Blue Blood: Time for BYU to prove it can thrive, even without its leader

COMMENTARY — Not much is needed to be said about BYU’s loss to Utah State 35-20 last Saturday, but I do feel the need to express a few thought before moving on to this weeks game versus Central Florida. This loss has the potential to turn a lot of things upside down for the Cougars program and whole season in general. It is a tipping point and the ball can roll two ways moving forward for Bronco Mendenhall and his 2014 Cougars.

I have said it several times throughout the last several years, and my worst fear for BYU came true on Saturday. Tim Tebow-style quarterbacking has become more common over the years. Taysom Hill fit into that mold. He was exciting to watch. But with that style of QB there is a price to pay. The game of football is a barely controlled-violence and the players are much bigger, faster and stronger than even a decade ago. If the QB gets hit every play, it’s only a matter of time until something bad happens.

Taysom Hill broke his leg on this play. | Photo courtesy BYU Athletics
Taysom Hill broke his leg on this play. | Photo courtesy BYU Athletics

Going through a game as more of a running back than a QB will get a man hurt and cut a season short. Remember back a couple years when this style of running cut Hill’s season short with a major knee injury. Taysom took some games into his hands and won several on his feet alone, but it all catches up eventually. These types of dual threat quarterbacks do not typically stay healthy and BYU needed to find ways to use its running backs to take over games on the ground. Just look at Utah State and Chuckie Keaton with his two season ending injuries. BYU should have taken a much more conservative approach to its potential Heisman QB. Isn’t it ironic that BYU finds itself in the exact same situation that the Aggies did last year when BYU beat them and Keaton got hurt by running the ball too much. I wish Taysom Hill the best in his recovery to full health. He is truly a remarkable QB and athlete. He’s got a lot of work ahead of him, but he’s already shown he is up to the task once in his college career.

As for the Cougars, they still have the ability to win games if they don’t hang their heads. Instead, BYU needs to step up and fight for its football life. Last week was the first time BYU has lost at home to the Aggies since 1978 and BYU looked bad on both sides of the ball. Undefeated season: gone. Hesiman candidate: gone. Big-time bowl or even playoff hopes: gone. Great season: go … whoa whoa whoa, not so fast.

 One man does not make up an entire college football team and this is where BYU will prove it  can overcome trials. Since I was little and first started playing competitive team sports, I was always taught that one single player does not make or break your team. It is always a team effort to lose or win games. Losing Hill will certainly will change some things, but the Cougars still have an excellent chance to have a great season.

It is gut-check time for this year’s Cougars offense. Some players are going to have to really step up to give this team a chance. BYU’s offensive line is going to have to win the line of scrimmage from here on out so that BYU can run the ball. BYU’s running backs and receivers will have to step up and carry more weight on offense and give new QB Christian Stewart a chance to get his feet under him.

Christian Stewart
Christian Stewart

Stewart did not have a good game vs. Utah State, but giving him the benefit of the doubt, I would look for a better performance this week. I am sure he had no idea that he would have been thrown into the Aggie game and he obviously was not prepared. I am sure Stewart and BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anea became much closer friends this week. I am not sure he could ever fill Taysom Hill’s shoes, but Stewart is getting a shot at it. With a really short week of practice, and a Wednesday flight to Orlando, Cougar teammates and fans alike can only hope for the best game of Stewart’s life.

Here is a little of what we know about BYU’s new starting QB. Stewart was All-State in high school (Timpanogos, where he passed for 3,500 yards and 44 TDs his senior year) and was highly recruited by many Division I programs, but chose to walk on at BYU. He did transfer to play at Snow College after his LDS mission to Tokyo and he played very well in junior college, ending up sixth in the nation in passing yards (2,881) and second in passing TDs (37). After coming back to BYU in 2013 (and a couple of other BYU QBs transferred out), Stewart found himself as Hill’s backup this season and on scholarship.

