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Cougar defense needs help from offense

Is Curtis Brown a BYU defensive player masquerading as a running back in the Cougar offense?

If not, he played like a BYU defender in BYU's 24-13 win over Wyoming Saturday night before a crowd of 58,737 in LaVell Edwards Stadium. Some would argue, he only needed the chance.

Brown practically stole the show from the BYU defense, which clearly deserved the game ball.

Granted, Wyoming (4-2 overall, 1-1 in the MWC) deserves credit for cooling down BYU's attack. The Cowboys came in 4-1 and played tough in Provo. They were atop the MWC with Utah, the league's supposed best. Coach Joe Glenn is Andy Reid. Some of BYU's offensive woes could be credited to the Cowboy defense.

Not all. Not by a long shot.

The Cougars (3-4, 1-1) played most of the night with one limb handcuffed behind their back belt loops. The offense, you see, rode their defense like a mule.

When quarterback John Beck wasn't busy getting his passes knocked down, he looked confused how to attack Wyoming's zone and, as in the UNLV game, couldn't muster any cluster of scoring drives until the end. He finished 10 of 24 for 139 yards and 1 interception.

BYU coach Gary Crowton turned to his running backs for most all of an 84-yard game-clinching scoring drive, a touchdown sealed when Fahu Tahi juked his way for a 15-yard score. Finally, in getting a long drive with time, on that possession, BYU's offense gave their brothers on defense enough of a blow to kill Wyoming in the closing minutes.

To his credit, Crowton went to his money player — Brown.

If it wasn't for big sophomore Brown, the Cougars' capability of defeating Wyoming was bust. The offensive punch — for most of the night — was nothing more than those balloon-like feather-filled boxing gloves. It took up space on the field but had no jabs in general.

BYU beat Wyoming because of its defense. It was outstanding. Brown gained 159 yards on 24 carries. When he tired, Tahi got 70 on 12 totes.

But the game ball belonged to the tacklers.

Enter walk-on safety Spencer White. Still not on scholarship.

When the Cowboys went for it on fourth down at BYU's nine in the first quarter, White stepped in front of a pass by Corey Bramlet and returned it 47 yards.

For naught. The offense died with a John Beck interception, a pass intended for Daniel Coats, who looked as interested in battling for the ball as the French.

Enter Aaron Francisco, Daniel Marquardt and Nate Soelberg.

With the Cougar offense continuing to sputter in the second quarter, Marquardt sacked Bramlet for a 10-yard loss after the Cowboys got the ball deep in Cougar territory. On the next play, Soelberg stuck his helmet in the breadbasket of Dustin Pleasant on a Cowboy attempt at a bomb. The football bounced high off Soelberg's head, giving safety Francisco enough time to race toward the ball, pick it off and run 34 yards.

The offense then died on a fumble by Curtis Brown.

Before that, BYU's offense, facing a third and one, settled for a quick sideline throw over the head of Todd Watkins. This added to other key third-down failures.

Enter John Burbidge.

This Burbidge guy is a former walk-on who hurt his elbow last week against UNLV. Here's a guy who had every reason to take the week off and stand on the sidelines with the cheerleaders. But he played with a protective sleeve and tape wrapped on the elbow that featured some ligament damage.

Burbidge got BYU's third interception of the first half when he picked off Bramlet late in the second quarter, grabbing a pass inside BYU's five-yard line.

Wonder if the elbow hurt?

Wonder if the offense noticed Burbidge's guts?

Wonder if the offense noticed how great the defense played even when its most experienced cover corner, Brandon Heaney, left the game early with a broken arm?

Offense need some inspiration? Look to the defense.

Enter Matt Bauman. Here was a walk-on linebacker, a freshman, making a key sack on Bramlet with seven minutes to play and the Cougars nursing a 17-13 lead.

Enter Dustin Gabriel. This freshman got BYU's fourth interception to bury Wyoming.

Wyoming ran 26 plays to BYU's 11 in the first quarter. If it wasn't for a trick halfback touchdown pass from Brown to receiver Austin Collie, the Cougar offense did nothing in the first half but hook up a 51-yard Beck-to-Watkins pass that led to a Matt Payne field goal and 10-6 Cougar lead at intermission.

At the half, Wyoming had the ball for eight more minutes and had run 44 plays to 28 by the Cougar offense. The Cowboys should have been up, oh, about 21-10 but managed only a pair of field goals.

To that point Cougar defenders would have plenty of reason to skewer their offensive brethren.

Bronco Mendenhall should have had Crowton and his offense run gassers at halftime between the locker room and Marriott Center.

For six quarters in a row, Mendenhall's men had played winning football, busted their butts, only to watch the offense cough up eight turnovers dating back to the loss to UNLV and the first half against the Pokes.

Then for two more quarters Saturday night, BYU defenders sloshed and bucked their way to victory.

In general, BYU's offense malingered on the scoreboard. Again.

That would be either firing squad or suicide time on many squads. At the least, it is something that could lead to some kind of mutiny.

Yeah, the Cougar offense gained 416 yards, the third 400-plus outing in a row. But it's points, it's the points. And for the offense not to lay out its defense, it's got to start making it in the 30s.

Last week Beck vowed hard work and results — in part, if not mainly, because he felt for the defense.

Well, keep that agenda.

And this one too: BYU must take much more offense to Air Force next week. If they don't, the Falcons will napalm their tails.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com