It's not the way it was when I was a player, so you try to adapt so you can make a play however you can. —Former Cougar Ty Detmer
It was a good thing for Ty Detmer that Saturday's halftime ceremony included tributes to BYU teams of the past, decade by decade.
Otherwise, he would have been completely disoriented.
He might have thought he took a left at Albuquerque.
The stadium was familiar, but honestly, black uniforms? Quarterbacks who lead the team in rushing? Three interceptions? Welcome to 2012, Ty. You probably didn't expect to come back and see this.
Note to BYU fans: This isn't your father's BYU team.
It's not Detmer's either.
The only Heisman winner in school history was back in Provo for the Cougars' 42-24 loss to Oregon State. He officially becomes an inductee to the College Football Hall of Fame in December, joining fellow BYU greats Gordon Hudson, Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson, Gifford Nielsen and LaVell Edwards.
Detmer got there on the strength of three great seasons, including 1990, when the Cougars upset No. 1-ranked Miami. Technically, that's the last time BYU had such a day. There were other wins over good teams, but it's been 22 years since the Cougars ambushed a Top 10 team in Provo (0-5). You might say they've had an extended case of stage fright. Saturday's defeat marked the 12th time in the last 16 games against ranked teams that BYU has lost.
Put the Cougars up against good teams at a neutral site and they're occasionally their old selves. But put them against ranked teams at home and they get twitchy. They hung with the Beavers through three quarters and then dissolved. Several oddball bounces contributed to the loss, but as the afternoon waned the outcome was clear.
The game concluded with a balky-backed Riley Nelson getting the ol' heave-ho in Provo, as the boos came out.
That's one thing Detmer didn't hear back in the day.
While the Cougars have had some moments this year, it's a far cry from the halcyon days of Detmer derring-do. Once upon a time, BYU was known for its intrepid passing game; now not so much. The Cougars did get a respectable 305 passing yards against OSU, but Detmer could do that on his lunch break. Nowadays it's often three yards — OK, sometimes 20 — and a cloud of dust.
A lot of it is coming via the quarterbacks.
Even while protecting his back, Nelson was the team's second-leading rusher on the Saturday. Until showing up with an injured knee last week, backup QB Taysom Hill led the team in rushing for the season.
"I wasn't near as fast as these guys," said the ever-deferential Detmer. "I had to throw it. The game changes every year. It's not the way it was when I was a player, so you try to adapt so you can make a play however you can."
If Detmer were to have a senior moment — after all, the man turns 45 this month — this would have been it. For the first time in modern history, the Cougars wore basic black, whereby the fans and team get on their ferocious faces.
That alone must have been an affront to Detmer's eyes.
But the bigger change was on the field. Before their injuries, Hill and Nelson each rushed for more yards in one game than Detmer did in his career. Actually, so did everyone else, including Bob from the grounds crew. Detmer's final rushing career rushing stats: minus 366 yards.
He wasn't in there to run options.
"When I came out, everyone wanted a 6-foot-4, 6-5 pocket passer and now they want guys who can move around a little," Detmer said. "I like to think I was a little mobile, but more in-the-pocket mobile than downfield-mobile."4 comments on this story
Then there was Saturday's starter, Nelson, a blue-collar quarterback if there ever was one. He truly can rush the ball, as he showed by carrying 16 yards on the Cougars' first play. In the fourth quarter, he took a quarterback draw up the middle for a key 12-yard gain.
"You look at Riley, and maybe he's not the most polished passer," Detmer said, "but the guy competes and gives everything he has on every play."
That still wasn't enough to offset Nelson's three interceptions. Thus BYU's wait to beat a Top 10 team continued. Detmer didn't say it, but to him on Saturday, Miami must have seemed a million miles and a thousand years away.