Even with his experience, he still will need to develop to the level of starting against D1 defenses. That is a progression that BYU did not expect to happen, but is now in front of them. In the Utah State game, he missed some really big passing plays that could have kept them in the game or even won it. The play-calling needs to compliment his abilities and that can happen if Anea pulls the reigns in this week. All that can be done now is for his BYU teammates to step up and support him the rest of this season.

The Cougars true test now is overcoming this loss at home and getting back to winning some football games. BYU is still 4-1 with some very winnable games coming up (like UCF, UNLV, Middle Tennessee and Savannah State). With Stewart now taking on the leadership roll at QB, I expect the team to rally around him and carry him when needed. If BYU does not have the senior and veteran leadership it needs to do this, the Cougars will have a long second half of the 2014 season.

From here on out, teams that face BYU will have smelled blood in the water and will expect them to be really hindered on offense. After three straight home games, the Cougars will need to pull it together this week on the road and show that they have what it takes to continue on winning games. It is a very short week of preparation for BYU with tonight’s game being played on the road against UCF (5:30  p.m. kickoff in Utah).

The Knights and Cougars have only played one other time and BYU fell short 24-17 in Florida. BYU, for the first time since the Texas game early this season, is the underdog and will have to overcome another road game on the East Coast. UCF is currently 2-2 without a solid win this season. The Knights started the season ranked, but have lost to both Penn State and Missouri. They are on a winning streak since then, with a win over Houston (17-12) and a convincing win over Bethune-Cookman.

UCF is now starting to do some things really well and win games. While most college analysts have said they were overrated in the beginning of the season, I think they are now proving to be a very solid program. This will be a really big test for the Cougars and is a tipping point for the 2014 season. Which way will the ball roll in Florida?

BYU is visiting UCF's BGright House Network Stadium tonight. | Photo courtesy UCF Athletics
BYU is visiting UCF’s BGright House Network Stadium tonight. | Photo courtesy UCF Athletics

The Knights are more than thrilled to be playing BYU at home this week on ESPN Thursday night. First, it is at home and second, the last Thursday night game they played they beat a good Rutgers program 41-17 (last season). Central Florida on offense is averaging 23 points a game and has been having a good, balanced run-pass attack. QB Justin Homan will look to pick BYU’s defense apart with a deep receiving corps with a couple standouts in J.J. Wortan and Breshad Perriman. BYU has struggled to sack the QB and its secondary has been really picked apart the last three weeks. If the Cougars can shut down deep throws, it can stay in the game.

The Knights are also deep at running back and have several main go-to players in William Stanback and Dontravious Wilson. BYU’s front seven needs to have a great game to get to the passer and stop long runs. The Cougars got exposed on defense the last few weeks for the first time in many years. Yes, they typically are on the field too much and put in bad position by BYU’s offense, but they still need to be able to carry their offense if and when needed. I would look for BYU’s defense to step it up a notch this week and be much more competitive.

UFC on defense has only been giving up 20.8 points per game, but only 10 points per game in its last two games It will be a true test for BYU’s new starting QB. The Knights have some good linemen with pass rushing abilities backed up by a solid linebacking corps and secondary. Their two main pass rushing D-lineman (with 4 sacks apiece this season) are Jaryl Mamea and Thomas Niles. If BYU’s run and pass blocking shows up, then they will have a chance to score some points this week. Now that BYU’s O-line has a new QB in Christian Stewart to protect, this week’s game falls on their shoulders to carry him while he adapts. Stewart will make some mistakes, but his teammates will need to let him settle in with his new role. If Anea can limit and change up his play-calling to run-first and short passes, they will have a chance.

BYU is the three-point underdog here and I personally don’t mind that at all for the circumstances. There will be no excuses Thursday night as BYU will have a chance to get back on the road and play a team that it can beat. There are only two ways this game can go and if BYU has what it takes to be a power 5-type program it can still pull off a win.

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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Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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