BYU vs. Utah State: Five Game Observations

The Old Wagon Wheel gets to stay in Provo for another year and the Beehive Boot returns to the Brigham Young Cougars for the first time since 2009. A few questions that I have been wondering about were also answered, as the Cougars have reached the halfway point of their season.

1. Who will be under center for BYU?

It was announced before the game that Taysom Hill would be the starter and that Riley Nelson would be available for the game. Nelson never saw the field, but acted as an emotional leader, waving his towel over his head on the sidelines and cheering for his teammates the entire game. Hill, on the other hand, took every snap, and had a couple of nice moments.

Hill ended the night with 235 passing yards on 24-for-36 passing with one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed for 80 yards on 19 attempts. Most of his passes were short screen and slant routes, but he did have a few deeper, down field throws to Cody Hoffman. The drive he orchestrated to end the first half was beautiful completing four passes for 61 yards in just 25 seconds. Even with the team only scoring six points in the game, Hill got the job done in the wins column.

With Hill taking that hit to the knee at the end of the game, it doesn't look like we will have this same question next week. It is very unfortunate what happened to Hill. 

2. Is BYU’s offense for real?

Blue Cougar Football was right on the money in Wednesday’s article to be cautiously optimistic about the Cougars’ offense. As mentioned above, they did execute one drive perfectly, but were mostly stagnant the rest of the game. Even when getting the ball on the 10 yard line to start the second half, the Cougars couldn’t put any points on the board. Hill’s stats look good at a glance, but as far as getting the ball up the field consistently, the offense struggled. Jamaal Williams ended with 71 yards on 17 attempts, but over a third of those yards came on his last two carries.

I wanted to get excited about the offense after last week, but I need a bigger sample size of games like that before I can really believe.

3. Is Utah State’s defense for real?

Yes, it is very real. I claimed that Utah State’s national defensive ranking may have been more to do with the teams they were playing than their actual talent, but I take it back. They held BYU to 25 points less than their season average, and even held the Cougars to 8 points less than what Utah State’s defense had been giving up per game. The Aggies’ defense could very well lead them to their first ever WAC championship.

4. Can BYU be physical?

The offensive line did not seem to have the same presence it did last week against Hawaii. Part of that was due to Utah State’s defense being a lot better than Hawaii’s, but it also had to do with last week’s star on the offensive line, Famika Anae, being injured. It was announced before the game that Anae’s football career is now over. An accumulation of injuries over the many years battling in the trenches has put a future of living a healthy lifestyle in jeopardy for Anae, and he and the team doctors decided it was best for him to hang up his cleats. While the loss of Anae is unfortunate, the offensive line needs to keep playing with the physicality that he showed.

The defense was very physical. Ezekiel Ansah pushed his way through the Utah State offensive line over and over again, ending the night with three tackles for loss, and five total. He did this while battling sickness. That is the kind of physicality all the players need to develop. Obviously not all of them have the perfect body type to do what Ansah does, but a lot of the plays he makes are just as much effort as they are being a monster.

5. With Utah State’s standard fast starts, and BYU’s regular fast finish, who will win?

Well, Utah State did score first and BYU did come from behind to win the game, but it was not the typical style that we usually see from the two teams. Utah State didn’t blow a double digit lead and BYU didn’t have a miraculous fourth quarter as it seems always happens in big games. I predicted the final score to be 24-21, with BYU coming from behind to win it. I got the spread right, but definitely not the score.

Other observations I had were Cody Hoffman can be an NFL receiver if we throw him the ball and the Cougars need to figure out their kicking woes.

Hoffman, at 6-4 and 215 pounds, has a perfect build to play at the next level. His skill set was on display last night, making multiple athletic catches over defenders including a clutch fourth quarter catch where he reached around the helmet of a defender to haul the ball in. He ended with eight receptions for 114 yards. Hill was able to find him when it counted and Hoffman came through. I believe Hoffman is good enough to play in the NFL in a few years. My concern for him, however, is that if BYU continues to run such a run-happy offense, he won’t get the looks from NFL scouts he deserves. I know this has nothing to do with how the team plays, or whether or not the Cougars are getting wins, but I would like to see the number of Cougars in the NFL increase.

As far as the kicking game goes, I’m not sure what needs to be done, but something does. The stress level for a lot of Cougar fans from last night’s fourth quarter could have decreased immensely had the PAT been successful and the Cougars connected on a field goal to start the second half, not to mention having the other field goal attempt blocked. Kicking is so often overlooked, but BYU has now had three games this season decided by three points or less. That’s half of their games so far! Kicking needs to become a priority.

Now the Cougars have Oregon State coming to town in a nationally televised game. Questions concerning the team will be further answered as they meet their highest ranked opponent of the season.

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