2001 was a very interesting year for Cougar fans. Right on the heels of our new uniforms, which we were all still getting used to, we were introduced to a brand new head coach. Enter Gary Crowton.
Crowton was brought to Provo after winning a lengthy battle over George Henshaw, another candidate for the BYU head coaching vacancy. Henshaw went on to be apart of the Super Bowl-bound Tennessee Titans' coaching staff, and today he coaches Reggie Bush as the running backs coach in New Orleans.
Gary Crowton went on to completely lay waste to a proud football legacy at BYU.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. In 2001, we had little to no preconceived notions about Crowton. All we knew was he was not LaVell Edwards, and that (depending on who you talked to) was either a very good thing or a very bad thing.
The season began with the BCA Classic on August 25 against Tulane. Actually, SOME called it the BCA Classic. I call it the Luke Staley Classic. Staley had 10 carries that game for 142 yards and three TDs. Ten carries. (BYU won the game 70-35.)
That whole year quickly became all about Luke. Or as I remember him: Luuuuuuuuuke.
Staley started the season as the #2 RB behind Brian McDonald-Ashford. McDonald was a solid back, no doubt, but as the season progressed it became all too obvious that Staley was our guy. He racked up 1,596 yards on 196 carries (that's an 8.14 yards-per-carry average, for those of you keeping score at home) and 24 TDs. He did this after missing three games: two to injury and one for academic issues. 2001 saw Luke Staley emerge as, sure I'll say it, the best running back in BYU history.
Staley had help, though. He was complemented by a unique quarterback in Brandon Doman. Doman was not the most gifted athlete to ever step under center at BYU, but he had speed and he worked hard. He ran Crowton's new option-style offense with ease, and it gave Staley some very nice, long runs.
One thing was certain in Provo: We were going to score points.
2001 was, as the Bible puts it, a "Whited Sepulchre." It was beautiful on the outside--very flashy and entertaining, but once you broke through the stunning offensive facade you found a rotting corpse of a defense.
Sure we were winning games, but games that end with scores like 70-35, 35-31, 54-34, 63-33 etc. don't do much for confidence in the stopping power of the defense.
Sure enough, one team pulled the curtain on our Wizard of Oz puppet show and exposed us for the ragged, pathetic team we really were in 2001. The Rainbow Warriors of Hawai'i rained a beating on us that I still feel when it snows outside. In the first quarter alone the Rainbows scored on a 24-yard pass, a 74-yard punt return and a 100-yard kickoff return.
The final score: 72-45. Ouch.
To add insult to injury, before the game the then 12-0 Cougs were formally told that they would not be invited to participate in the newly formed BCS even if they beat Hawai'i, despite their undefeated record and #9 ranking.
And to add injury to that insult and injury, Luke Staley broke his leg the week before at Mississippi State and was out for the season.
The Cougs went on to lose to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl, and a once-promising season crumbled to the ground and left Cougar nation with a bitter taste in their mouths.
2001 SDP: Facing a three point deficit to the Utes with a shade over one minute left in the game, Luke Staley takes a pitch from Brandon Doman and gallops 30 yards down the sideline for what turned out to be the winning touchdown. Onlookers (myself included) stand dumbfounded after witnessing Staley's speed.
Staley's run was a perfect example of the explosiveness of BYU's offense in 2001. They could strike anywhere, at any time. However, it was also a chilling reminder of the reliance that was placed on the Doak Walker Award winner Staley.
Here are some highlights of BYU/Utah 2001: