COMMENTARY — The battle on the field was a great one last week, with Utah holding on by stopping a two-point conversion.
Of course, the battle off the field and in social media continues to rage on, with Ute fans bragging, BYU fans making excuses and just about everyone (even Utah fans) praising the gutsy call to go for two and win the game by Cougar coach Kalani Sitake.
But for BYU, it didn’t work out. Now, it’s time to move on.
There will be one lingering effect from that game — This week’s home matchup against UCLA (Saturday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN2) will see BYU without the services (in the first half) of defensive backs Kai Nacua and Austin McChesney. Both players were unfortunately disqualified from the game at Utah for really terrible targeting decisions by the officials. Those two calls were bad judgments by the refs in that game and I am not a fan of refs with bad judgment.
Even Utah fans were thinking the calls were a little suspect. The game commentators and even the consulting official on the Fox Television broadcast, former head of officials Mike Pereira, said the call was wrong and would be overturned by replay.
Unfortunately, they were wrong. In fact, the NCAA upheld the calls after reviewing earlier them this week.
I understand protecting defenseless players, but that was not the case in either call. Both Nacua and McChesney were seen in slow motion adjusting their tackles to the ball handler and did not target on the tackles. If the rule was interpreted correctly (as is implied by the NCAA upholding the calls), it needs to be changed.
Regardless, BYU had better get ready for UCLA. The Cougars have another crack at a Pac-12 competitor — the third-consecutive Pac-12 opponent to open 2016.
Last season, these teams met in Los Angeles and BYU had the lead virtually the entire game until late into the fourth quarter when UCLA had a long rushing score that put the Bruins ahead for the win.
This game is huge for both programs, but for the Cougars, I believe this is the biggest game of the year for the remaining schedule. The Cougars potentially going 2-1 vs. some really good Pac-12 teams could be huge for both momentum moving forward and building up that win total against Power 5 programs.
The Bruins have a lot to lose, though, as they are trying to dig themselves out of that first loss at Texas A&M and get back into the Top 25. UCLA was also predicted to be a contender for the Pac-12 championship with the lead of their Heisman hopeful senior quarterback, Josh Rosen.
UCLA is coming off a win at home over UNLV (42-21) after that opening 31-24 loss at Texas A&M.
The Bruins are favored to win by three points in Provo this Saturday by the Las Vegas experts, but BYU has beaten the Vegas point spread in both of the last two weeks against Pac-12 opponents, so lets hope the streak continues.
BYU needs to relax and just play sound fundamental football. BYU’s football program is definitely heading in the right direction and although you can’t erase the loss from last week, a win this Saturday could surely make some amends in fans’ minds.
A win would put the Cougars in the driver’s seat to potentially having an eight-plus win season. I really like the direction and attitude Kalani Sitake and the staff is taking the team. The program has a much better feel than in recent years and everyone is taking notice.
Some keys to winning this week: Taysom Hill needs to just completely let go of the fear of injury and play football the way he can. He hasn’t lost a step, but you can definitely tell he isn’t the same guy leaping defenders like he did in Texas a couple of seasons ago. BYU needs to stay with the run game consistently and control the clock.
Given UCLA’s fast offense, the Cougars cannot afford to give Rosen time or he will put up some quick scores. BYU’s offense will be able to score at home, so if the defense shows up like it has the last two weeks, I see the Cougs pulling off an upset. This will be a huge test, but one BYU can pass with flying colors at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Blue Blood is a sports column written by former BYU lineman and captain Scott Young. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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