It’s Halloween, and while other football programs are enjoying the annual celebration, BYU is holding a bag of rocks and wondering if something great will appear in their practice patch to save the season.
If anyone knows their pain and their plight, it’s Charlie Brown.
The Charles Schulz character in the masterpiece “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” has been trick-or-treating since 1966 with only a bag of rocks to show for it — while his friends enjoy a robust harvest of “candy, apples and gum!”
BYU faced front porch encounters against Notre Dame, Arkansas, Liberty and East Carolina in four consecutive weekends. Dressed in a costume that varies from week to week, the Cougars arrived at each door with big hopes and dreams and each time the payoff has been the same — a rock — in the form of defeat.
The similarities don’t end there. Charlie Brown dresses up as a ghost, but with too many holes cut in the sheet. He looks like a walking potato. “I had a little trouble with the scissors,” he says.
At times, BYU’s defense plays like a ghost — with too many holes that have allowed running backs to scissor through the line, linebackers and secondary.
Raheim Sanders (Arkansas), Dae Dae Hunter (Liberty) and Keaton Mitchell (ECU) could just as well be Frankenstein, Werewolf and Dracula as they have grabbed, clawed and sucked the life out of BYU’s season.
Combined, the three runners have rushed 59 times for 564 yards and four touchdowns. If you include Notre Dame’s Audric Estime and Logan Diggs, who together went for 191 yards on 31 carries, the nightmare number only grows.
BYU’s defense has been left maligned both physically and psychologically with their bodies and their egos equally bruised. However, in two of the four recent losses, Notre Dame and ECU, the defense gave the offense the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to win.
How different would this Halloween feel if BYU was 6-3 and bowl eligible instead of 4-5 and holding a bag of rocks? All three phases of the game share the blame — offensive scoring, defensive containment and sporadic special teams.
October was rough from start to finish with a few hopeful moments scattered about, only to be crushed in the end — another scenario they share with Charlie Brown.
Every year Lucy talks him into kicking that football, even promising execution with legal documentation. But no matter his optimism and good intentions, every year, she pulls the ball away at the last moment and lets him fall flat on his back.
To Charlie Brown’s credit, he has never missed a performance due to an injury, unlike the growing number of absentees on BYU’s roster.
While the reality of the “Great Pumpkin” is debatable (see Linus vs. Lucy), the patch of grass behind the Student Athletic Building is very real and it will determine how sincere BYU is in its quest to beat Boise State on Saturday and keep its bowl hopes alive. The more sincere the practice — the better their chances.
The 55,000 loyal Cougar fans, who sat in the cold Friday night waiting for something good to happen, can relate to Linus as he tries to reassure Sally, that despite public opinion, waiting in the pumpkin patch still beats going to the Halloween party.
“He’ll be here, you can bet on that! Linus knows what he’s talking about! Linus knows what he’s doing!” Sally says while defending her partner’s big dream against the growing concerns from family and friends. Then she turns a bit skeptical. “All right, where is he?”
“He’ll be here,” Linus says, just before passing out after mistaking Snoopy’s image in the moonlight as the longed-for Great Pumpkin.
For BYU, the big moment won’t come in the form of a beagle, but it could have the same effect on their consciousness. Instead, there will be Sooners, Longhorns, Cowboys, Red Raiders, Jayhawks, Wildcats, Bearcats, Knights, Cyclones, Mountaineers, Cougars, Horned Frogs and Bears eager to greet them.
Trick-or-treating in those neighborhoods could be void of treats for a while. Regardless, the optimism that has simmered down during the four-game skid will be back. Like Charlie Brown, it always comes back.
“Just wait ’til next year Charlie Brown! You’ll see!” says a defensive Linus in Schulz’s closing credits. “Next year at this same time, I’ll find a pumpkin patch that is real sincere!”
Next year at this same time, after a 12-year wait, BYU will be sitting in the Big 12. If the Cougars aren’t defensive and sincere about the type of football they want to play, it could be Halloween every weekend — including a much bigger bag of rocks.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.