Blue Blood: Cougars showing heart as they battle through rash of injuries

COMMENTARY — Even with its second consecutive loss, BYU has NO give up and some positive things to build on moving forward in the 2014 season!

It was a disappointing last Thursday night to what I think is a very competitive and tough football Central Florida program. I see UCF having another great year, following its Fiesta Bowl win last year. The ended in a 31-24 overtime loss for the Cougars. BYU was not given much of a chance to beat the very good Central Florida team on the road, and was clearly the underdog last week. It was, of course, a gut-check time for the very injured Cougars football program.

With all of the injuries adding up this season, how could Bronco’s team respond? Some thought that because of the season-ending injury to Taysom Hill, that BYU would just roll over and not be able to move the ball on offense. That proved not to be the case at all. If not for a single missed call, a penalty, or turnover, the game would have shocked many turning out completely opposite. The truth about the game is that it could have gone either way, but the Knights did what they needed to and won in overtime.byu logo2This was a game that true football fans would all enjoy and had them sitting on the edge of their seats the entire game. For me, other than the last second loss, it was one of the most entertaining BYU football games I can remember watching in many years. But, with two consecutive losses now for this so called BYU dream season, why would some BYU alumni like myself still be proud of this year’s team? That’s an easy answer: BYU, with all of these injuries still has 100 percent fight in them, huge hearts and players are stepping up to fill big holes on both sides of the ball.

The injury bug has set in and heading into the UCF game, BYU was down many starters from the Utah State game. Hill, Alani Fua, Brayden Kearsley, Terenn Houk and Dallin Leavit were all out of this Central Florida game and needed to be replaced. With injuries to so many key offensive and defensive players, who stepped up for BYU and made it a game last week?

Senior QB Chris Stewart stepped up (as he had promised last week) and threw 3 TD’s off of 153 yards passing. He also used his feet to scramble several times and kept drives alive and moved the chains. While he is not capable of Hill’s scrambling, he did show that he can run well when it’s needed. For a player with not much experience and in his current situation, I was proud of the way Stewart played. Of course, he will need to work on some things if BYU is to win several more games and go to a bowl, but I am confident that he will do the job nicely. BYU teammates and fans will have to support him through all of the ups and down that the remaining schedule will throw at him. The main thing Stewart will have to work on is not turning the ball over, but still being aggressive. Midway through the UCF game, he threw an interception into the end zone and it showed me a couple things. One, is that he will take shots and has a good arm, but the other was that he would turn the ball over if not careful with his passes. It’s a double-edged sword, but with proper play-calling, BYU can prove to be solid on offense again this season. That was something that took Taysom Hill many games to start excelling at.

If losing the starting QB wasn’t bad enough for last week’s game, starting running back Jamaal Williams suffered what appeared to be an ankle sprain at the start of the game. This put the running game on the shoulders of Algernon Brown and Paul Lasike. These two combined for 132 very hard-fought rushing yards on a defense that is known for its run stopping abilities.

BYU’s O-line played tough and held its own against another really solid front 7. If the Cougars O-line can play like this the rest of the year, there will be some really good things to come for the offense. Both Brown and Lasike gave BYU a chance as they knifed through small holes in UCF’s defense for good gains. These two backs are really powerful and I am excited to see them up against some of the remaining defenses on BYU’s schedule.

On defense, BYU lost a couple of key players with Jordan Johnson and Craig Bills leaving the game with injuries. The Cougars secondary still managed to hold itself together against a really good passing offense as Kai Nacua stepped up big time at safety. Later in the game, Nacua intercepted a pass that would have resulted in points for UCF.

All in all, there were many positives that came from last Saturdays game, but a loss is a loss and that’s really all that matters at the end of it. The Cougars season is now entering the softer portion of its scheduling, so there will be opportunities for BYU to get healthy, get better and get back to winning again.

515px-Nevada_Wolf_Pack_Logo.svgWhat up next for this year’s BYU Cougars program? A good matchup between BYU and the Nevada Wolf Pack this Saturday at 8:15 MDT

BYU is going into this week’s game as the 11-point favorite and with some good confidence that things can really only get better for them this week. The Cougars need to get back to winning in order to salvage this season and get to a bowl game. The Nevada Wolf Pack (3-3) has been a solid program as of the past several years, but BYU should be able to get back on track with this match-up. Nevada has beaten Southern Utah, Washington State and San Jose State so far this season, but lost to Arizona, Boise State and Colorado State. Playing at .500 so far this season against solid competition, this will be no walk in the park for BYU, but it will be BYU’s softest team to date.

On offense, the Pack has shown a balanced run vs. pass attack. BYU will have its hands full with UN’s play-making quarterback. They have been averaging scoring a high 28.5 points per game. Senior QB Cody Fajardo has thrown nine TD’s and run for six this season. Do Jackson and James Butler are a solid compliment to the Wolf Pack’s ground attack and are averaging over 100 yards combined weekly. The receiving corps is mainly built up between several solid contributors; Richardson, Turner, and Henderson. Tight end Jarred Gipson has come in and scored four TDs so far this season off of only 149 yards.

On defense, the Wolf Pack has been giving up 26.5 points per game, but has played some solid offensive programs to date. This team has only racked up 10 sacks and does not appear to be really active in the backfield pressures. Nevada does create turnovers and has seven interceptions and five forced fumbled in six games. BYU will need to keep away from turning the ball over to be successful this week.

Coaching is another big key to beating the Wolf Pack. Offensive coach Robert Anae will have a long week to prepare for the Nevada Wolf Pack, so this should give him time to work with Christian Stewart and put a very solid game plan together. Bronco Mendenhall has obviously built a program deep with a lot of character, so whatever he is currently doing to overcome all of the injuries, he needs to keep doing. If BYU can continue to play with heart and support Stewart as he grows and becomes more comfortable, the Cougars will get back to winning.

BYU will need Stewart to keep from turning the ball over this week, but still pass effectively into a good secondary. If BYU can again start up its running game, the secondary will loosen up for Stewart. The fact of this game remains that BYU will need to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and be able to establish the run. If the Cougars can run the ball, they will control the clock and win this game.

On defense, BYU will need to get after Fajardo. The Cougars will need to stay on him and keep him uncomfortable with pressure. The Wolf Pack has been really good at moving the ball all season, so BYU will need to have a great game from the defense to give the offense a chance to play without a huge deficit. I believe BYU will do what it needs to this Saturday and chalk up another win. It will be a close game if BYU does not refrain from turning the ball over and committing penalties. If BYU takes care of the ball and limits mistakes, it should win big.

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, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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