26 November 2010

The Holy War, 2010 edition

Photo courtesy the Deseret News

It's been an interesting year for both BYU and Utah fans. While each team feels like they're at roughly the same spot, talent-wise, Utah got here by falling fast from a #5 national ranking, and BYU arrived where they are after firing defensive coordinator Jaime Hill and winning five of their next six games.

To simplify, neither team is outstanding this season. Utah's #20 ranking in the BCS standings seems a little inflated, and I believe BYU's improved defense puts them near the top 25.

Both teams have a young quarterback who has struggled mightily at times. Both teams have put up tons of points on lesser opponents and gotten blown out by the likes of TCU. Neither team has a 100-yard-per-game rusher, and neither team has a 100-yard-per-game receiver.

This makes it interesting for both defenses. There's no one to focus on... no Austin Collie to worry about or Alex Smith to try and gameplan for.

I believe this means that this year, maybe more than any in recent history, there's a great chance a relatively unknown player can be the hero for the winning team tomorrow.

And speaking of history, the last 15 years of this rivalry indicate that when both teams are relatively equal in terms of talent, it's a dogfight. So if 2009's overtime victory for BYU didn't give you a heart attack, this year's matchup might.

I've thought long and hard about who should win on Saturday, and for the longest time I just couldn't come up with an answer. If I thought Jordan Wynn was a better quarterback, I'd be afraid of him throwing every down and giving BYU's (typically) underwhelming secondary fits. As it is, I think he can be rushed and confused just enough to negate the fact that I have been afraid every time an opposing quarterback dropped back to throw deep against the Cougars this season.

Jake Heaps has looked pretty good these last few weeks, but Utah did a great job of destroying Max Hall the last three years, and Hall also looked great against middling teams. I am willing to bet Utah's defense will focus on confusing Heaps and making the game too fast for the true freshman, while living with the results from J.J. DiLuigi, Josh Quezada and Bryan Kariya.

I'd like to see BYU play ball control, pound the football. In 2008, Harvey Unga had his way with the Ute defense, but Hall's five interceptions were enough to give Utah a convincing win. If Bronco and his staff realize that Heaps is not going to win this game on his own, and put the game on the backs of their... uh... backs, I like BYU's chances.

On defense, watch for a swarming defense against Utah's running game. Since Hill's firing, BYU's opponents have rushed for an average of 77 yards per game. I think the Cougar defense can handle a straight-ahead running attack, but we all know Utah loves using reverses and other trickeration to take advantage of that fact. BYU's defenders need to be aggressive, but stay home on their assignments to account for the trick play.

My prediction: BYU 24, Utah 21.

As is tradition, I'm running the Guess the Score contest again. Leave your prediction for the final score in the comments, along with how many total yards passing yards for Heaps.

The winner gets $10, in cash or as a gift certificate to Amazon.com.

Good luck all, and go Cougars!

13 November 2010

Inspirational story

This feature was published in the 2010 Fall issue of Pontoon & Deck Boat magazine.

Access for the Disabled

Ex-firefighter seeks take boating to everyone

By Brandon Barrus

Tom Smurthwaite was once a firefighter in Rochester, New York. A backdraft explosion blew him down a set of stairs and crushed his back, giving him spinal nerve damage, and leaving him in constant pain. He’s unable to sit, and such an injury has limited many people to a life staring at the ceiling from bed.

However, Smurthwaite is not like most people. He decided that his injuries would not keep him from doing the things he loved, and with the help of friends, he designed and his friends modified two garden tractors, for doing yard chores. He also modified a station wagon so he could drive while in a prone position.

Smurthwaite lives almost directly on Lake Ontario in New York, and became interested in what it would take for him to start boating. His research led him to Custom Pontoon Boats and owner Jeff Collier. Collier had just completed a pontoon boat for a customer in a wheelchair, and had displayed the results on the company website (www.custompontoonboatkitsetc.com).

“It was a great size, and the twin Lenco electric DC motors were perfect,” Smurthwaite said.

