PROVO — Facing a crucial 4th-and-three situation at the Boston College 36-yard line, his team trailing by two touchdowns midway through the fourth quarter, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall had a decision to make.
Instead of going for it, he sent the Cougar punt team into the game. It was a move that prompted some boos from LaVell Edwards Stadium and plenty of second-guessing.
As it turned out, Derek McLaughlin's punt went into the end zone for a touchback and on their ensuing drive, the Eagles marched 72 yards in 10 plays for a field goal that gave them a 20-3 advantage — which ended up being the final score.
True to his nature, Mendenhall took sole responsibility for his decision. "It was my call," he said.
And, true to his nature, he placed the blame on himself. "It was a mistake. I wouldn't do it again like that," he said. "The thought process at the time was to pin them. As it played out, it was not the right thing to do."
Mendenhall explained that he has confidence in McLaughlin's ability to kick the ball inside the 5-yard line. He was hoping his defense would force the Eagles to punt — and maybe block it, as had the Cougars had done earlier in the second half. But those things didn't happen.
What did Cougar players think of the decision to punt?
"It kind of angers you, but he knows best," said tight end Daniel Coats. "He's the head coach and he's the one running things. It's not us. Everybody can second-guess and say 'What if this,' and 'What if that.' But I know he's thinking about the best way to win the game. You've just got to agree with it. We felt we could have got it. But you've got to go with what's called."
"Coaches make the decisions," said quarterback John Beck. "I'm not going to get into anything like that. I firmly believe in whatever the coaches feel is right. I believe in my coaches. I believe whatever they decide is best for the program. So I'm not going to question anything my coach does."
That punt wasn't the only big fourth-down play of the game.
In the second quarter, BYU went for it on 4th-and-one from the Boston College 31-yard line, with the Cougars down 7-0. Beck scrambled out of the pocket and appeared to have gone down close to the first-down marker. However, a questionable spot by the officials resulted in the Cougars turning the ball over on downs.
Thanks to the Mountain West Conference's replay review system, coaches can challenge questionable calls. But Mendenhall decided not to challenge.
"It was interesting," he said. "I was going to challenge it, but our own coaching staff didn't think we had made it. So at that point, I didn't challenge. They were confident that we didn't make it."