Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Season-defining play: 2005

If I were to paint a picture of the 2005 BYU football season it would contain a sunrise of some sort, some pleasant-looking animals, a brook or creek or some other kind of moving water, some waving grass and nary a cloud in the sky.

A calming, serene scene, no doubt.

That's what I picture when I think of 2005. Pleasantness. I think of a world of chaos finally returning to order. I think of the end of a long night and the start of a brand new day.

I have great memories of the 2005 season. It was the first season I was able to see in its entirety since 2001. And with the powerfully positive forces of Adam's karma behind them, anything was possible for the 2005 Cougars.

Now, do I take credit for the season's success? Yeah, actually I do.

Looking back it really was a pretty mediocre year. But the true success of 2005 is that somewhere along the course of the season the Cougars turned a very big corner.

That's not to say the season wasn't completely devoid of controversy. Before anyone even played a down, the Cougars had some major decisions to make. After cleaning house in 2004, BYU needed a new athletic director and a new head coach. Tom Holmoe was named AD quickly, but the search for a new coach was a lengthy one.

The Cougs' first choice: Kyle Whittingham. Whittingham was a former BYU great who turned to the redcoats. He served as the defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer's Utes.

Unfortunately (and by unfortunately I mean fortunately) Meyer's abandonment of Utah left a coaching vacancy on the hill that Whittingham filled. Whittingham lined his pockets with extra cash and flipped his Alma Mater the proverbial bird. In that act he lost his Cougar status forever and became a blood-red Ute.

Not that I'm bitter, because believe me I'm not.

With Whittingham out of the running, Holmoe and the rest of the administration had a big decision to make. The front runner had to be long-time assistant Lance Reynolds, but the players presented a different candidate: defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall.

Side note: We may have all hated Gary Crowton for what he did to this program, but one thing I will give the guy--he brought us Bronco Mendenhall.

It was a long standoff between the two coaching candidates, but finally Mendenhall was appointed the new head coach. After the appointment, in a display of supreme humility, Mendenhall requested Reynolds stay on as assistant coach. And, In a display of maturity and grace, Reynolds accepted.

A tough decision--one which divided fans and players alike--was made, and the team was ready to start fresh.

(For the record, I was always a Bronco guy.)

Mendenhall immediately made his presence felt on the program. He petitioned the board, successfully, to approve new uniforms. And by new I mean old. The Cougars said goodbye to the bibs, the UCLA sleeves and the color tan forever. Out went the "new look" Cougars, and in came the simple, classic BYU uniforms: white helmets, oval Y logo, solid Cougar blue jerseys and white pants.

The team then retreated into Provo Canyon, as documented in this video, to discuss the things that stood in the way of their success. They listed these things, things like "divisiveness" and "no work ethic," and then burned the list along with some other relics of the dark past.

2005, for BYU, was the beginning of a new era. One of optimism, morality, teamwork and success.

At least that's what it looked like... until we actually started the season.

The 2005 season opener was against Boston College. The Golden Eagles stormed through the gates of LaVell Edwards Stadium and left the Cougs with a 20-3 loss. Mendenhall was famously booed by his own fans in that contest, and the Cougs started their new season with more of the same: losing.

In week two Mendenhall coached the Cougs to his first victory--over Eastern Illinois. I still remember Coach Mendenhall getting doused by the Gatorade and wondering if such honors should be reserved for a victory over a D-1A opponent. But history is history, I guess, and Mendenhall's first win ever was an historic event.

There were some road bumps along the way (a controversial loss to TCU and a absent-minded performance vs. San Diego State), but overall the Cougars played with much more confidence and firepower than in the previous four seasons.

Never mind our defense, by the way, which got torched on more than one occasion. Most notably against Notre Dame. Justin Robinson still has nightmares about that game.

The Cougs had won five of six games heading into the final week vs. Utah, but some roadblocks take more than one year to roll over. The Utes broke our spirits with a 41-34 OT win in Provo. In Las Vegas for our first bowl game since 2001, Cal proved to have too much firepower for our undersized defense and won 35-28.

The final record: 6-6, but a respectable, better-than-it-looks 6-6.

Personnel-wise, 2005 saw John Beck emerge as a QB on the rise, although he was criticized for not being able to "win the big game." Ricks College transfer Jonny Harline made his presence felt, especially in the second half of the season, and 2004 standout Todd Watkins was, to put it mildly, uninspiring.

On defense, Justin Luettgerodt and Cameron Jensen captained the linebacker core, while Nate Soelberg and Justin Robinson were falling down and letting the other teams score all kinds of points.

I'm kidding, J-Rob. Lighten up.

(I'm not really kidding. I wanted to strangle the life out of our DBs on more than one occasion.)

2005 SDP: At New Mexico on October 8, 2005, John Beck and the Cougars were staring a three-game losing streak straight in the face. After losing two games they should have won against TCU and SDSU, the Cougars were trailing the Lobos 24-13 heading into the fourth quarter.

This was a pivotal moment in BYU history to be sure. At that moment, BYU fans across the nation were expecting yet another backslide. Hopes would again be dashed, games would again be lost and another season would end in disappointment.

Then something happened with 1:40 left in the game. John Beck gunned a pass to Matt Allen who was running a simple out route, presumably to get out of bounds. Allen made the catch, but he didn't continue out of bounds. He slammed on the breaks, making the defender slip and fall, and Allen started trucking toward the goal line. At about the 4 yard line he dove toward the end zone and looked up just in time to see the officials signal touchdown.

It was the game-winning, fourth quarter comeback touchdown, and it signaled a new identity for the BYU Cougars. The losing culture so prevalent in years gone by was crumbling away. A new, dedicated, strong and humble BYU program was born.

John Beck's connection with Matt Allen was a significant moment. It was a play that not only won us a meaningful MWC game, but one that issued a warning to every other team in the nation: BYU is back.

Watch highlights of the game here:

Tomorrow: BYU is back. Season-defining play for the 2006 season.


Mark Petersen said...

Great post Adam. Very deep. I too have fond memories of the 2005 season as it was also the first season I was able to see after the mission. I remember sitting at the BC game and just being amazed at how cool it was to be watching college football again.

The NM game was, as you mentioned, a huge stepping stone for the program. Getting over the hump was exactly what they needed. Great times during the 2005 season and at Lib. Square bro!

Rock said...

Thanks for leaving out the details on the Utah game. You don't want to stir up the feelings I had on that day.

When I think of the '05 season overall, though, I think of the Beatles' hit "Here Comes the Sun."

Anonymous said...

its tomorrow, where's 2006?

Travis said...

adam I agree that the 2005 season was defined by the NM game. The real SDP was when BYU stopped McKamey or whatever he was named and made him fumble. It symbolized that defense would mark the turning point of the program. John Beck could always bring it when needed. The 2006 and 2007 11-2 seasons were brought about by stingy defense, especially 2007.