Somehow, BYU's 52-9 annihilation of Colorado State in Cougar Stadium seemed to set things straight.
For the BYU offense, it was a return to business as usual.For the BYU defense, it was a return to respectability.
And for previously-unbeaten-in-the-WAC Colorado State and Coach Earle Bruce, it was a return to reality.
"We got a good old butt-kicking," Bruce said. "I thought their team was ready; I thought ours was too. I was wrong."
Bruce's team may have been ready - how do you not get ready for a game that could ultimately mean a WAC championship? - but it was evident the Cougars were, well, ready-er. The Rams came to Provo with impressive rushing credentials, having run for big yardage against solid defensive teams such as Arkansas and Arizona State. And they had every intention of doing the same to the Cougars.
The BYU defense had other plans.
"We had something to prove," Cougar linebacker Rocky Biegel said of the defensive unit. "The last couple of games we've given up some points and yardage, and I hear ESPN was saying we're suspect."
They may have erased ESPN's suspicions with this performance. They dominated CSU's offense from the start, holding the Rams to three downs and a punt on each of their first three possessions. The CSU rushing attack, the WAC's second best, generated six yards in the first quarter. After averaging 242 yards through six games, the Rams ran for just 46 yards against the Cougars. Even in the fourth quarter, when it was the Rams' first string against the Cougs' second team, CSU ran for minus-nine yards on eight rushing attempts.
"We were able to contain their running attack, and that was the big difference in the game," BYU Coach LaVell Edwards said.
Biegel said the Cougar defensive line accounted for that difference.
"Our defensive line really controlled their offensive line," Biegel said. "They really put the wood to them."
"All they do is come straight at you," defensive tackle Rich Kaufusi said of the Rams' running game. "What it gets down to is that the strongest man wins, and that's what happened."
This isn't the first time BYU has stifled an opponent's running game, of course. The usual scenario is for the Cougar offense to score early, forcing the opponent to pass in an effort to catch up. That happened in this game, too, but the Rams didn't have Bill Musgrave or Craig Erickson or Dan McGwire back there tossing bombs. The two Ram quarterbacks - Kevin Verdugo, the starter, and Mike Gimenez - combined for 18-of-35 passing, 216 yards and five interceptions - two more pickoffs than BYU had grabbed in five previous games.
BYU quarterback Ty Detmer also had interception problems, for the second game in a row. After throwing five in the loss to Oregon two weeks ago, he gave up three Saturday, although an argument could be made that only one was a bad pass. Cougar receivers dropped or deflected several Detmer passes in the first half, and two of them wound up in defenders' hands.
Tight end Chris Smith alone dropped two sure touchdown passes in the first half, surprising himself as much as anyone. "I've never dropped two balls thrown that well before, especially two TD balls," Smith said. Asked if Detmer had any words for him after the drops, Smith replied: "Yeah. The first time he said 'You owe me one.' The second time he said, 'That's not what I meant.' " Despite the misses, Detmer completed 26 of 38 passes and had four TD throws. He also provided the only real suspense of the day for those in the pressbox by getting so far ahead in the game that it looked for a while like his NCAA record string of 300-yard passing games was in jeopardy. It caused a mild stir when he was allowed to stay in long enough to get 316 yards despite leading 52-7 (see accompanying story).
Detmer said he didn't know until after the game why he was sent in for one play to reach the 300-yard mark, and he wouldn't have cared if his streak had been broken. "I'm not going to be disappointed if the yardage isn't there," he said. "I want the completion percentage and the consistency."
The Cougars also sported the best rushing assault, piling up 197 yards on the ground. Fullbacks Peter Tuipulotu and Mike Salido had 63 and 41 yards, respectively, and halfback Stacey Corley had his best showing of the season with 55 yards on seven carries.
CSU looked to be in trouble from the start of this one, as its offense was unable to move anywhere. On their first three possessions the Rams gained a total of nine yards, while Detmer responded with scoring passes to Tuipulotu and Salido.
As the second quarter started it was 14-0 BYU, and CSU was trying to make something of its first break - a Detmer pass that went through Tuipulotu's hands and was caught by Ram linebacker Eric Tippeconnic. On the first play of the quarter, however, Verdugo was intercepted by BYU's Brian Mitchell. The Cougs drove 72 yards in four plays to make it 21-0.
On CSU's next possession, BYU cornerback Tony Crutchfield picked off a Verdugo pass and returned it to the Ram 29-yard line. Six plays later Detmer tossed to Scott Charlton in the end zone and it was 28-zip. BYU added a 43-yard Earl Kauffman field goal on its next possession, and then CSU made its only offensive noise of the game - a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard TD run by Brian Copeland. The half ended with BYU ahead 31-7.
The second half was more of the same, as the Cougars had their way on both sides of the line. They added three third-quarter touchdowns, one of them a 49-yard interception return by Mitchell (the first time the defense has scored this season), to make it 52-7. In 10 possessions, excluding a one-play possession at the end of the first half, BYU never punted. The Cougs either scored or committed a turnover every time they had the ball.
It should have been ended after three quarters, on a TKO, but the NCAA says you have to play four quarters, so the teams ground out a meaningless final period. The only scoring was a CSU safety that occurred when a low snap went through backup punter Joe Herrick's hands and legs and out of the end zone.