COMMENTARY — BYU’s match-up with Houston proved to be a very enjoyable and entertaining game, to say the least. Just recapping the scoring in the game would fill all my space this week, but the bottom line is the Blue Cougars did pull it out in the end, 47-46. It is the University of Houston’s first loss of the season and the Red Cougars team proved to be better than previously thought by many people. I still believe that Houston will win the AAC and end up going to a good bowl game, so for BYU this win is big.
These two programs went back and forth to the end and it was very exciting to watch. The first quarter’s point total looked more like a college basketball game than a football game, ending up 24-21 with three more quarters still to play. The second quarter continued similarly and the first half ended with Houston leading, 38-34. That scoring pace did not keep up in the second half, though, due to second-half coaching adjustments from both sides. Houston’s defense played much tighter and kept Taysom Hill in the pocket. He had been gashing them with his legs in the first half. There were only 22 combined points scored in the second half, as opposed to the 72 points in the first half.
BYU’s defense definitely showed that it needs to work on a few things — for the first time in years. They struggled and had a very tough time with Houston QB John O’Korn’s play-making ability. The defense has to cut down on allowing big plays. This means keeping coverage downfield for the entire play. It also means keeping the other team’s receivers underneath coverage, hopefully keeping the opposition away from quick-scoring strikes. The Cougars defense did very well for most of the game, but gave up way too many big plays that kept Houston in the game.
O’Korn is going to be a very special college player — of that I am sure. He will continue to get more and more national recognition in the next few years. He kept several broken plays alive and hurt BYU’s defense with his legs as well. He ended up with 363 passing yards and scrambled for a couple of key first downs as well.
In defense of the BYU defense, a lot of Houston’s points came against the offense and special teams. UH scored on a 95-yard kickoff return, a safety on Hill and an interception for a TD. Plus, BYU’s punting game was weak, giving Houston excellent field position much of the game. BYU also had 125 yards in penalties, which did not help (though some of the calls were baffling). Regardless of whether the calls were good or bad, it resembled what most teams do in the first game of the season while getting used to full speed contact. This typically should have been the story behind a loss, but for every bad mishap came a great play by the Cougars from Provo. Spencer Hadley and Daniel Sorenson both recorded interceptions that helped BYU in the turnover margin against Houston.
The BYU Cougars gained 683 yards of total offense off of 115 plays, which is exhausting to even think about. In fact, I can’t remember once, in all my years of college and pro ball, ever breaking 80 plays in a game. The 115 tied an NCAA record. An exhausted Taysom Hill noted the high volume in the postgame press conference.
“It was a unique game,” he said. “It felt like we had played an entire game by the end of the first half with as many plays that we had run and the time that we had the ball. I guess it felt a little bit like high school in that sense.”
Wide receiver Cody Hoffman had his biggest game of 2013 and is putting up new records at BYU weekly now. With his seven catches, he broke Dennis Pitta’s all time receptions record and now has 228 in his career. He racked up 156 yards receiving and a 53-yard touchdown grab, which was his 30th career TD (tying Austin Collie’s BYU record). Ross Apo also greatly contributed with his pair of receiving touchdowns in the game. Taysom Hill proved once again that he is one tough guy. Hill had some great moments in the game while taking some abuse by Houston’s front seven. He again showed the potential of his arm for the third straight game, throwing for 417 yards and completing 29 passes.
Up next for the Cougars is Boise State on Friday in Provo at 6 p.m. This game will be aired on ESPN and should turn out to be another great test for this improving BYU team. It is a must-win game for the Cougars. Boise State will go on to win the Mountain West and it will look very good for the Cougars if they start beating conference champions. Since BYU does not belong to a conference, the Cougars can gauge their program by how it fares vs. great teams from other conferences. It will also give good exposure for high school recruits if they can see that BYU has a winning program and can compete with teams from all conferences.
Although Boise State is not undefeated like so many previous seasons, they are still 5-2 coming in to Provo this week. The Cougars should still have a bitter taste in their mouths from last year’s 7-6 loss to the Broncos up in Boise last season. This was a game that could have gone either way at the end when the Cougars did not convert on a two-point conversion attempt that would have won the game. The Broncos’ only score came off an interception return for a touchdown by a defensive tackle.
The Cougars have grown at every position and improved coaching to the level it needs to be, so they are set up to redeem themselves this year. BSU and BYU have scheduled each other almost every year for the next 10 years, so this is turning into an out of state rivalry, frankly, one that I can get behind, since the University of Utah has decided to schedule the Cougars only occasionally.
The Broncos have lost this season to Fresno State and Washington, but they beat Utah State and several other good programs. BSU’s schedule is much weaker than BYU’s, so comparisons of the teams by their competition is not relevant. Boise just came off a big win over the Nevada Wolf Pack 34-17 and are now sitting in first place in the Mountain West Conference.
Boise State has some very skilled players, including running back Jay Ajayi, who has 12 TDs and averages 109.4 yards per game. QB Joe Southwick was having a great season with his 11 passing touchdowns and 227 yards per game. But Southwick underwent ankle surgery and will be out for a month, so the Broncos will be using backup Grant Hedrick, a junior from Oregon. Hedrick, like BYU’s Hill, has a strong arm, but is most dangerous with his legs. He rushed for 118 yards and two TDs last week to lead BSU from 17-7 down to a 34-17 victory. Hedrick also passed for 150 yards on 18 of 21 vs. the Wolf Pack.
He has a very solid receiving corps, using mainly Matt Miller (42 catches, 454 yards, 2 TDs), Geraldo Boldewijn (25-389-1)and Shane Williams-Rhodes (45-396-4)as his top targets.
The Broncos defense is solid again this season and looks to have some very talented players, like ball-hawk Bryan Douglas with his four interceptions. Defensive end Demarcus Lawerence is leading their sacks list with 6.5 on the year, followed by Beau Martin with 4. Being a former offensive lineman, these stats usually tell me where your more skilled pass rushers are as well as what types of defensive pressures a team brings.
The Cougars need to win this game. It’s about building the program. It’s about gaining respect. It’s about proving they are still moving in the right direction.
No one is really talking about it, but it’s worth noting that BYU has not beaten Boise State. Ever. The Broncos moved up from Division I-AA in 1996 (they were in the Big Sky with teams like Weber State and Idaho). Since then, the teams have played three times. In 2003, the Broncos whipped BYU in Provo on ESPN 50-12. In ’04, it was up in Boise and the Broncos won 28-27. And of course, last year’s 7-6 featured much less offense.
The Broncos rise in FBS has been meteoric and everyone remembers their Tostitos Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma to cap a perfect 2006 season. But I believe BYU currently has a better program. I view the Broncos about like I view the Utes. BYU needs to just start beating teams that they have been struggling with over the last few years. BYU has given up too many games to teams that they should beat and its time for them to get back on top.
I still remember vividly that 2004 game. It was my senior year at BYU and I was a team captain. We lost to Boise State on their field on a Thursday night ESPN game. We missed a last-second field goal that would have won the game. It still hurts to think about it. That year, Boise went 11-1, losing a close Autozone Liberty Bowl game to Louisville.
I know a win this Friday would make so many fellow alumni feel a little better and provide some level of redemption.
Vegas oddsmakers have BYU as a seven-point favorite this week, but I see it being tighter than that. It should be a battle to the end, but the Cougars will walk away with a victory.
Scott Young is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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