NCF Nation: Noles-Cougars 091909

Posted by's Graham Watson

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Florida State's Christian Ponder made big plays with his legs and his arm.

PROVO, Utah -- Coach Bobby Bowden was as surprised as anyone about the final result at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday night.

Florida State had controlled the game from start to finish, scored on nine of their 12 possessions and escaped one of the greatest home field advantages with a dominating 54-28 win.

“I don’t think we expected to win, especially with that kind of a score,” Bowden said after the game.

"I've been through this thing so many times, I knew we had an advantage. We went out there and made some plays, which we hadn't done lately, and we also forced some crucial turnovers."

Florida State consistently put pressure on the BYU offense to score, but it didn’t give them much of a chance by keeping the ball for nearly 40 minutes. It converted its first nine third-downs and most importantly forced BYU into five turnovers.

It was the kind of game Florida State expected in the season opener against rival Miami or at the very least in last week’s game against Jacksonville State. The Seminoles rushed for 313 yards, its best rushing effort since the 2005 Gator Bowl, and quarterback Christian Ponder continually made plays with his legs and his arm.

It was exactly the result the Seminoles needed heading into its final nonconference game.

“This means a lot,” Ponder said of the win. “We knew this was going to be a statement game We knew it was going to be a tough game, tough environment, their first home game and we came out and just laid it all on the line. The defense stepped up and it was the first time in awhile we’ve played as a whole team and that was good to see. Hopefully, we’ll carry this and use it as motivation for the rest of the season.”

Posted by’s Graham Watson

PROVO, Utah -- There were no tears in the locker room.

Little yelling. No finger-pointing.

BYU had just lost 54-28 to Florida State at home, the team's first home loss since 2005, and all the team wanted to do was go out and make it better.

While BYU was beaten handily on the field, it wasn’t beaten off of it, which was in stark contrast to the postgame reaction after games a year ago. Coach Bronco Mendenhall acknowledged that Florida State exposed weaknesses he didn’t know his team had and that it was time to go back to the drawing board, not give up on the season.
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Now that a BCS bowl berth is unlikely, Bronco Mendenhall's team will concentrate on conference play.

“I think this team is still focused, still motivated,” quarterback Max Hall said. “In the locker room, last year in a loss like this would have felt like almost the world came to an end. But I think the guys are excited to work on it, to get better and to move. It almost feels a little bit like ’07 when we lost early, but we still had a chance to go and win the conference. So that’s our No. 1 goal right now. The attitude and everything is still right and I think we will.”

After playing two nearly flawless games on defense, BYU was exposed for being less athletic, less disciplined and less prepared than Florida State. It didn’t stay in its gaps, which allowed the Seminoles to run for 313 yards and it admitted that it didn’t prepare for Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder as a runner. He had 77 yards and a touchdown. But the biggest thing that affected BYU’s defense was that it couldn’t stop Florida State when it needed to. Midway through the third quarter, Florida State was 9-of-9 on third-down conversions and had scored on every possession. Nine of Florida State’s 12 possessions resulted in scores.

“It’s tough the way we came out and played today, it’s really tough,” BYU defensive end Jan Jorgensen said. “It’s actually embarrassing. We take pride in being a physical defense and hitting hard and creating turnovers and we couldn’t even make a tackle today.”

BYU said it came into the game focused and ready to play, but Mendenhall said his team didn’t show the same desire and physicality as Florida State. He also said coaches were so impressed by the way the team played in its two previous contests -- both wins -- that it was slow to recognize any deficiencies the team might have had.

“We had some weakness exposed and with those weaknesses now comes a lot of work,” Mendenhall said. “We’ve seen them and now we can address them where maybe the first two weeks they weren’t exposed nor did we see them like the way we saw them today. And I certainly didn’t foresee them especially tonight.”

Throughout the offseason, BYU talked about learning from the losses of last season and never wanting to go through that feeling again. It also talked about not making each game a dire situation. Although the Cougars have likely been eliminated from a possible BCS bowl berth, both players and coaches tried to find the silver lining and that was looking ahead to conference play.

In both 2006 and 2007, the Cougars suffered a couple of losses during nonconference play and went on to win the Mountain West title. That’s the focus now, though even Hall admits that it’s hard not to think of what might have been.

