COMMENTARY — BYU (2-0) broke into the top 25 in all the national polls this week and is now getting the attention it has been asking for. What will the Cougars do with the new found national spotlight, and how long can this year’s team remain undefeated?
It has been since back in 2008 when BYU started the season 3-0 (they were 6-0 to start that season). Many Cougar fans felt that Texas was the toughest game on the schedule and now are wondering if BYU go undefeated in 2014 and if they do, will they get a berth in the new college football playoff. I hate talking about that stuff so early. Is it possible? Well, sure, but BYU has a long season ahead and will need to continue winning games convincingly over all opponents to keep moving up in the national polls. There are several teams on the BYU schedule that can compete with the Cougars and spoil any thoughts of perfection. So let’s slow down just a bit.
Yes, last Saturdays win was really big for BYU! It showed me several things. First of all, BYU proved it can win on the road, a place the Cougars have struggled with year in and year out. With the huge win over the Longhorns (41-7) in Austin, the Cougars are now on everyone’s radar. It also showed that last year’s win over the Longhorns was no fluke. At this moment, no one in Provo or Austin (or anywhere else, for that matter) could possibly say that Texas has a better team than BYU.
It was a hard-fought start by both teams last Saturday and it resembled a slow, but aggressive chess match. The entire first half was a defensive battle and as BYU left the field with a 6-0 halftime edge, fans from both sides wondered what the second half would bring. BYU looked like an entirely different team after intermission. The Cougars executed on offense, frustrated UT with their defense and, quite frankly, Taysom Hill took the game into his own hands.
It was a remarkable thing, especially when you consider the Texas game plan was solely to shut down Hill and not let him run at his will on their defense on their home field. I read every Texas Longhorns off-season article I could find leading up to this 2014 schedule and Charlie Strong and the Texas players had just about everyone outside of Provo convinced that BYU would not be able to rush against them like he did last year. The Cougars may not have had the same total yardage as last year, but Hill definitely owned the ‘Horns defense, rushing for three touchdowns and another long rushing touchdown called back on what I thought was a terrible holding call.
“We went into this game saying that we were going to stop the quarterback from running the football, and we did not allow that to happen,” Strong said after the game.”It was one where we just went out there and they hit the long run on us, and they get the ball down. It was just like an easy score. We can’t do that. We can’t allow that to happen.”
Hill did have some solid help with the ground game by both Jamaal Willams and Adam Hine. It was great to see Williams back in action after his short one game suspension in the season opener against UConn. He had 89 yards off 19 carries, and Hine also was a big contributor by scoring two rushing touchdowns. Senior receiver Jordan Leslie had a stand-out performance with 7 receptions for 85 yards. Leslie, who is a fifth-year senior transfer from UTEP, was open all night and he will be a major factor all year in the Cougar passing game.
BYU’s defense showed up big-time vs. Texas, holding the Longhorns to 89 yards rushing off of 35 rushing attempts. In fact, both Williams and Hill out-rushed the entire Longhorns teams in Texas last Saturday. The Cougars defense looks really well-rounded this season, from the front seven into the backfield. Even when Bronson Kaufusi went down with an injury, the D still excelled (Kaufusi is OK to go vs. Houston).
What’s up next for the 2014 BYU Cougars? Well it’s another match-up with the Red Cougars from Houston. This week has them at home tonight (7 p.m.) on ESPN against the 1-1 Houston Cougars. Obviously, this is a short week for both teams with little time to prepare for an offensive battle. This is only the second meeting between these two programs in school history. In 2013, BYU played at Houston and narrowly escaped with a 47-46 victory. Last year’s game was the most exciting and fun games I watched in all of 2013 college football. It was an absolute score-fest while going back and forth all four quarters of play. There are some differences between last year and this year’s team, not to mention that BYU typically wins its home openers.
Houston’s one win was against Grambling State (a I-AA team) last week, 47-0. The UH Cougars lost to Texas-San Antonio in Week 1. Yep, UTSA. Not Texas A&M. Not Texas Tech. Not even Texas Christian. The Roadrunners of Texas-San Antonio held Houston to 208 total yards. The Red Cougars needed a TD with 1:04 left just to avoid the shutout.
So for the Blue Cougars, this seems to be a high-risk, low-reward type of game. BYU cannot gain anything here. A blowout win and that’s what the Cougars were supposed to do. A close win could cost BYU credibility in the national polls. And BYU somehow loses to the Red Cougars? They’ll drop dramatically in rankings and not see the Top 25 again this year.
Houston hung tough last season vs. BYU, UH currently has 23 underclassmen on their depth chart, with 28 full or part-time starters returning from 2013. They are a young and talented team, but BYU surely has the upper hand with home-field advantage and a more solid program.
One thing could help swing the tide in Houston’s favor. The Cougars have to clean up all of the penalties. I can’t remember a start to any season that actually had so many penalties where the game still went in BYU’s favor. This can’t keep up or BYU will lose a game because of it.
BYU’s style of fast and aggressive on defense really works and the Cougars need to continue to play that way, keeping the defense on its heels. It’s a national trend to play fast. More plays means more points, right? BYU seems to be very good at it and it really does tire those defenders out. Texas was gassed by the middle of the third quarter.
On defense, the Blue Cougars need to worry about QB John O’Korn, who led all freshmen last season with 28 passing touchdowns. The Red Cougars have also had a solid running back step up in junior Kenneth Farrow, who rushed for 130 yards last week. Receiver Deontay Greenberry led their receiving UH last week with 110 yards on 5 catches, including a 67-yarder. It was his sixth 100-yard plus game in his career.
On the other side of the ball, BYU must account for Trevon Stewart, who led the nation in 2013 with 10 total turnovers — six fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Derek Mathews is another Houston defensive player that BYU must account for as he leads the nation in total career tackles at 371.
Las Vegas oddsmakers have BYU as an 18-point favorite to beat Houston, but it could be a little tighter game if BYU does not resolved its excessive penalty issues. It would be another big win for BYU if they can beat Houston convincingly and stay healthy. The Blue Cougars need to have a great game to build their confidence and to hit a wining stride while climbing the national polls. Bank on at least a two TD win tonight in Provo.
~ Blue Blood is a weekly column written by former BYU captain Scott Young. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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