The early rollout of the BYU football season has been painful for Cougar fans to watch, but could relief be on the horizon? BYU faces decidedly lesser competition in the last half of its regular season, but in the long term, extending into future seasons, some trends need to be reversed.
Even with a solid nine-win season last year, including a Poinsettia Bowl win over the Wyoming Cowboys, and losing four games by a combined total of eight points, the Cougars trailed in every game but two.
This normally means that the team is not getting off to fast starts and has to rely on strong, and in some cases, dramatic finishes. This problem is really exacerbated by the performance of the BYU teams over the last few games played against the University of Utah.
In the aftermath of the recent loss by the BYU Cougars to the rival Utah Utes, a significant statistic stands out. In the last five losses to the Utes, the Cougars have been outscored by a combined 95-7 to start the games.
Even more bizarre is that after falling behind in every one of those contests — sometimes by large margins — BYU has finished those games by a combined score of 87 points to only 23 for the Utes.
Is there an answer for the one-sided scoring early in every game? The prevailing view is that Utah has just plain been better than BYU the last few years.
If that is the case, why is the late-game BYU dominance so pronounced? It is certainly possible that the Utes' game plans have adjusted to maintain the lead, which they have in every instance.
It is also possible that as the Cougars become desperate to score, more chances are taken, and sometimes risky comeback schemes are rewarded.
Each of the games has its own life, so it is not always easy to generalize. In 2012, the Utes extended a lead to 24-7 until the Cougars mounted a fourth quarter comeback that fell short, even with two ill-fated field goal attempts to tie the game.
The 2013 contest featured a healthy Taysom Hill for BYU, but the Utah defense held the Cougars out of the end zone until only five minutes remained in the game. The Cougars gained a lot of yardage but fell short in the number that counted the most.
After a hiatus in 2014, the Cougars and Utes were propitiously matched in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl. No one could have predicted how this Donnybrook would play out.
After BYU committed a record-setting five turnovers in its first five possessions — which resulted in five Utah touchdowns — the Cougars finally settled down.
BYU scored 28 unanswered points to give the Utes a scare down the stretch, but once again fell short of victory. This game start had the feel of the 2005 BYU-Utah contest, when the Cougars came in too amped up, couldn't focus, and got behind early.
These comebacks tend to belie the quick and easy explanation that the Utes, each year, just have absolutely superior talent. On the other hand, there still has to be some explanation for seven straight Utah wins.
The 2016 contest went down to the wire before a failed two-point conversion sealed the win for the Utes. This game was unusual as it was hotly contested throughout, but still wound up as a loss for the Cougars.
In the recent game, the Utes dominated statistically and at one point had a 16-point advantage. The Cougar offense awakened just in time to make the last few minutes scary for Utah. Nonetheless, the Cougar mantra was present again — get behind and then try to catch up.
Getting early scores on the board can't come soon enough for Cougar fans, but in the case of the BYU-Utah series, any change in scoring advantage is going to have to wait until at least 2018. In the meantime, the Cougars in the next few games have an opportunity to right the ship and set off in a new direction, maybe even starting fast and finishing strong. What a relief that would be.
Ken Driggs of Mesa, Arizona, is a BYU graduate and served as Cosmo in the ’60s. Contact him at [email protected].