COMMENTARY – It was almost exactly five years ago that a New York Giants team, which had barely qualified for the playoffs and had just eked by in three road playoff games, faced the unbeatable New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
Mighty New England had destroyed most of its opponents that season, winning by an average of 20 points a game. Led by All-Pros Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker, the Patriots averaged 37 points a game. Stud linebacker Mike Vrabel helped the Patriots defense hold opponents to 14 points or less nine times during the regular season and had only allowed two touchdowns in two playoff games.
It was a mismatch of epic proportions.
Of course, this is not an NFL column. But the similarities are there as BYU gets set to play at Gonzaga tonight in a key West Coast Conference game.
Gonzaga is not undefeated, but the Bulldogs are 17-2 and have not lost in conference play. Offensively, they are as good as it gets, averaging 79.4 points a game and 51.4 percent shooting as a team. They have a Tom Brady-like guard in Kevin Pangos, who directs everything that goes on with the Gonzaga offense.
Pangos’ Randy Moss-like sidekick is center Kelly Olynyk, a long-haired counter-culturalist from Kamloops, British Columbia (that’s in Canada, eh). The freakishly thin 7-footer (238 pounds) is averaging 25.3 points a game in conference play.
The Zags also have a third Wes Welker-like threat in Elias Harris, a senior from Germany. He’s averaging 14.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game. Like Welker, he just gets the job done.
Gonzaga routinely schedules the toughest preseason in the nation and this year is no different. The Bulldogs have whipped teams from the Big 12, the Pac-12 and the ACC.
And Gonzaga is even more impressive at home, bumping its scoring average to 88.6 a game while hitting nearly 55 percent of its shots in The Kennel in Spokane.
But the Bulldogs aren’t just offense. Pangos, another Canadian, is a master at stealing the ball and he and his teammates (including John Stockton’s son, David) are holding opponents to 63 points a game.
In other words, Gonzaga seems to be the complete package – very Patriots-esque.
Then there’s BYU. Like the ’07-08 Giants, the Cougars have been no slouch. They are winning games (15 out of 20 so far). Tyler Haws is the Cougars’ Eli Manning, still trying to climb out from under his dad’s impressive shadow. Brandon Davies is the Cougars version of Michael Strahan, a little out there at times, but definitely a headliner for this team.
The Cougars, like the Giants that year, also score a lot of points. BYU is recording 78.3 points a game, though the Cougars hit just 46.1 percent from the floor (not a bad number as a team stat, but still five percentage points off of Gonzaga’s shooting).
So BYU will go into their mid-season “Super Bowl” against the Zags as huge underdogs. Like the New York Giants five years ago, not too many people give the Cougars a chance.
So what has to happen for this one to turn out like Super Bowl XLII? It’s simple, really. BYU needs a David Tyree. Remember, Tyree was no star. He was, at best, an average receiver who was used mostly on special teams and had caught only four passes all season. He’d done nothing remarkable in his pro career. He was on no one’s all-star list.
But Tyree made one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history, a play so remarkable it has its own Wikipedia entry. On third-and-long with 1:15 left in the game and the Giants down 14-10, Manning escaped what looked like a sure sack and blindly hucked the football downfield. Tyree located the ball and got two hands on it, but Pats defender Rodney Harrison swiped at it, knocking one of Tyree’s hands off the ball. The receiver somehow managed to trap the ball between his hand and his helmet as he fell to the ground, with Harrison on top of him.
The 32-yard gain set the Giants up for the winning touchdown, which came four plays later.
Here’s the key for BYU tonight and why the analogy works: The Giants kept the game close. They stayed in it until someone could step up and make an improbable, uncharacteristic and spectacular play.
The Cougars need something special tonight. If they’re still in it late, and I think they will be, BYU needs an unlikely hero to step up and make that one big play. Haws and Davies will do their thing. It’s got to be someone else. Maybe Matt Carlino, maybe Nate Austin, maybe Brock Zylstra. Or maybe it’s someone we won’t suspect at all.
Who can give BYU a “Tyree moment?”
Andy Griffin is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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