There was no last-second prayer. There was no Hail Mary. There was just a loss for BYU: a loss that all but certainly dashes its hopes of playing for a national championship.
When any team or athlete continues to live on the edge long enough, at some point, that team or athlete will fall. It’s not a matter of life and death the way it is for literal high-wire artists who live on adrenaline rushes and daredevil feats, but BYU definitely fell off that wire at a high elevation on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl stadium.
The Cougars dominated UCLA in multiple facets of the game, but couldn’t get the job done when the job needed doing. BYU possessed the ball for an absurd 40:37 of the game. The Cougars converted on 50 percent of their third downs compared to UCLA’s 11 percent, and they held Josh Rosen to a pedestrian 106 yards and picked him off three times.
If you had told BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall before this game that UCLA would convert exactly one third down and cough up three turnovers, he certainly would have loved his chances of winning.
How did it not happen? The Cougars just couldn’t figure out UCLA’s tailback duo of Nate Starks and Paul Perkins. The duo gashed the Cougars for 300 combined yards and two touchdowns, including Starks’ game winner deep in the fourth quarter.
For a program that absolutely needed to win to stay alive in the national conversation, what comes now? Living on the edge is a dangerous place, and the Cougars will have to respond next week by going to Ann Arbor and playing Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines. They are desperate to pick up a signature win for their new coach.
How does BYU find a way forward against Michigan? This game against UCLA was sealed shut on a Tanner Mangum interception in the final minutes of regulation. On the play, he was baited to throw his fateful pass by a heady piece of defense from UCLA’s Myles Jack. Adjusted for the circumstances in which he took the field (replacing an injured starter in Taysom Hill), Mangum had been as close to flawless as possible in his short time as the Cougars’ quarterback. He’ll have to shake off that late-game mistake heading into a game in front of 113,000 partisans in Michigan.
The Cougars live in an in-between world: they do maintain football independence, but they don’t have the scheduling power and brand recognition of Notre Dame, which would enable them to afford a loss in a marquee game and stay in contention for a title. A date with Missouri in November still beckons, but this team needs to recommit to itself in order to have a successful season. If the Cougars let this loss hang over their heads, even for a week, it could mean the difference between double-digit wins and a fourth-straight eight-win year.