“Everybody talked about it and everybody said, ‘Hey, if they go undefeated why not give them a chance?’ So this is tough,” Hall said. “We knew we had a special chance to do something. We knew this Florida State game was going to be a big game, but you lose football games sometimes. That’s just how it goes. I thought we battled, we didn’t quit, but in the end they were just a better team tonight than we were.”

Posted by's Heather Dinich

No, the Florida State that showed up against Jacksonville State -- or rather didn't show up -- last weekend isn't the real one. This FSU -- the one that went on the road and clobbered No. 7 BYU 54-28 -- is much closer to the team's true identity, and it looks more like the one that showed up against Miami. Heck, it looks better than the one that lost at home to Miami.

Florida State played like it had something to prove, and it did. This FSU can challenge for the Atlantic Division. The Noles were 12-of-15 on third downs. They racked up 511 yards of total offense. They controlled the clock. They picked off Max Hall three times. And they got their ground game going.

FSU was comfortable enough with this cushion to get backup quarterback E.J. Manuel some time. Christian Ponder only missed four completions all night and didn't throw one interception. Of course, this win also calls into question BYU's place in the top 10, but FSU deserves credit for playing with a purpose.

It's still early in the season -- I realize that, really I do. But considering what's gone on so far, it's hard not to think the possibility of Miami and FSU meeting in Tampa just got stronger.

BYU's BCS bubble has burst

September, 19, 2009

Posted by’s Graham Watson

PROVO, Utah -- With Florida State’s last touchdown, it looks like it will be a bad day for college football in the state of Utah.

The Utes lost earlier in the day to Oregon 31-24 and the Cougars have a long uphill climb to even make this game competitive.

Where did BYU go wrong? It wasn’t the offense, though O’Neill Chambers' fumble on the first series put the Cougars in a hole and Max Hall’s interceptions resulted in scores, it was the defense. Throughout the offseason there were several questions about whether the BYU defense would be able to keep up with some of the more athletic teams it had to face this season. It assuaged some of those doubts against Oklahoma, but against Florida State, the Seminoles just looked faster all around.

So where do the Cougars go from here? Well, BYU has been down this road before and it led to the demise of their season last year. The Cougars said they had learned from that experience and are better for it, but we’ll see the reaction of the team in the postgame press conference.

So, there’s no national championship coming to Provo this year and likely no BCS bowl berth. BYU might have been able to make a case with a close loss, but this is a blowout and the Cougars rarely looked competitive. The best BYU can hope for at this point is a Mountain West title.

I’ll have more when I return from the press conferences.

Posted by’s Graham Watson

PROVO, Utah -- Up until its final drive in the third quarter, Florida State was putting on a clinic in efficiency.

The Seminoles were 9-of-9 on third down and had scored on each of their possessions. Two of the Seminoles' six touchdowns have come on third-down plays.

BYU's starting to get blown out

September, 19, 2009

Posted by’s Graham Watson

PROVO, Utah -- This BYU team is starting to look eerily like the BYU team from a year ago.

The one from the second half of the season, not the first.

The Cougars have been able to move the ball on offense, but they needed to be perfect on that side of the ball to give themselves a chance as the game wound down because the defense has been so poor. Quarterback Max Hall’s pick-six on the Cougars' first drive of the half really put BYU in a hole. The Cougars followed that up with the first punt of the game on their second possession.

BYU has got to stop the Florida State offense to give the team a chance to win. If it doesn’t, Florida State could make this game uglier than it already is.

Posted by’s Graham Watson

Turning point: O’Neill Chambers' fumble during BYU's first drive put the Cougars in constant catch-up mode, and his second fumble during a return late in the second quarter allowed Florida State to hit a late field goal and go up 30-14 at halftime.

Stat of the half: Florida State has 308 yards of total offense in the first half, which is more total yards than the Cougars have allowed in any game this season. BYU allowed 265 against Oklahoma in the season opener and 162 against Tulane last week.

Best player in the half: Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder has done everything in his power to keep his team ahead in this game. He’s rushed for 45 yards, completed 13 of 17 passes for 119 yards and converted 7 of 7 third downs, including one he ran for and dove to get.

Also best player of the half: BYU quarterback Max Hall might not be on the winning side at halftime, but he’s played about as well as BYU could have hoped. Hall has completed 13 of 16 passes for 176 yards and has responded every time Florida State has tried to create significant separation.

Posted by’s Graham Watson

PROVO, Utah -- After missing the season opener against No. 3 Oklahoma and playing sparingly against Tulane last week, running back Harvey Unga notched his first touchdown of the season with a 12-yard rush and he set up the Cougars' second score with a 20-yard run to the Florida State 20-yard line.

