COMMENTARY — Last week BYU made another positive step in the right direction by beating Virginia 41-33 in Provo. Every win against a credible program moving forward will make a difference in BYU being considered a power 5 program that’s not in a power 5 conference. With this being one of the bigger goals set out by BYU’s program this season, I would say the Cougars are holding up to their end in proving they are a team to be considered a power 5 team.
Remember, several big conferences have already declared that BYU is not a power 5-type team and will not schedule BYU for nonconference play. If BYU can’t change the way it is viewed nationally over the next couple of seasons, it could turn into a scheduling nightmare in the future. With strength of schedule being one of the biggest factors in rankings and big bowl games, well, this season may be turning into a program defining year.
If BYU can bust the establishment and make it into this year’s new playoff event, it could literally change the future of the program in Provo.
Even with the road win over Texas earlier this season, last Saturday’s win was the Cougars best win of 2014. I am not saying they played their best game, but the win was against a pretty good Virginia program. Remember Virginia, had already previously shaken up the Top 25 national rankings by beating AP No. 21 ranked Louisville. Virginia had also taken No. 7 UCLA down to the wire. The Cavaliers front seven may be the best group that BYU will face all year. Virginia has some extremely talented, strong pass rushers and at times, BYU struggled with them.
With the win, BYU moved up a little bit in the national polls. The Associated Press poll has BYU moved to No. 20, USA Today has BYU No. 21 and ESPN’s Power Rankings put the Cougars at No. 17 nationally. These ranking seem fair to me and for the Cougars to move up in any of these polls any further, they will need to start winning some of their upcoming games convincingly.
Not surprisingly, Taysom Hill was the difference last Saturday. He kept drives alive with his strong running game. Hill rushed for one TD with 72 total yards on the ground. You could tell by Virginia’s front-seven play that their main objective was to stop the run and keep Hill in the pocket. Hill took what they gave him and passed for another two TD to keep the offense moving along. Jamaal Williams had some really good, powerful runs, racking up one touchdown with 68 yards on just 13 carries. The biggest play of of the game was when Adam Hine went 99 yards on a kickoff return for a touchdown. UVA had just cut the lead to seven points, but the big return kept BYU in the driver’s seat.
With all of the good that has happened over the last four weeks, I still sit back and wonder how BYU will do down the road with how penalized their team currently is. BYU has had 44 penalties for 421 yards so far this season. ESPN ranks them the most penalized team so far in 2014. I keep saying it every week about the Cougars — If they don’t fix this they will fall short before the season is done.
It’s not always a good thing to mention that your punter was a highlight and had a great week, but last Saturday that happened to be the case. Virginia’s defense was tough, and the Cavaliers forced BYU punter Scott Arellano to kick in some tough situations. But he came through with flying colors, with five punts totaling 275 yards, averaging 55 yards per boot. Arellano had one season-long 65-yard punt that put Virginia’s back against the wall at the 5-yard line. Arellano made a big difference in the game.
On the defensive side of the ball, Craig Bills stepped up and had the best game of his BYU career with with 10 tackles, a pass break-up and a tackle for a loss. While the defense as a whole stepped up and played OK, a couple other BYU seniors in Alani Fua and Skye PoVey showed great effort in racking up a combined 17 tackles. Robertson Daniels was another stand out in the secondary with an interception, two pass break ups, and four tackles. But BYU’s front seven, for the first time all season, got pushed around from time to time and it put the secondary on their heels. Virginia’s offensive line was impressive and showed that they were bigger and stronger than BYU’s defensive front. Having linebacker Bronson Kaufusi back from his injury and in the lineup will really help shore things up for the Cougars.
The Cougars football bye week is here, so it’s always a good chance for us fans to sit back and reflect on the good the bad and the ugly of 2014’s season so far. This year, (unlike the last couple years I have been writing this Blue Blood column) there is a lot more good vs. bad or even ugly. So where is the bad? I keep beating up the lack of field discipline by BYU’s players and it really has not improved to the level we should expect going into Week 5 of college football play. Good teams — especially championship teams — just don’t commit penalties like BYU has. Too many, too stupid, too often. It’s got to be fixed.
