The BYU players and coaches were relieved and pleased to come away with Saturday's 49-47 victory over New Mexico in Cougar Stadium. It was especially nice because LaVell Edwards was honored afterward after joining an elite club of college coaches with 200 victories.
But not everybody was happy in the post-game locker room despite the fact the Cougs had improved to 3-1 both overall and in the WAC. The question "what happened to the defense?" seemed to fill the air - especially around the defensive players.After giving up just 12 points to Hawaii and 21 to Air Force, the BYU defensive woes of last season were thought to be a thing of the past. But Saturday it seemed like '93 all over again - when the Cougars had the worst defense in the WAC and third worst in the nation.
Sure, 0-4 New Mexico has a potent offense and an all-conference caliber quarterback in Stoney Case, but giving up seven touchdowns and 599 yards was not acceptable to the BYU defenders.
"We had a lot of chances to shut the door on them, but we just didn't do the job," said linebacker Shay Muirbrook, shaking his head. "We should have won the game 50-something to 20-something, but we didn't make the plays we needed to and they capitalized on our mistakes."
"We struggled and we gave up way too many big plays," defensive end Travis Hall said. "It's nice to win, but I don't know how many defensive guys are feeling good right now. We didn't play very well. Fortunately the offense had a great game and bailed us out."
The Cougars had hoped to put pressure on Case, but couldn't get to him often. He was sacked just twice for 14 yards. "I had all the time in the world to throw the football," said Case, who threw for 375 yards and a school-record six touchdowns.
With explosive offensive teams like Notre Dame, Fresno State, San Diego State and Utah remaining on the Cougar schedule, the defense knows it will have to play better for the team to win.
"We've shown we can play good defense, we just need to put this game behind us and do what we're capable of doing," said Hall, who had five tackles, a pass deflection and a sack Saturday. "We've never really put it together with the offense and defense playing its best on the same day. When we do, we'll be tough to beat."
Offensively, John Walsh came back from a sub-par performance against Colorado State to complete 18 of 24 passes for 228 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions Saturday. Walsh had been sacked 15 times in the first three games, but was sacked just once for four yards against New Mexico. The offensive line also did an outstanding job of opening holes so halfback Jamal Willis could rush for 204 yards - the most for any BYU individual since 1975.
"We were teeing off on them pretty good," right guard Evan Pilgrim said of the offensive line. "It was our best game of the year as a unit."
Believe it or not, the Cougs are halfway done with their WAC games already. They play Utah State, the first of four non-league foes this year, Friday night a 7 p.m. at Cougar Stadium.