Unga has shown great vision by bouncing both runs out from pressure and finding open space. He’s been the Cougars' most effective rusher in the game.

Unga came into the game with three carries for 17 yards.

Posted by’s Graham Watson

PROVO, Utah -- Florida State has jumped out to a 14-0 lead against No. 7 BYU.

This is the first time since Oct. 16, 2008, at TCU that the Cougars have fallen behind 14-0 at the beginning of the game. In that game, TCU scored 26 consecutive points before the Cougars got on the board.

Also, BYU nose tackle Russell Tialavea suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and will not return.

Posted by’s Graham Watson

PROVO, Utah -- BYU is showing its struggles against speedy, athletic teams.

On two consecutive drives, Florida State has methodically marched down the field. BYU’s defense has allowed the Seminoles to get outside and have missed several tackles, which have led to first down conversions.

This is not the same defense we saw against Oklahoma or even Tulane last week.

FSU quarterback Christian Ponder has 24 rushing yards in the first quarter.

More importantly, Florida State is keeping the BYU defense on the field. The Seminoles controlled the ball for 12 minutes and 39 seconds in the first quarter.

BYU's offense can move the ball

September, 19, 2009

Posted by’s Graham Watson

PROVO, Utah -- BYU quarterback Max Hall started the game strong, which is a good sign for the Cougars. Now, if he could get his receivers to play at the same level, this game might be tied.

BYU is having a lot of success with crossing routes through the middle of Florida State’s defense. The Cougars first two passing plays went for 20 and 41 yards respectively. Even if BYU gets down a couple scores, at least it has the confidence that it can move the ball against this porous Florida State defense.

Unga and Hansen dressed for BYU

September, 19, 2009

Posted by’s Graham Watson

PROVO, Utah -- We are about 20 minutes from kickoff and the band already has started the pregame show. No big surprises for either team. BYU running back Harvey Unga is warming up, but it doesn’t look like safety Scott Johnson is out there. Offensive lineman Braden Hansen is dressed and was warming up, which is interesting since he was supposed to be out 1-3 weeks with a knee injury.

It’s starting to become a beautiful evening here in Provo. The lights are already on and the sun is starting to sett. The stadium is nestled against the mountains, so it makes for a picturesque view.

There’s a nice little contingent of Florida State fans here. There’s a group on the left side of the stands in the North end zone and then there are other fans in various spots throughout the stadium.

This is BYU’s home opener. The Cougars haven’t lost at LaVell Edwards Stadium since Nov. 19, 2005 against Utah, that’s 18 consecutive games.

Posted by’s Graham Watson

PROVO, Utah -- The key to BYU’s success so far this season has been taking an even approach to every game, including today’s home opener against Florida State.

Last season, the team fell victim to looking ahead and wondering about the ramifications of each win. This year, the Cougars are enjoying the moment and are better equipped to handle adversity as it occurs throughout a game.

“The attitude has been team-first and work hard,” offensive coordinator Robert Anae said. “I’m hoping that, you know at some point you’re not going to be your best, we show up. And when we’re not our best, the guys are able to regroup, hopefully within a course of a game. You just keep moving along best you can and that’s been our approach, coaches and players alike.”

The Cougars have moved along just fine through the first two games of this season. There was little hangover after the season opening win over No. 3 Oklahoma and the Cougars handled Tulane with relative ease. During that game, BYU quarterback Max Hall found 12 different receivers, which is a far cry from the two or three he keyed on at times last year.

BYU comes into today’s game against Florida State riding an 18-game home winning streak and a chance to continue to add to their case for not only a BCS bowl berth, but perhaps, national championship consideration.

However, this will be one of the toughest tests to date for the Cougars’ offense. The Florida State defense is one of the most athletic teams the Cougars will see all season and Hall’s confidence and accuracy will be tested early. In the past, Hall has faltered in big games.

But the Cougars are happy with the way their offense has performed so far. And Anae would be the first to tell you that it isn’t about coaching, but rather the player’s execution.

“Well, I contend this all along; offenses that work is a sign of really good execution not a sign of playcalling,” Anae said. “Offenses that don’t work, usually the same reason. And we’ve been able to design plays that for the most part put the guys in things that the guys can do. I compliment our staff more than myself. Our staff has been able to identify what our guys can do and arrange them in such a way to be productive.”