Thursday, July 17, 2008

Season-defining plays: 2002

The dust settled on the 2001 Liberty Bowl, and the Cougs had suffered their second-straight loss after starting the season 12-0.

The BYU faithful were heartbroken but optimistic. The fresh energy that was displayed over the course of the 2001 season was contagious, and everyone was anxious to see how Coach Crowton would guide the Cougars in his second season.

The 2002 season brought with it a brand new look for BYU. The 2001 play makers, Luke Staley and Brandon Doman, were both NFL-bound. In their places would stand guys like Bret Engemann, Marcus Whalen, Reno Mahe and Spencer Nead.

At first look, this is not a bad group of players. Engemann was the starter for most of the 2000 season (not very impressive, but at least he had experience), Mahe and Nead were both big parts of the 2001 offense, and Whalen was a pounding running back who carried a lot of high hopes from the fans on his back.

On defense Levi Madarieta (one of my favorite players) moved from safety to outside linebacker, and the backfield featured names like Aaron Francisco and Jernaro Gilford.

The 2002 season, like every season at BYU, was ushered in with lofty expectations.

And things started out great. Two revenge games against Syracuse and Hawai'i filled weeks one and two respectively, and BYU claimed victory in each contest. Their 2-0 record earned the Cougars a #24 ranking heading into week three's game against perennially weak-sauce Nevada.

Then something happened to the Cougs. Something BYU fans can't even identify, but would like to erase from their memories forever. Even I am not really sure what it was, but I do know it was something.

BYU made the drive to Reno and got spanked by the Wolfpack in the first half. Suddenly everyone was in panic mode. Engemann got benched in favor of Lance Pendleton (remember him?), our defense was running around confused, and Nevada QB Zack Threadgill looked like the prince of the universe. The 'Pack upset No. 24 BYU, and the Cougars went into a tailspin.

BYU only won 5 games in 2002, including a miracle, come-from-behind, that-shouldn't-have-happened, we-don't-deserve-it win over lowly Utah State. You read that right. Utah State.

(That game provided one of the brightest spots of the season, by the way, in the form of a plucky young freshman running back named Curtis Brown. CB ran for 217 yards and 3 TDs against the Aggies, and eventually became the BYU all-time rushing leader. More on him later, though.)

2002 was BYU's first losing season since 1973.

I actually didn't get to see the entire season. I reported to the Missionary Training Center on November 6 that year, and they shut me out of the BYU football loop entirely. I didn't even know who won the BYU/Utah game that year until weeks after it happened.

Looking back I wish I wouldn't have found out.

2002's SDP: This season's defining play is a little different, in that it's actually the lack of a play that defined the season.

After giving up 31 points to Nevada in the first half, BYU not only held the Wolfpack scoreless in half number two, but was making quite a timely (and expected, I might add) comeback. Pendleton and the Cougars had a slim chance with two minutes to go in the game and 99 yards to cover.

BYU made it all the way down to the Nevada 32, but then time ran out on the Cougs. The game was over. The frenzied Nevada crowd rushed the field and the BYU Cougars were left in a confused haze, contemplating the turn their season had just taken.

It was the beginning of a very dark time in the history of BYU football.

Tomorrow: The season-defining play for 2003.


Mark Petersen said...

hey Adam its your old bud Mark Petersen. I just ran onto your blog from cougarboard and its awesome! Great posts. I have my own blog too..its mostly about sports and other random stuff ( I have some posts about BYU stuff too and probably more to come once the season gets closer. Great summary of the 2002 season. Even though it sucked. I didn't go into the MTC until december that year but I wish I could have left earlier cause that season was painful.

Mike said...

Adam, you are doing a great job with these BYU posts. I can't wait for football season to start! These were difficult times for the cougs but as we know these dark times led to some great times.

Andy and Jessica said...

I think this is the season where coach Crowton took a few weeks off during game weaks. All that film studying and preparationg is difficult. I remember that the Colorado State game, where the Rams made BYU look like a seventh grade girls team in the beating they distributed, was the beginning of the long season of BYU football apathy that was not aroused for about 4 years in my life. Thank you Bronco.

parley said...

To me, the play that defined that Reno game was one play on defense. Nevada put two receivers out wide on the right and ran a pick play. I could see it coming on the TV, but the defenders seemed oblivious. If Chad Barney moves off of his receiver who smacked into the CB, the play goes for maybe a couple of yards. Instead, Barney watches his reciever take out the other defender and then belatedly jogs up the field a few yards while the uncovered reciever goes about 80 yards for a TD without any persuit.

OK, Barney got fooled, but he could have at least made an effort. I was furious. I'd never seen a BYU defender give up on a play like that before.

To me, the whole game felt like the BYU offense and defense just needed to to focus and play for one complete series to turn the game around, but it never happened. I never really trusted Barney after that and the team never seemed to trust each other the rest of the season.

Jennifer said...


Kudos to you for being willing to do a post mortem on the putrid remains of the rotting carcass that was the Crowton era post Staley/Doman. Is this penance for some misdeed? A fianl exorcism perhaps of past demons? I was in Canada visiting my in-laws at the time and therefore was only able to experience UNR via the KSL internet radio. I think it's a blessing I don't have a visual to accompany the memory. UNR was not the low point for me that season, however. My brother and some friends decided to make the trip to Colorado Springs for some golf and BYU football. Perfect combination right? Fall road trip to Colorado? What transpired haunts me to this day. We were beaten in embarassing fashion on the field, mocked by 12 years old girls in the stands and nearly died of hypothermia as temperatures dropped into the low twenties by half-time (we packed and dressed for the Indian summer that prevailed in SLC when we left). Bad, bad, bad times. Depsite that I find that remembering them makes the last two seasons that much sweeter. So I suppose we'd better have 2004. I will steele myself for it.



PS I saw you have a conspiracy theory category. Haven't checked it out yet. That said, do you buy into the story that B. Olson was to start the game at USU and that his family flew in just to watch it? If you believe it, why do you suppose Crowton backed out? Was it to make sure Ben served a mission or was it because he was completely incompetent as a decision maker? I still like Crowton btw, just not as our coach.

Adam said...

Solid, solid comment Steve (or is it Jennifer? I kid, I kid).

Honestly I have never heard the BO/USU conspiracy, but I must say I'm intrigued.

I'm also relieved, quite honestly. If BO had started that game, maybe he would have stayed with the team. That wouldn't have been good for anybody.

I do know, though, that Curtis Brown was given the royal shaft after the USU game. After his performance that day he should have gotten a lot more reps.

I agree about Crowton. I like the guy- as long as he's not our coach.

Jennifer said...

Ask around about the Ben Olson-USU start rumor. I read it on a discussion board so I know I'm not the only one who has heard it.

Also, for me the Season defining play for 2002 was the late hit by Brady Poppinga on the AFA QB the third quarter of Fisher DeBerry's payback game. They were running over our defense like we weren't there and we had finally held them on a third and goal. Poppinga (feeling the same frustration I was feeling at being mocked by pre-pubescent daughters or Air Force Academy instructors, only his pre-pubescent female taunting came in the form of mouthy Cadet Chance Harridge)unloads on the hectoring Harridge about 10 seconds after the whistle and Air Force scores on the next play, goes up by 40 points and my friends and I contemplate not getting a hotel in Colorado Springs but just tucking our tails between our legs and driving straight home eleven hours on no sleep. Which is what we end up doing.

That pretty much sums up the 2002 season for me.


PS Jennifer's a fan too, she just chooses not to remember BYU football between December 2001 and the New Mexico game 2005.