Dick Harmon: Bronco Mendenhall stunned by BYU's punting mistakes

Published: Saturday, Oct. 29 2011 11:33 p.m. MDT

BYU kicker Riley Stephenson (99) tries to kick the ball after missing the snap as TCU's Josh Boyce (82) and Jonathan Anderson (41) close in during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Cowboys Stadium Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas — If I'm Bronco Mendenhall today, I've lost 10 pounds, half my blonde hair, kicked over my garbage can and am eternally grateful my wife, kids and dog love me.

It was that kind of weekend in Texas.

A football coach like Mendenhall is competitive by nature. He fashions practices to be efficient use of time and he choreographs every repetition in drills to accomplish something, a bigger picture. Every hike, pass, throw, coverage, blocking scheme, run cut, receiver pattern, defender leverage, angle, scheme, technique is plied and worked over like a chunk of clay until it become a piece of art.

That art, in football, is called execution. It is getting 11 guys to act in concert, getting 11 players on the same page, reading the script as one.

If you execute, your chances of winning are enhanced multifold.

On Friday in Cowboy Stadium, one of the worst things that could happen to a coach like Bronco Mendenhall took place.

TCU executed like a Swiss watch but were beatable. Frog precision forged a performance with no turnovers, no fumbles lost or interceptions.

BYU, on the other hand, had mistake after mistake, over and over again and, on paper, dominated, yet lost. BYU scored 28 on TCU, plenty of points to come out with a victory.

In the ninth game of the 2011 season, BYU executed at times like it was the first scrimmage of August.

And the most critical mistakes were executing a simple exchange at the line back to the punter.

You'd expect quarterback Riley Nelson to throw a couple of interceptions and almost get picked two other times. That is who Nelson is.

You'd expect the feisty Nelson refuse to give up on a play, battling to the last second and throwing a lateral turned fumble in a key drive in the red zone late in the second half. That is who Nelson is.

But what you don't expect as a football coach, is five mistakes in your punt game to directly set up your opponent for four touchdowns — 28 TCU points in a 38-28 loss.

That, to a coach, is maddening.

Mendenhall told reporters after the loss to TCU that one issue in the loss couldn't have been more shocking, a complete surprise. It caught him completely off guard.

It reminded me of a scene in the movie "Christmas Vacation" when cousin Eddie asked Clark Grizwold, "You surprised to see us, Clark?"

Clark: "Oh, Eddie... If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now."

Mendenhall tried to describe how surprised he was. If he'd had time, he'd filtered through all the words he could muster: astounded, startled, stunned, staggered, shocked, taken aback, stupefied and flabbergasted.

He'd just seen Cousin Eddie dump his trailer sewer by his front door curb.

Giving an opponent short fields through an inept kicking game is akin to a surgeon losing a patient on the operating table because he got distracted when his iPod plugged into the operating room sound system ran out of batteries.

Giving up two gimmee touchdowns because a punter can't handle the ball and the hiker can't get it within his catch zone is like a carpenter hitting his thumb with a hammer over and over again when his compressor and air nailer is in his truck parked nearby.

Losing to TCU, not because of your defense, not because you didn't score enough points on offense, but diddling around on special teams is like a salesman flying a thousand miles to a hotel conference room where, before a hundred clients, he sets up his laptop to a projector for a big presentation but forgets his password.

Special teams mistakes undoes all the tackling, passing, running, and blocking precision work forged all season long.

TCU is now 6-5 against BYU, and has won the last four matchups.

Who knows when the Cougars will get a chance to get one back on the Frogs, who have owned them since Max Hall rifled his way through TCU 27-22 in 2007.

On BYU's biggest stage Friday, in a game the Cougars sought some season validation against a respectable opponent, the Cougars wasted an opportunity to prove those hundreds of hours of practice since August really counted for something when it really, really had to.

Nine games into the season and BYU punt hikes bounced around on the naked turf on national TV like popcorn on a hot pan.

That, folks, can drive a head coach like Mendenhall to put a double shot of Nesquick in his pre-bedtime glass of milk.

email: dharmon@desnews.com, Twitter: harmonwrites

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