He could find no other way to put it. "We were exposed, plain and simple," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall told his players in a silent and stunned locker room moments after the Cougars' 54--28 loss to Florida State last Saturday in Provo. Only two weeks earlier they were on top of the college football world after toppling then No. 3 Oklahoma. The Cougars—ranked No. 7 and led by their gunslinging quarterback, Max Hall—strutted into their home opener against the Seminoles having been anointed by many as this season's BCS busters, and by some even as a national championship contender.
But such proclamations proved wildly premature. BYU's defense, which had allowed one touchdown over its first two games, looked nothing like the unit that bullied the high-powered Sooners in the trenches in a 14--13 win. The Florida State offense—the same one that a week earlier scored only seven points in the first 59:25 of a 19--9 victory over I-AA Jacksonville State—shredded the Cougars for 512 total yards. When the crowd at LaVell Edwards Stadium roared after the defense forced the Seminoles to punt for the first time with 1:28 left in the third quarter, it wasn't clear whether the cheers were sincere or sarcastic. "We take pride in being physical and hitting hard," BYU defensive end Jan Jorgensen said afterward, "but today we couldn't even make a tackle. It was embarrassing."
In the world of BCS busters it was a good week to be Boise State. Though they surrendered 320 rushing yards, three touchdown runs of 60-plus yards and a 77-yard TD pass at Fresno State, the No. 10 Broncos escaped with a 51--34 victory last Friday night. Meanwhile, No. 18 Utah—BYU's Mountain West rival—had its nation's-best 16-game winning streak snapped in a 31--24 loss at Oregon.
As the Ducks were for the Utes, the Seminoles were simply too big, too fast and too athletic for the Cougars. On its first 10 possessions Florida State scored seven touchdowns and kicked a pair of field goals. The Seminoles had touchdown drives of 80, 86, 82 and 70 yards, each one lasting 10 plays or more. "Their defense wasn't throwing elaborate schemes at us," said Mendenhall. "I didn't think they would be able to move us off the line of scrimmage, but they did. And they did it consistently."
September 27, 2009
Thanks largely to its victory over the Sooners, BYU, which plummeted to 19th in the rankings, can still finish in the top 10 if it runs the table. Key home dates with No. 15 TCU and Utah remain. "I've tried not to acknowledge what was at stake, but it's hard not to with all the attention," Mendenhall said of the prospect of a perfect season and playing for the national championship. "Our focus now is to be in a position to win a conference title."
In 60 cruel minutes all hope for bigger and better things went up in smoke.
"I didn't think they'd be able to move us off the line," Mendenhall said, "but they did."