Friday, July 18, 2008

Season-defining plays: 2003

We are now entering an era of BYU football that I, thankfully, know very little about. I was not able to see the 2003/2004 seasons due to missionary service, but I can still piece together a healthy analysis based on what I've gathered from letters, studies, peer-reviewed journals, etc.

Bret Engemann, one of my very least favorite players to ever don the Cougar Blue (If you're reading this then sorry, Bret. It's not personal, it's football.), inexplicably declared for the NFL draft as a junior, meaning BYU would be left with the following options at quarterback in 2003:

Sophomore Matt Berry
Sophomore Jackson Brown
Junior Todd Mortenson
Sophomore Lance Pendleton
and Freshman John Beck

Pendleton, based on his 2002 experience, seemed the strongest candidate for the job, but I think he switched to defense during the '03 season, and then left the team after that.

Again, I don't have too much information. If someone out there knows more about Pendleton please enlighten us.

Matt Berry was named the starter, and led BYU right out of the gates to a 24-13 win over Georgia Tech in game one of the 2003 season. Daniel Coats made his first appearance as a BYU Cougar and led all BYU receivers with 93 yards and 2 TDs.

A solid start to the season, no doubt. The Cougs lost to USC in week two, and then squeaked by New Mexico in week three. Standing pretty at a respectable 2-1, fans were cautiously optimistic about the 2003 season.

Then all hell broke loose.

The Cougars would go on to win only two more games that season: an eight-point win over SDSU and a 27-20 win over UNLV in overtime.

Injuries plagued Berry, who eventually gave way to true freshman John Beck. Beck was thrust into the spotlight after just returning home from a mission. He was largely ineffective and soon became the target of ridicule from fans and teammates alike.

Crowton didn't do much to endear himself to the fans either. His lack of responsibility for the team's troubles only fanned the growing flames of unrest at BYU.

And then, in its darkest moment, amid a flurry of snow and ice, BYU was completely shut out at home against the hated Utes. The nation-leading 40 billion (or something like that) games without a shut out came to a crashing halt.

Fans were devastated, and I (serving with a Utah fan at the time) was enraged and embarrassed.

BYU limped off the field at the end of their season with a 4-8 record and a long offseason ahead of them.

Oh yeah- and as if one of the worst years in BYU football history wasn't enough, the Utes just happened to be hitting their stride as one of the premier football teams in the country. Urban Meyer rode in on his white horse and led the Utes to a 9-2 record and a 17-0 Liberty Bowl win over Southern Miss.

Dark days.

2003 Season-defining play: Fresh off their win over New Mexico and with a 2-1 record, the Cougs welcomed Pac-10's Stanford into LaVell Edwards Stadium.

The Cougars owned a slim lead throughout the game, and as the clock ticked down BYU found themselves up two with the ball deep in their own territory with only 4 minutes left in the game.

Now let's pause for a second. What would you do in this situation? What would a normal, logical coach who wanted to win do in this situation?

He'd run the ball, right? Waste some clock?

Well Crowton chose to throw on first down. Beck dropped back, let it go and... yadda yadda yadda Stanford went on to score the game-winning touchdown mere seconds later.

After this game, Crowton was asked why in the world he would choose to throw on first down with the lead late in the game, deep in your own territory.

He then uttered the famous phrase "I'd rather win by nine than two."

What a perfect play to define the 2003 season. It was a totally brainless call that led to an embarrassing loss that started building a culture of blame, distrust and lies in the BYU football program.

Thank goodness those days are over.

Tomorrow: The season-defining play for 2004.


Justin said...

Wow, I really didn't know that much about 2003. I am glad I was out of town for 03-04.

Jarom said...

I cried on the way home from the BYU-Utah game...the tears froze on my cheeks.

THAT SUCKED!!! I will never forget it.

I do like your blog though.

jonathan said...

It seemed like that SDP was visible to everyone but Crowton. That was rough to watch.

parley said...

OK, I'm gearing myself for the backlash, but despite the overblown PR gaff of 'rather win by 9 than by two', it was the right call.

Hear me out. BYU had been averaging less than 2 yards per carry vs Stanford. Stanford still had either one or two timeouts left, I don't remember which. The critics (in hindsight) say BYU should have run the ball three times, then punted. If Stanford doesn't use a timeout, they probably get the ball back with two minutes left in the game close to the Stanford 45 yard line. Their FG kicker was 2 for 2 with a long of 38 yards.

Now, in this scenario, can BYU keep Stanford from moving 25 yards for an easy FG with two minutes left on the clock and with Stanford having one or two timeouts left? Their main runner had averaged just under 5 ypc. The only other offensive play that had worked for Stanford was the QB bootleg run, which is what they ultimately used for their final TD; it was a 14 yard run which would have gone for more if Edwards hadn't crossed the goal line first. Stanford used just two plays to cover around 20 yards and score the TD. Given the two teams performance, I think Stanford would have at least converted a FG after a punt to go ahead by one while running the clock down to a few seconds left.

Now, if BYU running the ball three straight and failing to get a 1st down wasn't the best option, then what was? How do you maximize the chance of a successful pass completion and a first down? Throwing on first and ten? Second and long? Third and six or seven?
First down should be the safest time to throw with the highest chance for success. It ended up as John Beck's second interception in the game on 45 passes. Meanwhile, BYU had fumbled and lost the ball three times on 25 carries. Odds of gaining a first down vs risk of turnover both favored the pass.

People blame Crowton for the interception on a first down pass play, but he called the play most likely to lead to a BYU win. He couldn't control the execution of the play and, unfortunately, he didn't control his mouth after the game was over.

Adam said...

Parley, you make a good argument. That's for darn sure.

If it were me, though, I would have run and then passed on third down. But that's just me.

There is a well-established code to managing small leads late in the game, and it's well-established for a reason. It consists of eating up clock, playing field position and digging deep on defense.

Travis said...

Adam if you eat at Magleby's Grill a lot, you will see Bret Engemann there. Dude is always there.

Rock said...

Didn't BYU lose to Nevada that year? I think I remember finding out about that on my mission and then writing my parents to have them not give me any more BYU updates.


Adam said...

You're thinking of 2002. BYU did not play Nevada in 2003.