Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SAN DIEGO — Standing by himself on the turf at Qualcomm Stadium Thursday night, BYU outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga hugged players making their way to the locker room and quietly savored the Cougars' 23-6 victory in the Poinsettia Bowl over San Diego State.
In the decisive fourth quarter, BYU rallied from a 6-3 deficit to score 20 unanswered points, including two defensive touchdowns off turnovers created by junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
Poppinga couldn't help but wonder what might have been — with such a dominating defense — in a season that saw the Cougars finish with a disappointing 8-5 record.
"It was fun to see guys play like that. It was a wave of emotion and passion and effort that happened at the end of the third quarter going into the fourth," he said. "Our team came together and we played well. It's just little glimpses like that that showed what could have been this season. If we could have played like that all season It's frustrating, but you've got to enjoy the moment. It was fun."
BYU's defense held the Aztecs to 263 yards of total offense and two field goals, and for the fifth time this season, the Cougar 'D' did not allow a touchdown.
So now that the season is in the books, where does this Cougar defense rank in school history?
"They have to be the best ever at BYU statistically. It's fun to be a part of it," Poppinga said. "We talked about it from fall camp all the way through the season. I thought I played on pretty good defenses in '06 and '07. This defense is better. Probably will go down as the best in BYU history."
Then he looked toward the future.
"Hopefully next year's will be the best," Poppinga continued. "I think we have a good thing going for us in this program defensively. Offensively, there are some good pieces coming back next year that can help us make some noise. It's just another step we had to take of reaching our goal of reaching a BCS game."
If the Cougars are going to reach such lofty heights, they'll have to do it without the services of two dozen seniors that played in their final collegiate game Thursday.
And it's very likely they'll have to do it without the star of the Poinsettia Bowl, Van Noy, who recorded eight tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one interception and two touchdowns against the Aztecs.
Both of his TDs came in the final quarter off of SDSU turnovers — a sack fumble recovery in the end zone and a pick-six.
"I was telling him (Wednesday), 'Man, you've gotten into the end zone your freshman year, your sophomore year and it hasn't happened this year,'" Poppinga said of Van Noy, who is expected to skip his senior year in order to enter the NFL draft. "Then he does it twice. He has four touchdowns in his career. He's an impressive player. The one thing people don't know is how much he's matured, not just as a football player, but as a person. It's fun to see him play like that. If that was his last game, it's a good way to go out."
BYU entered the game ranked No. 2 in the country in rushing defense, allowing 84 yards per game. SDSU entered the contest ranked No. 16 in rushing offense, averaging 229 yards. The Aztecs finished with 119 yards, including 103 by running back Adam Muema.
"It was gratifying to play against them the way we did," said senior linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "We prided ourselves all year in stopping the run and I think we did a good job of that. We love playing physical football and so do they. We knew it was going to be a good challenge. I think we won that challenge."
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