Tanner Mangum is a name that was wildy unbeknownst to many in college football up until last Friday. Despite sharing Co-MVP honors with Jameis Winston (the 2015 NFL draft's first overall pick) in Trent Dilfer's Elite 11 program. Mangum has been in the shadow of Taysom Hill, a perennial Heisman candidate. Mangum is a locally grown product from Eagle, Idaho, who was recruited by Boise State and a plethora of other Pac-12 schools. He opted to head for BYU after finishing his two year church mission.
After Hill went down with a season-ending Lisfranc injury in the middle of the contest against Nebraska last week, Mangum was forced into a hostile environment on a national stage. All he would wind up doing is going 7-for-11 for 111 yards and tossing the game winning 42-yard hail mary pass into the warm and welcoming arms of wide receiver Mitch Matthews as time expired, giving BYU a heart stopping 33-28 victory.
Even with this huge victory, BYU returned home as 2.5 point underdog in their contest with Boise State. This spread indicated how close these two teams actually were from a perspective of talent, and they certainly made that apparent when the game actually kicked off.
Mangum picked up right where he left off last week on only the third play from scrimmage, rolling out to his right and finding Mitchell Juergens for an 84-yard touchdown strike, igniting the Provo crowd. Boise State would settle down and not allow any more points for the rest of the first half. This was accomplished by virtue of Boise State's front seven not allowing anything to solidify in the Cougar run game. BYU finished the half with -14 yards rushing, which was inflated by a bad snap and a sack that resulted in a combined loss of 32 yards. Factoring those two instances out, and the Broncos still only allowed 18 yards on the ground.
The Broncos got back into the game offensively after getting the ball on their own 48 yard line with 6:51 left in the first quarter. Quarterback Ryan Finley orchestrated a solid drive, going 2-for-2 for 28 yards and running for 12 yards on two carries. The drive was capped off by a three yard touchdown run by Jeremy McNichols, knotting the score at 7-7.
The two teams would trade off punts, one interception by Finley and two by Mangum for the rest of the first half, with Boise State getting a field goal heading into halftime to take the lead 10-7.
Both teams were nearly even at every category heading into halftime. Boise State ran 37 plays, while BYU ran 33. The Broncos held the ball for 15:19, BYU for 14:41. Boise State with 189 total yards, BYU with 155. Something certainly had to give in the second half.
The same two defenses that traded punches throughout the first half were exposed in the second half after both coaches implemented some adjustments. Boise State received the opening kickoff and immediately went on an 11 play, 75 yard touchdown drive to take a 17-7 lead.
BYU answered with a long drive of their own three series later. Mangum once again rolled out to his right and made friends with the deep ball in finding Devon Blackmon on a 70 yard completion, setting up running back Adam Hine for a 21 yard touchdown run. Boise State would answer that on their ensuing drive when Finley found McNichols on this perfectly executed screen pass, putting the Broncos comfortably back on top 24-14.
This would be be the last time the Broncos were in a comfortable position. After forcing BYU to punt, Boise State got the ball back, only to see Finley throw his second interception. As turnovers often go in football, BYU took advantage when Mangum ran right up the gut on the goal line for a score, cutting the deficit to 24-21. Boise State didn't help themselves in receiving two penalties on the goal line, one a personal foul on Justin Taimatuia for continuing to play after his helmet came off and another on Jonathan Moxey for pass interference.
All this set the stage for Mangum to show off to his home crowd what he had done in Lincoln the week before. In the waning minutes of a 24-21 game, the BYU defense got the ball back in the hands of their new star. With :53 left in the game, Mangum found Juergens again on this 35 yard touchdown pass, giving the fans in Provo a first-hand and tangible look at the heroics of Mangum. Boise State did get the ball back with :45 left and all three timeouts, but Finley was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage by Kai Nacua, who returned it for a touchdown and put the game out of reach for the Broncos.
This game will sting particularly bad for the Broncos and their fans. The Broncos entered 2015 with the very real hope and possibility of running the table and making their case for being the first G5 school to garner a spot in the four-team playoff to determine the national champion. Those hopes were laid to rest once BYU shut the door last night by way of local kid Tanner Mangum. Taking the perspective of an optimist, if the playoff wasn't going to happen for the Broncos, it might as well have come at the beginning of the season, lightening the blow of disappointment that would have only become heavier and heavier as the season grew older.
At this juncture, it appears BYU is the favorite to land a New Year's Six Bowl game if they can manage to keep the magic going. Their schedule may not be so accommodating as they try to accomplish that feat as they still have road games at Michigan, UCLA, and Utah State to go along with a home game against Missouri, whereas Boise State's schedule is not nearly as tough from here on out. Outside of road games at Virginia, Utah State, and Colorado State, the Bronco's schedule still gives them a realistic hope at landing a big bowl game again in 2015.
The Broncos will need to have self-inflicted amnesia now that this game is behind them so they can move on. The offense looked much better this week. Outside of the three interceptions, Finley still managed to go 25-for-38 for 297 yards and a touchdown. McNichols still presents himself as a dual threat out of the backfield between his ability to both run and catch the ball. The wide receiver group of Chaz Anderson, Shane Williams-Rhodes, Thomas Sperbeck and company is still very talented. And of course, the defense is once again a major strength.
For today, however, the loss still affords the Broncos and their fans the right to grieve and feel dejected. Had Mangum done this later on the season, it would have felt very much like what Colin Kaepernick and Nevada did in 2010, when they stole a come-from-behind victory in overtime, ending any hopes of a BCS game or even the National Championship for the Broncos. The difference between then and now is optimism is very much alive here in 2015. Although a shot at the playoff is almost certainly non-existent, the new system still allows mid-tier programs such as Boise State to have a chance at landing a big bowl with a couple losses on their resume. We saw this last year when Boise State was able to land the Fiesta Bowl even after losing two games. So don't let that chin touch your chest today Bronco fans.
I wish the ending of this piece could be as joyful as it is bittersweet. Unfortunately I don't have that opportunity. Instead, I want to turn everyone's attention to a moment that happened toward the end of the second half when one BYU player decided he didn't really like a Boise State player. Maybe it will instill a laugh in you. Sometimes that's all we can do in moments like this, right?