Following the gut-wrenching double-overtime loss to the Boston College Eagles, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said, “Our team simply was one play short.”

As much as Cougar fans might want to discount that simplistic evaluation, one could certainly make the argument that it’s true. Several times throughout the course of regulation play, BYU held in its hands the opportunity where one play would have changed the outcome in the team’s favor, avoiding overtime altogether.

One of the earliest opportunities you could point to would be when John Beck overthrew a wide open Zac Collie near the goal line with 8:40 remaining in the first quarter and BYU leading 7-0. That score could have been a dagger in the heart of the B.C. resistance; instead, the Cougars settled for a 49-yard field goal attempt that failed.

The argument could be made that either a touchdown pass to Collie or a successful field goal during that possession would have made the difference at the end of the game, and coach Mendenhall would be right about coming up one play short. The same “one-play” scenario could be said for Ben Criddle’s almost-interception in the end zone with 3:50 remaining in the first half. On the next play, Eagle QB Matt Ryan connected with Tony Gonzalez for an 18-yard TD pass. One play, such as that potential interception, could have changed the outcome of the game.

But the truth is, dissecting this Cougar loss isn’t that simple. On the possession where Beck overthrew Collie, the Cougars started on the B.C. 26-yard line following a recovered fumble by LB Cameron Jensen. BYU gained 13 yards on two pass plays to Jonny Harline and Manase Tonga, but also committed two procedure penalties thus negating the positive yardage. Instead of third-and-eight from the 32, it should have been first-and-10 from the 13-yard line. At the very least, kicker Derek McLaughlin should have been attempting a 30-yard field goal instead of a 49-yarder.

BYU blundered its way through not only this possession, but the entire game. Just two possessions later, the Cougars were driving and reached midfield, but two more penalties ended up rendering a fourth-and-17 punting situation at the Y’s 41-yard line.

In all, BYU was flagged 10 times for minus 67 yards, and it turned the ball over three times. That the Cougars managed to hang with the Eagles and take the game into two overtimes despite these considerable drawbacks underscores the fact that they have the talent to play Top 25-level football. This is a team that could easily be 3-0 and ranked at this point in the season.

So, what is it that’s kept BYU from cashing in on two very winnable road games this year against non-conference opponents? In a word, it’s execution.

There can be no finger-pointing with the way the Boston College game was lost. You can say that BYU came up one play short, and that might be easy to say, and seem easy to digest, but the fact of the matter is there was a host of players who failed to execute at one crucial moment in the game, or another. Collectively, these momentary lapses in execution kept the Cougars from running away with the game.

The list reads much like the Arizona game with penalties continuing to be a leading problem, especially on the offensive line. John Beck threw his first two interceptions of the year, but that’s going to happen sooner or later when you are airing the ball 60 times a game. In Beck’s defense, I wouldn’t necessarily call the interceptions or his fumble that stalled a drive and led to a B.C. field goal a failure to execute. Overthrowing a wide open Collie early in the game, and failing to check off an ill-fated deep handoff call late in the game were his biggest lapses in execution. The latter play came with only 3:40 remaining in the fourth quarter. BYU faced a third-and-inches situation on the B.C. 22-yard line.

When Beck got behind his center, Sete Aulai, there was no linebacker filling the gap over Aulai. Rather than signaling for a quick-snap quarterback keeper, Beck stuck with the play that was called and Fui Vakapuna was stuffed for a four-yard loss. The resulting 44-yard field goal attempt was wide and Boston College was off the hook once again.

Now, perhaps Beck isn’t given the freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage under certain circumstances. If that is the case, then the blame goes to the coaching staff. However, a fourth-year starting quarterback of Beck’s caliber has to be given the latitude to improvise and it’s difficult to believe that offensive coordinator Robert Anae doesn’t allow that to happen.

To be sure, Beck wasn’t the only player failing to execute the duties of his position on Saturday. He just happens to be the most visible playmaker on the team and, accordingly, tends to take a larger share of the lumps in the postmortem of the game. The last image most fans will remember of Beck in this game was his almost paralyzed immobility in the face of an onrushing linebacker. Rather than sidestepping the leaping defender, Beck tried to get his pass off as planned, and the ball was tipped into the hands of an opportunistic Eagle defender to end the game in the second overtime.

Looking for positives in the aftermath of defeat is rarely a joyful experience for fans, especially when you know your team should be 4-0 (following this week’s home game versus Utah State) and ranked in the Top 25 heading into conference play.

BYU’s defense continues to surprise nearly every preseason prognosticator. The unit has given up an occasional big play, but those moments have been sparse enough to allow the offense plenty of opportunities to win each contest this year. The linebacking corps is as good as advertised, and the young defensive line (with nine players platooning) has been solid against the run and steadily improving in its pass-rush capabilities. The defensive backfield is still the Achilles’ heel of the defense, but new DB coach Jaime Hill has worked wonders with his crew to limit mistakes to a sustainable level of damage. Walk-on CB Ben Criddle has been most impressive to date.

Offensively, the two biggest positives in the Boston College game were 137 yards rushing, and the yards after catch (YAC). Arizona severely limited the Cougars’ YAC in game one, and then BYU broke that stat wide open last week against Tulsa. Against B.C, the Cougars had 18 pass receptions that went for more than 10 yards, and 15 of those were directly attributable to yards gained after the catch.

In addition to limiting penalties and turnovers and delivering on field goal attempts, rushing yardage and YAC will be the two biggest offensive factors against 20th-ranked Mountain West Conference foe TCU in two weeks. Need proof? Texas Tech, which runs a very similar spread offense to BYU, managed only 59 yards rushing and seven pass receptions longer than 10 yards against the Horned Frogs in its 12-3 loss on Saturday.