, OSU has issues to overcome to be good.
But for the Cougars, Saturday's win was more about making a statement to themselves and others that they are better than they've showed this season and working hard to be better in November than September.
In that regard, baby steps were big strides indeed in Corvallis.
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