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Life On the Margins, Week One: How BYU lost to Virginia, and more of the weekend's weirdest box scores

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Sometimes the final score tells you everything you need to know about how a game played out. Sometimes it doesn't. Each week Life On the Margins dissects close and closer-than-they-looked results, and why they didn't go the other way.

Quarterback Taysom Hill and BYU had one of those afternoons at Virginia.
Quarterback Taysom Hill and BYU had one of those afternoons at Virginia.
Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia 19, BYU 16.
Virginia_mediumBYU coaches lamented this game as a "worst-case scenario," beginning with a two-hour lightning delay that left the field in horrible condition and ending with an abrupt unraveling in the final three minutes. Up to that point, the Cougars seemed to be in control: They'd scored 10 unanswered points on consecutive possessions to pull ahead, 16–12, and had yet to allow the Virginia offense to cross midfield in the second half. For that matter, the Cavs had only crossed midfield once in the first half, getting just far enough to knock home a 53-yard field goal as the clock expired. Their only other score to that point had come on a 16-yard "drive" at the beginning of the third quarter, following a blocked punt.

I imagine the next scene playing out in slow motion, beneath heavy, somber strings. Facing 3rd-and-6 from its own 34, and not willing to leave it up to the defense with a little under three minutes to play, BYU decided to gamble on throwing for a first down; the subsequent pass from sophomore Taysom Hill was too high, caroming off the receiver's hands, into the waiting arms of Virginia's Anthony Harris and back from whence it came, all way to the BYU 13-yard line. UVA scored on the next play, a run by Kevin Parks, which very shortly thereafter proved to be the game-winner. The Cougars' offensive coordinator, Robert Anae, was left to shoulder the blame:

"Right at the end, that pick, that’s my fault," Anae said. "I should not have stressed [the players], knowing we have development [to do] with our skill players. I should not have stressed them. I made a real-time decision to go for the first down, and the worst-case scenario happened."

Hill also shouldered the mistake, saying "I liked it and I threw it a little high and Virginia made a great play. ... This feeling is no fun right now."

No kidding. Of the Cavaliers' 19 points in this game, all but the end-of-half field goal came as a direct result of BYU miscues: Before Parks' post-INT dagger, the blocked punt at the start of the third quarter set up a short touchdown pass, and soon after the Cougars were hit for a safety following a botched shotgun snap. Between the turnovers that set up the two short touchdown drives, the safety and settling for a field goal on a possession that began at the UVA 27-yard line, the Cougars dug a 20-point hole that controlling the rest of the game couldn't get them out of.


Clemson 38, Georgia 35.
Clemson_mediumI've noted this elsewhere, but the turning point in the Bulldogs' loss had nothing to do with talent, or scheme, or anything but random buggery. Trailing 31–28 early in the fourth quarter, UGA lined up for a chip-shot field goal to tie, only to come away empty after a botched snap/hold on the attempt. From there Clemson scored again to go up by 10—catching another break on the way when a bad snap of its own was negated by a false start penalty—and just like that the game was effectively out of the Bulldogs' reach. Fittingly, in a back-and-forth game that was all about holding serve offensively, the final margin between moving onto the short list of championship frontrunners and being relegated to the on-deck circle was, yes, three points.

In the "Swing Points" category, Georgia is also docked for giving away potential points on a first-half turnover in Clemson territory, instantly negating the Tigers' only giveaway by throwing an interception on the very next play. (The INT is reflected as –7 against UGA in the box to the right, as is the botched snap, although technically the former came with the ball at the Clemson 30, not inside the 25.) Between those two opportunities and a fumble that set up the Tigers for a 16-yard touchdown "drive" in the second quarter, that amounts to a 17-point swing on three very avoidable errors alone.

Auburn 31, Washington State 24.
Auburn_mediumAuburn fans probably don't feel like this one was "closer than it looked," given that the Tigers a) Substantially outgained Washington State on a per-play basis, and b) Let the Cougars hang around late, settling for field goals instead of a clinching touchdown on three separate opportunities inside the WSU 30-yard line in the second half. By that point, they'd also figured out Mike Leach's offense, holding Washington State out of the end zone in the second half after allowing three long, sustained touchdown drives in the first.

But Auburn would not have been in a position to play from ahead late if not for a couple of big, tide-turning plays that kept the game from getting away from them early on. One was a first-quarter interception by Robensen Therezie that set up the offense at the Cougar 28-yard line for its first touchdown "drive" of the year. The second was a 100-yard kickoff return by Tre Mason in direct response to Washington State's second touchdown in the second quarter. Still, the Cougars continued to move the ball, and in the end it took Therezie's second pick of the night, in the end zone, to end their last serious threat to tie – or potentially win, on a two-point conversion – in the final five minutes.

Texas State 22, Southern Miss 15.
Southern_miss_mediumSome teams are merely bad; truly terrible teams, on the other hand, have a flair for nurturing whatever faint glimmers of hope remain just long to deliver the debilitating nut-punch everyone knew was coming in a manner that somehow still manages to catch them by surprise. Southern Miss unquestionably fell into the latter category in 2012, gacking away winnable games on a regular basis en route to an 0–12 finish, and showed no signs of progress in Todd Monken's debut as head coach. In fact, it was a little bit worse: With six turnovers against Texas State, the 2013 Eagles managed to be even more mistake-prone than last year's edition, which maxed out at five. The Eagles fumbled the ball away on three of their first four possessions, leading directly to one touchdown by the Texas State defense and to a short field for another; in the second half, they failed to score on three separate trips into Bobcat territory, courtesy of a missed field goal, a turnover on downs, a fumble and an interception. In the midst of that run, they also fumbled away a punt at the TSU 41.

The good news is supposed to be that, between nut punches, USM was clearly the better team on a down-to-down basis, outgaining the Bobcats by 185 yards on nearly two full yards per play – cut out the turnovers and this team is good enough to be competitive in every Conference USA game. Probably good enough to win them. After 13 consecutive losses, though, believing in this group to eliminate the crippling mistakes is like believing the scorpion when he promises not to sting you halfway across the river. It's just who they are.

See also: Wyoming outgained Nebraska overall, but was terrible on third down … Cal and Northwestern both turned the ball over three times apiece, but Northwestern turned all three of its takeaways in touchdowns.… And just how long are the odds of giving up three non-offensive touchdowns in one half, anyway?