COMMENTARY — Taysom Hill has the BYU Cougars back on track.
BYU came out and dominated Hawaii last Friday night, shutting the Warriors out. The Cougars put up some very impressive numbers on both sides of the ball. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s decision to start true freshman Taysom Hill over Riley Nelson has sent the Cougars on their way to being much more competitive on the offensive side of the ball. BYU racked up 396 yards in the running game and another 112 through the air, while Hill completed 12 of 21 passes, one TD and one interception. He also had a scintillating 68-yard touchdown run. And best of all, the BYU offense cut back on the turnovers and penalties that had become a recent problem. Freshman Jamaal Williams showed some great skills with his 155 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
So the question becomes: Has Taysom Hill’s time arrived or will BYU go back to Nelson? And for that matter, how bad is Nelson’s back injury?
In time and with more experience, I see Hill getting some great looks downfield with the play-action pass. This running game is something that BYU has been without in quite some time, so it’s great to see the Cougars pound the ball. As an ex-offensive lineman, I know how much the big guys like to get after the defense with the run. Obviously, BYU being the original founders of the West Coast Offense, I see them getting back into balance with the pass/run ratio soon. But when you can dominate the line of scrimmage and pound the rock, that’s definitely a good thing.
Granted, Hawaii (even with Norm Chow) hasn’t been racking up too many wins lately, but the Warriors are still good competition. Bronco’s defense yet again held a team without an offensive touchdown. In fact, the D held Hawaii to 149 total yards of offense. This is the 11th straight game where the BYU defense has held its opposition to less than 300 yards. This was a good win for the Cougars and I believe helped get them ready for Utah State.
Are you ready for another in-state rivalry game? I know that Utah State and BYU are. These teams face each other Friday night (8:15 pm on ESPN) and should amount to another down -to-the-wire type of rivalry game. Utah State (4-1) has been playing some great football this year. The Aggies beat the University of Utah and nearly beat Wisconsin on the road. In fact, if it weren’t for Utah State missing a last-second field goal, the Ags would have won that game and be sitting pretty at an unbeaten 5-0.
Coach Gary Andersen has been doing an excellent job with the Aggies the last couple years. This rivalry game is for the possession of the Old Wagon Wheel. It’s a traveling trophy that has been passed between these two teams since 1948. BYU has held the trophy 36 times to Utah State’s 22 possessions.
I have been on the field up in Logan for a win and know how much a victory would mean to these teams this year. A win this week for these programs could mean several things beyond bragging rights or the Old Wagon Wheel. For Utah State, it would mean a rare two-game sweep of Utah and BYU in the same season, something the Aggies haven’t done this century. With a win, USU would be considered the best Division 1 program in the state. It would also give them more national attention and help with recruiting.
BYU would like nothing more than to beat Utah State to make up for the loss to Utah a couple of weeks ago. Obviously, it would give the Cougars some bragging rights back. But it would also help continue moving the program in a positive direction.
You know the Aggies are heading down to Provo expecting to win this game. But I think the BYU game offers some unique challenges that USU has yet to face.
First, the Aggies have not played a defense as sound as the Cougars this year. Their offense is dynamic, but neither Utah nor Wisconsin brings the wood like BYU does.
Second, US will be playing its first game of the year on natural grass. I’ve learned through years of experience that this is where your faster guys slow down a little and there isn’t as good of footing.
Finally, I believe that the team with Hill under center is going to really start to gel this week. He brings a new facet to the offense that is nearly impossible to prepare for.
Add to that the fact that BYU is tough to beat at home and it looks like a good hard-fought win for the Cougars. If BYU can limit the turnovers and penalties, the Cougars will give themselves a chance. They need to keep up the ground attack they had last week and the Old Wagon Wheel will stay in Provo this year.
I am excited for this game, the most excited I have been for a BYU game since I was playing for the Cougars in 2002. That year we went up to Utah State and squeaked out a 35-34 win. Just like 10 years ago, these are two tough teams that will battle it out to the end.
Scott Young is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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