Failure to take a knee almost trips up Cougars

Bronco Mendenhall sought exposure, and he received fortune. He wanted a national stage for his Brigham Young football team, and it did everything in its power to fall off.

Fortunately for the Cougars, they were matched against a side with just as much capacity to trip over itself.

The statements and chants following BYU's 17-16 win against UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl were about a Bowl Championship Series game the Cougars believe will be within their grasp next season.

If they play anywhere near Saturday's ordinary level, the only thing within 10 feet will be a remote control to watch such marquee games.

Screamed one BYU player to thousands of Cougars fans who rushed the Sam Boyd Stadium field following a blocked UCLA field-goal attempt on the final play: "Did anybody doubt at the end of the game we were going to pull this out!"

Only those with a brain.

That his team needed the large paws of Eathyn Manumaleuna to block that 28-yard attempt set up by the passing of a team with no passing game falls directly on Mendenhall and circuitously his staff. That the outcome was in doubt at halftime against a UCLA offense with the power of a sparkler points precisely to one unexplainable call.

It's always a good idea to know who you are playing and all that limits their ability to score. BYU led 17-6 when it faced first-and-10 at its 8 with 19 seconds left before intermission. UCLA had one timeout and at that point had thrown for a whopping 11 yards. It was all but sprinting to the locker room.

One kneel-down by the Cougars probably would have made the final 30 minutes a chore for ESPN to discover interesting enough filler between UCLA incompletions.

But the call was for a run, and for the life of Joe Pisarcik, didn't BYU fumble and watch the Bruins score a touchdown two plays later.

Robert Anae made the call for BYU, which pretty much makes the offensive coordinator's firing as a UNLV assistant in 1998 one of the smarter decisions in Rebels history.

What is it about this stadium and stupid calls from supposed offensive gurus?

Maybe given BYU had rushed for 12 yards to that point convinced Anae running back Harvey Unga somehow would find that clear opening that didn't exist all evening for a 92-yard score.

"We should have taken a knee," Mendenhall said. "It's easy to say now. I'm not going to second-guess my coaches."

You just did.

This is what you call throwing another under the bus without handling the body. In this case, Mendenhall would be best to hold up a mirror and look into it.

Whether he calls plays or not, it's his team. His blow to take.

You can credit UCLA, whose defense was far more athletic than anything BYU consistently has been shredding in the Mountain West Conference. The Bruins chose not to be Oregon of last season's Las Vegas Bowl blowout and actually arrived with a resolve to compete.

DeWayne Walker might not be hired as the full-time head coach, but his interim contribution showed he could inspire a group when reality suggests it had little for which to play.

But even Walker admitted to being "very, very surprised" at BYU's brain-cramp in failing to take a knee, acknowledging his team and its stable of backup quarterbacks throwing to receivers who do everything but catch would have been forced into the uncomfortable second-half position of passing more than he would have preferred, which means once every quarter or so.

This can't be the kind of execution Mendenhall desired when he spoke Friday of how his team hadn't received the level of publicity it deserved this season, that as long as the Mountain West is limited by a weak TV presence (by the way, how is that satellite deal coming?), the Cougars' goal to play for a national title always will be a precipitous challenge.

"Right now, our (TV) contract on (The mtn.) and the exposure we're getting is not reflective of any of our goals and standards we hoped for," Mendenhall said Friday. "In the big scheme of things, having this game (on ESPN) in terms of exposure is very helpful.

"If we happen not to play well, I'll learn valuable lessons from it and apply them to next year."

Here's one: Take a knee.

That way, you don't make things hard on yourself, winning becomes much easier, and you don't have to deny second-guessing your assistants by second-guessing them.

Ed Graney's column is published Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or