Tragically, the original owner of the boat passed away just a short while after Custom Pontoon Boats delivered the finished product. The late owner’s sister contacted Collier to see if anyone might be interested in buying the boat, and Collier immediately thought of Smurthwaite.

“Jeff asked if I wanted to buy it and have him make the changes I needed,” Smurthwaite said. “It was a little odd at first, but the sister had heard of my modified tractors and car and was hoping I’d buy the boat.”

Smurthwaite decided to purchase the boat, and Collier went to work on the modifications required for the former firefighter to get out on the lake.

A bridge on the waterway from his home to Lake Ontario requires that the whole boat be no higher than the top of the 25hp Mercury engine in the down position.

The in-deck area was already designed to accommodate someone who is disabled, so Collier added a platform for Smurthwaite to lie on while driving the boat.

The finished product is quite a sight. The low profile allows Smurthwaite access to Lake Ontario, while the twin Lenco electric DC motors are controlled by a joystick at the helm; the motors can propel the boat at 3.5 miles per hour and allow him to maneuver the boat at the dock like he’s in a car.

“You can turn on a dime,” Smurthwaite said.

The 25hp four-stroke Mercury gas engine can reach a top speed of 13 miles per hour. It is steered with a stick steer controller, so there is not wheel at all on the boat.

Today, Smurthwaite enjoys motoring along Lake Ontario on calm sunny days, or just taking the pontoon out to the third-mile-long pond in his backyard.

Smurthwaite’s vision extends beyond himself; he hopes he can inspire others to follow his example.

“I’m just trying to get the idea of driving in the prone position out there, so if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know this is possible, they can design it and run with it,” he said.

For more information on Custom Pontoon Boats, visit their website or call 937-323-2770.

Brief thoughts on BYU @ CSU

As happy as I was with the outcome of the UNLV game last week, that feeling is tempered quite a bit by the knowledge that the Rebels are a bad football team. Really bad. Heaps found open guys on a consistent basis? UNLV corners and safeties. DiLuigi, Kariya and Quezada ran all day? UNLV defensive line and linebackers. Defense shut the Rebels down for almost the entire game? The UNLV quarterback couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

So today's game is a bit more interesting; while CSU isn't a world-beater, the Rams are better than what the Cougars faced last Saturday. Okay, 3-7 isn't exactly scary, but Utah State's 3-6 isn't either, and look what happened last month.

CSU's quarterback, Pete Thomas, has completed 66% of his passes for 2200 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. He's also thrown 10 picks, so he's not Heisman material, but it worries me he's good enough to take advantage of a shaky Cougar pass defense today.

The Rams have two running backs averaging over 4.5 yards a carry, but BYU's rush defense has been amazing since Hill was fired, so giving up huge chunks of yards on the ground is not a concern, in my opinion.

In short, this is a true test of where the Cougars are as a team. If they struggle against the Rams, I expect losses against Utah and Clemson to end the season, making BYU barely bowl eligible. Or, heaven forbid, they lose to CSU today, we'll see five wins at the end of the season, and BYU won't go to a bowl for the first time since 2004.

02 November 2010

Election Day

You may have noticed it's been a while since I have commented on politics. In fact, my last purely political post was back in March, when President Obama's healthcare bill was passed.

I expressed dissatisfaction with both the Democrat and Republican parties in our nation at the time, a feeling that has only deepened since.

Despite my lack of posting on the topic, I have continued to read and watch views from all angles of the political spectrum. And I find my cynicism only deepening. There are very few politicians I feel I can truly support, and to be honest, I won't be able to vote for any of them today, which doesn't speak well for Idaho.

That said, I am not so naive that I think the current state of politics in America is something new. My friend Stu linked me to an informative video on the topic.

Crack open a history book, indeed. Politics is a dirty business where the only thing that matters is getting votes. If you can run an underhanded campaign without looking bad to your electorate, you'll probably win. This environment doesn't tend to attract the best and brightest; instead, those with the power to manipulate and tell people what they want to hear tend to move into this world.

That said, I will be voting today, even if I go straight third party.

Get out there and do your duty. Do some research into the candidates you will be voting on, and make an informed decision.

You'll probably get a sticker.