Monson: BYU can't pass test — or ball — against Air Force
Cougars had 88 passing yards, and they were lucky to get even that many.
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Colorado Springs, Colo.

BYU had an embarrassing, ridiculous problem on Saturday in a 35-14 loss to Air Force, and somewhere, probably in his TV den, a grave-faced LaVell Edwards was rolling over in his sofa cushions.

It can't pass.

Say again?

It can't pass.

You read that right.

The … Cougars … can't … pass.

They had 88 yards through the air here.

Eighty-freaking-eight.

And they were lucky to get that many.

By the 12:34 mark of the fourth quarter, long after this game was decided, BYU had 51 passing yards. There was a time, were a lot of times, when the Cougar O would hit that number in the first drive, in the first minute of the first drive, in the first play of the first drive.

Not anymore.

And the craziest thing about that crazy 88 was they shelved their best passer en route. At halftime, Bronco Mendenhall's thinking appeared to run along these lines: "We're down seven, we're throwing the ball as though it were a case of nitroglycerin, our defense can't stop these guys, here's an idea: Let's go with the kid with the weaker, less-accurate arm."

Afterward, Mendenhall explained his decision this way: "It just seemed like Riley [Nelson] had a bit more confidence."

A minute later, Jake Heaps was asked about the level of his confidence, and he said it was … "Higher than ever."

Somebody's full of it.

So, amid all the offensive futility here, the first hiccup — no, it was a belch, no, a groan — in the soap opera, "As the Quarterbacks Take Turns," that has emerged around BYU this season, due in part to Mendenhall's indecision, came at the start of the second half. That's when, after Nelson and Heaps alternated series just as they had in the season opener, Nelson suddenly took consecutive possessions at the start of the third quarter.

On one, he fumbled. On the other, he blooped balls all over the yard.

Nelson kept on blooping balls, at least when he wasn't taking off on scheduled and unscheduled runs, completing 8 of 19 passes. Meanwhile, Heaps, who blew nobody away early on, remained on the bench.

"We have a lot of work to do," Mendenhall said.

In a bit of bright news, the Cougars managed 221 yards on the ground, mostly from J.J. DiLuigi, who rumbled — rhymes with fumbled — for 103 yards and one touchdown. He also punctuated a 43-yard run and almost certainly a scoring drive midway through the first quarter at the Air Force 10-yard line with a loose ball into the end zone that the Falcons recovered. All told, the Cougars had four fumbles, losing possession twice.

The gutty Nelson ran for 95 yards and a score on 20 carries, every one of which begged the following question: What does it say about a BYU quarterback when he rushes for a few bones short of a Ben Franklin and throws for all of 73 small?

It says your offense has had a great fall, and all the king's horses and all the king's men will struggle to put it back together again.

Part of the Cougar crackup resulted from Heaps, supposedly the team's best passer, connecting on just two throws for 15 yards and an interception. He might have played better had he played more.

The other part came by way of a defense that surrendered a whopping mass of 477 yards, 409 of them on the ground, all of which combined to make the defeat complete.

Asked in the postgame whether this particular Air Force team is so much better than the previous six iterations of Falcon teams that the Cougars beat in succession, senior safety Andrew Rich looked uncertain for a moment, then asked a question back:

"How good are we?"

Somewhere, LaVell was rolling over in his sofa cushions.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 The Zone. He can be reached at gmonson@sltrib.com.