PROVO — The BYU football program has long been accustomed to winning. Lately, though, losing has become almost commonplace for the Cougars.
Counting Saturday's 24-10 defeat to Air Force, BYU has lost 10 of its last 15 games under coach Gary Crowton. Frustration has set in, and emotions are boiling over.
"I hate losing so bad," said freshman quarterback John Beck as tears welled up in his eyes. "Every single player on this team wants to win. That's why it hurts so bad. When we played them last year, they demolished us — I felt today like we needed to get them back. To lose this game just hurts."
For the first time since 1993, the Cougars have lost back-to-back home games. Fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium booed another lackluster offensive performance.
"People want to win," Crowton said. "I know how it works. BYU's used to winning."
During halftime, Crowton lost his cool while he was conducting an interview. A fan started screaming at Crowton to run the football more and Crowton yelled back.
"I shouldn't have done that. I apologized to him when I came back out," he said. "It hurts me inside when we lose worse than any fan out there, I can guarantee that because I have much more invested than anybody here except for the players and the other coaches. My solace is this: I can see us working much harder than last year. I think we're getting better." But when will they start winning again?
By losing to the Falcons, the Cougars (2-3, 1-1) suffered their first Mountain West Conference setback and saw their overall record fall to below .500.
BYU's offense was its own worst enemy — again — and Crowton brought up the inexperience excuse — again.
"The problem with our players is the lack of experience. Think about it. Just be realistic. Lack of experience is the problem with our offense, period. End of story," Crowton said. "I know we're not very good on offense yet. You don't have to tell me. The continuity that we want on offense is not there yet. We had some drives where it started showing up in the second half. We're practicing better. Last week's practice was the best we've had this year and last year. But we're not there yet. We're still young, but we are who we are. We're growing fast and we're going the hard way." The hard way, indeed. The Cougars continue to be plagued by offensive mistakes.
"As an offense it's hard to want to win the game and put 10 points on the board," Beck said. "It puts a lot of pressure on the defense." Meanwhile, the Cougar defensive players were blaming themselves. That's how unproductive BYU's offense has been lately.
"Ten points, regardless of what anybody says, should be enough to win a ball game, said linebacker Mike Tanner. "We didn't, and it sucks." Air Force quarterback Chance Harridge's 30-yard touchdown pass to J.P. Waller gave the Falcons a 17-10 lead with 8:05 remaining in the game. On the Cougars' ensuing possession, they were driving when running back Marcus Whalen fumbled the ball away at the Air Force 39-yard line.
"I felt bad for Marcus because he was just trying to get yards and he hadn't played a lot because of his injury," Crowton said. "He was feeling bad. We're all feeling bad." Later, BYU got the ball back, but on third-and-1, running back Reynaldo Brathwaite was tackled for a 10-yard loss on a sweep. "The play was messed up on the way from the sidelines to the huddle," Brathwaite explained. "It was supposed to be a toss, and it turned into a handoff." Beck's fourth-down pass attempt fell incomplete, and the Falcons took over at the BYU 19 with 2:27 remaining. Air Force scored again when Harridge plowed in for a touchdown from one yard out as time expired.
"It was a punch in the gut," said linebacker Mike Tanner of Harridge's final TD. "You look across at Chance Harridge, and the little sucker talks on every single play. You'd like nothing more than just to throw him down in the dirt behind the line of scrimmage. When his butt got in the end zone, you just gosh, I'm so sick, I just want to cry. You fight, you dig, claw, scratch and bite and do whatever you can. We were going for the win." Winning, though, is easier said than done these days in Provo.
NOTES: During halftime, BYU honored former Cougars Eldon Fortie and Marion Probert. The numbers of Fortie (No. 40) and Probert (No. 81) have long been retired, but now their jerseys are displayed on the press box in Edwards Stadium next to Steve Young's retired No. 8 jersey … The Cougars have not scored a rushing touchdown in 30 consecutive quarters, dating back to the second quarter of last year's Wyoming game … BYU's defense held Air Force, which entered the game as the nation's top rushing team (338 yards per game) to 195 yards rushing … BYU visits San Diego State next Saturday (8 p.m. kickoff).