COMMENTARY — The only way to put it is that BYU took another step backward last weekend while adding to the 2016 loss column. Losing a close road game to West Virginia 35-32 is tough, but let’s try and look at things optimistically — or we might as well throw in the towel and prepare for the 2017 season.
One bright spot, though, was the play of both Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams. Except for a couple of turnovers, they were on top of their games. But a couple of bad plays ended up resulting in the narrow loss. I also thought BYU’s offensive line played a great game.
I do have to say that regardless of what a big percentage of people are saying right now about Taysom Hill, he is still a legit college QB and I definitely wouldn’t contemplate putting in Tanner Mangum over Hill at this point in the season. Taysom is only as good as the team and coaches that surround him, so you can’t blame one guy for a loss in football — it’s a team sport.
Let’s face it, the defensive line and secondary struggled against the high-octane Mountaineers offense through most of the game. The tempo and speed of West Virginia really seemed to bother the Cougars. Utah and UCLA were equally athletic, but the speedy spread that WVU ran was difficult for the previously impressive BYU defense to handle.
Unfortunately it was BYU’s third straight loss. The three losses have come by a combined seven points. They have all been exciting and great games to watch and BYU has shown up and been more than just a competitive team. But the Cougars have just had the ball bounce the wrong way in the end and we are only talking about a couple plays out of three entire games that could have shifted wins in BYU’s favor.
Whether it’s a missed two-point conversion opportunity (or several), a BYU receiver’s tipped pass turned into an interception (or two), or a penalty here and there, these are all things that the Cougars can learn from and clean up for the remainder of the year. If we could turn back the clock a little and make a few small adjustments to both coaching, and players playing their assignments, BYU could very easily be 4-0, or at least 3-1 and things would be much better in Provo.
While watching these last four games, I’m not to sure why there is a difference from last year’s close Hail Mary victories over Nebraska and Boise State vs. this year’s unlucky bounces. BYU is playing hard-nosed football, but something you can call luck has definitely been missing this season so far. Maybe it’s just the law of averages.
The Cougars now find themselves with their backs against the wall, playing a solid 3-0 Toledo Rockets team this Friday at 8:15 p.m. on ESPN2. This is an absolute must-win game for the program in the Cougars’ second home game. This is a chance for BYU to come out firing on all cylinders and have a great day on offense, defense and special teams.
I don’t think by any means we have seen BYU play its best yet on either side of the ball this season, but I think the Cougars have played the best teams on their 2016 schedule (except, perhaps Michigan State). This game is a chance for Kalani Sitake to right the direction of the ship just in time for a couple more weeks of stiff competition from back East.
After Toledo, there are three games left before the BYU bye week, so beating this Rockets team could give the Cougars a confidence boost at a great time. BYU will face Michigan State the following Saturday (Oct. 8), then Mississippi State Edwards Stadium Oct. 14 and Boise State the following week (Oct. 20) on the road leading up to the Oct. 27 bye week.
BYU needs to win a minimum of two more games before the bye if they want to go bowling this year. After the bye week, the Cougars play at Cincinnati, at home vs. Southern Utah, at home against UMass and Utah State at home to sum up the season. Sitting at 1-3 a quarter of the way through the season has put some added pressure on these mid-season games.
The Cougars are the 4.5 favorites this week, so for the first time of the season, they are actually the favorites in game. Toledo’s offense has been putting up some great numbers, but have not yet played a team with BYU’s caliber of physical offense or defense.
Who has Toledo beaten exactly? Arkansas State, Maine and Fresno State, none of which are all that impressive this season. It’s time for the Cougars to prove they can win and come out strong in all facets of the game.
BYU needs a big win this Friday, and I think playing the higher levels of talented programs the first four weeks will help them down the long stretch of this 2016 season. I look for BYU to win big at home this Friday and potentially carry that through until their bye.
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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