It saddens me to admit it this week, but it appears that BYU was really a one-man show this year! I was probably in denial, once Taysom Hill was lost for the season, in believing that BYU could still pull it together and win the majority of this year’s scheduled games. I considered all the factors, including the relatively weak remaining teams on BYU’s schedule after the 4-0 start. Apparently , I was wrong.
It’s clear now that the air was let out of BYU’s sails with the loss of several team-leaders for this season. With college football being on a more even playing field these days, I expected BYU to be able to cover for the injury-riddled roster in 2014, but the Cougars have not.
Granted, they have hung tough and younger, inexperienced players have been put into big time roles. But this season has been flipped upside down on Bronco Mendenhall and his program. In recent weeks, I have had many in-depth conversations with other fellow knowledgeable BYU football fans and most are doom and gloom about this season as a whole. Lately, many of these fans have turned to me for answers, hoping my experience as a former BYU and NFL football player can give them some insight. I have had my opinions, but there are no good answers for any of the questions I get. I just have excuses for what I am seeing unravel in front of my eyes. I think I have to be fair when looking at things that have transpired this season, but I am not on the inside of the locker and meeting rooms so I am limited to what everyone else sees weekly.
What we know is that the Cougars just lost a Homecoming game to the Nevada Wolf Pack last Saturday and they did so by giving up 22 fourth-quarter points. This was their third consecutive loss and they have not looked like the same team on either side of the ball. We know that Nevada is not a bad team, but BYU did make them look much better than they really.
I am not even going to go over the details of the game because they are not worth covering at this point in the season. What will define BYU’s program at this point in time will be what direction the Cougars go moving forward. Obviously, there are only two ways they can go from here — get better or get worse.
With every defeat, BYU loses any ground gained while trying to prove it is a power-5 type team. Just a few weeks ago, just about everyone was convinced that the BYU Cougars should be considered a power-5 team. At this point, the Cougars are showing that they are not quite ready to be a considered that caliber of a program.
Next year is another year and they can get on track, but right now they need to salvage their 2014 season and get to a bowl game. BYU needs to win 2 more games to become bowl eligible. With teams like Savannah State, UNLV and Middle Tennessee left to play, one would expect that to be an extremely reachable goal, RIGHT? The Cougars also have Boise State and Cal left in the last month of this season’s schedule and will likely be underdogs in those two games.
If Bronco can pull off a win at Boise State, the program will be back on track to having a good season. Remember this, most college football announcers, analysts, pollsters and fans thought BYU would be lucky to win eight games this year and that is still a possibility. It’s not exactly what BYU wanted out of this year, but it would still be a solid season considering the rash of injuries and the solid competition.
I really believe something will have to change in Provo to get back to winning. Minus all of the compounding injuries to key players, BYU has just been flat the last three games and surprisingly, it’s mainly on defense. Thinking back a few weeks, even if Tayson Hill is able to play the whole Utah State game, the Cougars were getting worked over on the defensive side of the ball. This season’s defensive unit is really struggling. This is obviously not the Bronco Mendenhall’s statistically top-ranked defense we have seen year in and year out. This defense annually is known for being tough and very aggressive, but currently is letting subpar teams score more than 36 point on average over the last three games.
The blitz game is getting picked apart and offensive coordinators are seeing some tendencies that they can exploit. In years past, BYU pressured QBs into making mistakes and disrupted both the passing and rushing games. That is not the case this year and it has been a season-long problem, excluding the Texas game. For the first time in many years, the Cougars’ problems lay in the laps of the entire defense, from the coaches down to every position. If there is a reset button BYU’s staff can hit, I hope they hit it this week because there is still a lot riding on this game.
This week BYU is faced with the task of heading up to Boise to play the 5-2 Broncos on the Blue Smurf Turf. The game is Friday night at 7 p.m. This match-up has always proved to be very entertaining between two good programs. It has the potential to be a shootout with both teams playing well on the offensive side of the ball and struggling to stop teams from scoring weekly. This week’s game will be a huge feat for the Cougars to attempt, as it is one of the loudest and toughest college football environments on the West Coast.
The Cougars have lost their national following this season and have nothing to play for at this point other than an average bowl game and pride. Maybe that’s all that it will take to get them back into winning form, because it really can’t get much worse in Provo currently. Even with the weaker remaining teams schedule this season, I am skeptical about the Cougars’ chances. They keep proving they cannot win.
A look at this year’s Broncos gives some people hope that BYU can actually go on the road and pick up a win. Boise State is not the team from several years ago, but they are far from a slouch. The Broncos are currently sitting atop the Mountain West conference this year at 3-1. They have had wins over Nevada, Colorado State and Fresno State so far this season, and it looks like they should cruise through the remainder of their conference play.
On offense, the Broncos are averaging 32 point per game and holding teams to 27. This tells me that BYU should still be able to score against them.However, BYU statically will have its hands extremely full on defense trying to stop this fast moving and dynamic offense. One key player that BYU must contain is running back Jay Ajayi, who is currently averaging 123.9 yards per game on the ground with 10 rushing TDs on the season, plus another 45.3 yards per game in receiving and 2 TDs. Starting QB Grant Hedrick is also putting up impressive passing numbers this season, averaging 261.6 yards per game through the air, and another 37.1 per game on the ground. At receiver , Boise is killed and deep, to say the least. BYU will need to cover William Rhodes, Matt Miller and Jake Roh if they want to keep it a slower-paced running game.
The key to BYU winning this game comes down to defense. BYU’s got to step up on D, like it did in the Texas or Connecticut game. Of course, that means that BYU’s offense must play well, too, to keep its defense off the field and give them time to rest. With injuries stacked up on the defensive side of the ball for BYU, the Cougars will just have to focus on keeping the ball underneath their coverage and not giving up long passes for quick scores.
The Cougars will have a chance if they can slow Boise State down and force them to run the ball. This can enable BYU to establish a running game and make it a chess match between offensive coordinators. Again, this game has the potential to be a shootout if BYU shows up to the game. Christian Stewart will be faced with staring at his blue and white colored receivers blending into the famous blue smurf turf. BYU’s front seven must get back to putting a lot of pressure on the QB and not letting the ball get over their heads. If Stewart can avoid the turnovers and BYU can establish its run game, BYU will have a chance.
Ultimately, I believe that BYU must have some of its senior leaders step up this week and get the course changed. This will start with the coaches and their game plan for the Broncos. BYU will have to prove to everyone once again that they are a competitive team that can win. This must start this week, because this will define who they are for the remaining four games.
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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