With BYU having already played one quarter of this 2014 season, we can only hope that this week was not only a good chance for rest and recovery, but also that time to get back to the basics of fundamental football. The Cougars have enough talent this year with great coaching that they have won all their games even with the extremely large amounts of penalties weekly. I don’t want to beat a dead horse and I feel that I am starting to by continuing to talk about the same thing weekly so lets move on and hope that this week off gets BYU back to clean fundamental football.
The good news for BYU is that they have already knocked several monkeys off their back in 2014. First, the Cougars proved that they could go back to the East Coast and win football games and they did that at UConn. Second, they proved they could go into Texas and beat a team on the road from a power 5 conference. They also have beaten a Virginia team that they have struggled to beat in past years. This was a game that they should have won and that’s my point, they won. They have dropped these types of games in previous seasons and getting past that hurdle for them is a big deal.
The Cougars have shown great balance with their offense in both the run and pass game and continue to show consistency, which they have struggled with over the last few years. BYU’s defense, despite losing some huge names recently (like Kyle Van Noy, Ziggy Ansah, Daniel Sorenson) to the NFL has been able to fill those gaps immediately each year. Hill has proven that he is much more than the best running QB to ever play for BYU. He is proving weekly that he can use his arm to win games. His QB fundamentals have improved weekly and he still has another full year to lead BYU’s program. BYU, for the first time in many years, seems to continue to build its depth at all positions and it has created a very competitive atmosphere at BYU. All of these positives about Bronco Mendenhall’s program will help greatly as they recruit for the future.
For those who do read my articles weekly, you probably know that I am a former BYU football player, Cougar alumni and very supportive fan. That being said, I still do my best to give an unbiased weekly evaluation and my personal opinions to the direction of BYU’s program. I call it like I see it. Sure I want BYU to win every game, sure I want them to beat other teams in the state of Utah when scheduled, but I also am a fan of football in Utah. I would rather see a team from the state of Utah beat a team like Texas or California any day of the week.
I was happy to see the Utah beat Michigan in the Big House last weekend. The reason for this is vs. many other BYU fans in this state is that I played years of football outside of Utah while I was in the NFL. In this time, I realized that the majority of the rest of the United States thinks that there is not really good football played in some states, including Utah. This includes BYU, Utah, Utah State and all of our state’s other universities. Of course there has been those magical years where BYU won a National Championship or Utah won a BCS bowl game, but those are flukes in the minds of people who don’t understand that there are great and very competitive players and teams coming out of Utah every year. I am a fan of football in the state of Utah, the state where I was raised and grew up playing!
I have one point to get across to anyone willing to be open and honest with my point of view here about college football. There is not as much talent and depth separating college football programs these days (at least not like there used to be 15-20 years ago). Just about any team can beat another team on any given Saturday and this is shown by the weekly outcomes in the Top 25. This year, more than other I can remember in recent history, there are more unranked programs matched up with highly-ranked teams and the underdogs have been winning. It’s not always the case, but some of the higher-ranked Top 25 teams are losing, or barely escaping with a win, week in and week out.
Some examples from last week: Unranked Mississippi beat No. 8 LSU, unranked Indiana beat No. 18 Missouri, No. 1 Florida State just about lost to No. 22 Clemson in overtime, and even mighty Oregon was losing for big portions of the Washington State game before coming back at the end to win by seven. Elsewhere No. 5 Auburn squeaked out a six-point win over Kansas State.
And this stuff is happening every week, which brings me to my point: If any team can beat another on any Saturday as proven this year many times over, then why is so much put into college football rankings. Who cares what BYU is ranked? If they keep winning and beating good programs, then they will have no worries! We know, even though BYU’s schedule has been picked apart this season, the Cougars still have some solid games ahead. BYU has its hands full in the schedule ahead, but hopefully they are using this bye week to correct the discipline issues they have had early in the season and are getting rested and healthy for the remaining schedule.
~ 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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