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Vai's View: BYU performance is not what ESPN signed up for

Published: Friday, Sept. 21 2012 2:05 p.m. MDT

Joe Sampson (1) of the Brigham Young Cougars upends D.J. Harper (7) of the Boise State Broncos during NCAA football in Boise, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Whenever BYU plays on Thursday nights, which lately seems quite often, my sports staff knows it's a matter of great importance. So last night, my producers and interns handled watching and charting plays of the Phillies and Mets, the Eagles' divisional rival New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, and MLS Philadelphia Union for my highlights, just to free me up so I could watch my Cougars. Honestly, the Union game against D.C. United had more exciting offense. D.C. United won 1-nil. It was a barnburner.

I'll say this much. Tom Holmoe better get BYU into a conference quickly.

There is NO way ESPN can justify renewing its contract with BYU if this is what it's going to get. Great as the defense played, the worldwide leader didn't sign on for 7-6 games. Or 24-21. What they were banking on is what BYU used to be and was always known for — 70-56, 46-45, 28-21, 41-37, 34-27. Heck, 52-52 in San Diego one year was a sister-kisser, but it was a shootout. I wouldn't blame ESPN if it feels like it was sold a bill of goods.

Late in the third quarter, ESPN's play-by-play man Rece Davis said, "It's hard to believe this is the BYU of Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer. The Cougars have exactly 22 yards passing right now!" Just twist that knife, why don't you, Rece.

And his point is EXACTLY why I was shocked Bronco Mendenhall chose to go for two with three-and-a-half minutes left to play. They managed 61 yards passing the entire night! We remember years when BYU routinely got that on the opening play. So why throw it for the three most difficult yards possible, with the field so compact, when you've passed for just 61 yards the ENTIRE game?

Wouldn't the Cougars have been better served by relying on Taysom Hill to incorporate ALL of his assets, which are his feet, his arm, his brains, his athleticism and his courage? Why not roll him out on a run-pass option and let him choose Boise State's fate? But to drop him back and rely entirely on his arm with the field flooded with defenders, having only thrown for 49 yards in a quarter of play? Predictably, a defender's hand slapped the ball to the blue turf before it ever reached Cody Hoffman.

And this is to say nothing of the way the BYU defense played against a Boise State team WITHOUT a reliable field goal kicker. The Broncos were NOT going to win that game on a field goal.

Look, I understand playing in a hostile environment with no timeouts, but BYU had clearly seized the momentum at that point in the game. The defense was playing lights out and Hill had actually sustained a scoring drive.

Despite last week's failure, I would've had no problem going back to either Justin Sorensen or Riley Stephenson to win the game in regulation or in overtime. Look at it from Boise State's point of view. They haven't scored an offensive touchdown in two games (not sure if they even have a scholarship kicker), and given the way BYU's defense dominated them, do you think they were confident moving the ball with less than four minutes remaining? Could the Broncos have possibly been confident of their chances of winning the game with their field goal kicker, whom we still haven't seen — not even warming up in that obligatory shot of kickers nervously looking at the Jumbotron between kicks into the net? No, I think Boise State was RELIEVED. The Broncos couldn't believe their dumb luck that BYU's offense remained on the field for the extra points. They were probably likewise relieved that Hill dropped back to pass.

These were precisely the kind of situations LaVell Edwards mastered. You know why? Because he had a feel for the ebb and flow of a game. He had an uncanny sense for his team, had our pulse, knew whom he could count on and who was struggling — and it wasn't always the same people every week. He knew when to go for it and when to play it straight.

Am I being unfair in making the comparisons? Maybe. But this is Bronco's eighth season. Take a peak at LaVell's eighth year: 1979. Not only an undefeated regular season with a bowl loss to Indiana, but the core of the national championship team was recruited to Provo on the strength of that season.

Then look at each succeeding year following '79, which led to '84.

BYU's program should be a lot further along than it is. If the stated goal is a national championship — and it is — then no one should disagree with that analysis. Yes, there are more missionaries and more firesides than ever before. But winning championships, with class, all the while producing world-class graduates who will bless the world and the LDS Church are not mutually exclusive.

It can be done because it has been done.

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