SALT LAKE CITY — A few Saturdays ago, I was flipping through the channels looking for some sports to watch. Finding good sports in the middle of summer is an almost hopeless endeavor. It was my good fortune to stumble across a football game fairly quickly. I soon realized that this wasn’t just any football game; it was a BYU football game. The game was BYU at Florida State from last year.
Under normal circumstances, I don’t watch rebroadcasts of BYU getting beat up. On this day, however, I was desperate. Interestingly, as I watched I found several reasons to be optimistic that BYU would beat Ole Miss in the 2011 season opener, and this beatdown from Florida State would be a big reason why.
One advantage of watching this game six months after the end of football season was the added perspective that none of us had back in September 2010. As I watched this game for the second time, I had the added benefit of knowing Florida State finished last season with a 10-4 record. The Seminoles were the ACC runner-up, they beat SEC runner-up South Carolina 26-17 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and they finished the year ranked No. 16.
Reason No. 1: The defense didn’t play that bad.
The numbers were ugly (278 yards rushing allowed, 6.3 yards per carry and 34 points). However, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The BYU defense nearly held Florida State scoreless the entire first quarter. It wasn’t until 36 seconds were left in the first quarter that the Seminoles scored, and it was just a field goal.
When Jake Heaps fumbled at the BYU 20-yard line early in the second quarter, the defense moved Florida State back nine yards before Florida State kicked another field goal.
The only real reason for concern with the defense was the poor tackling. Florida State had the ball twice in the third quarter. On each drive, BYU defenders missed tackles that allowed Florida State to make big plays and, eventually, score touchdowns.
Since this game, one major change has happened on the defensive side of the ball: BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall fired Jaime Hill and assumed the defensive coordinator duties. The defense drastically improved last year once Mendenhall took over. Under his guidance, I expect the tackling issues to be fixed and the defense to play well enough for BYU to win in Oxford, Miss.
Reason No. 2: This was a very young BYU team.
BYU was very young and inexperienced, especially on offense, in game three last year. That inexperience was clearly evident in the second half of the Florida State game.
After closing a 13-0 deficit to 13-10 at the end of the first half, BYU had all the momentum. BYU even received the opening kickoff to start the second half. That is when BYU suffered some tough growing pains.
On third-and-four, Heaps overthrew an open Cody Hoffman. Hoffman was standing past the first-down marker. A completion keeps the drive alive, and BYU’s momentum grows. The incompletion took all the momentum from the Cougars. Other close calls prevented BYU from doing more damage offensively, but this was the most egregious.
The BYU offense has come a log way since this game against the Seminoles. The O should move the ball with much more regularity in 2011. Converting key third downs and maintaining momentum will probably happen more often than not against the Rebels. It is also reasonable to expect the Cougar offense to score more than 20 points on opening day.
Reason No. 3: The Cougars gained experience playing in the South.
The weather in the South is clearly different than the weather in Utah. Southerners also like to think that football in the South is different than football out west.
Just as BYU has an advantage playing at high altitude, the Southeast has the advantage of high humidity. Whether the humidity attributed to the poor tackling, I cannot say. If it did, then I expect BYU to be prepared to compensate for it. If it is merely a matter of staying properly hydrated, then BYU will be prepared to compensate for that as well.
My point is, whatever differences do exist by playing in a southern, humid environment, BYU has this experience in Tallahassee, Fla., fresh in their minds. They can better adapt this time around against Ole Miss. Weather conditions should not help determine the outcome of this game.
Football in the South is supposed to be a tougher brand of football. Whether this is fact or fallacy, after playing Florida State last year, BYU knows what football in the South is like — and how to compete with that style of play. As noted, Florida State was a team that could have beaten most SEC teams, like Ole Miss, last year.
The offensive line knows that it will need to be on top of its game so Heaps doesn’t get sacked eight times again. The defense knows the importance of wrapping up and taking ball carriers down and not just delivering a big blow when playing in the South.
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The result of the 2010 BYU-Florida State game left Cougar fans feeling sick. Almost a year later, that same game should have Cougar fans feeling optimistic that BYU will go down to Mississippi on Sept. 3 and win. BYU played pretty well against one of the better teams in the country. The game got out of hand only because the Cougar offense lacked experience and couldn't make the plays necessary to score points, and because the Cougar defense had trouble tackling.
With Bronco Mendenhall coaching the defense, and the offense having a year of experience under its belt, BYU is ready to go back to the South and win.
More writings by Scott Rappleye can be found at http://www.bluecougarfootball.com. He can be contacted via email at email@example.com.