Brad Rock: Brad Rock: BYU Cougars take step in right direction, gain needed confidence
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
From the way things looked Friday at Edwards Stadium, the BYU Cougars had everything they could have wanted and more. Passing game? They had that, though the numbers were less than gaudy. But when you win 47-0, you don't need much frosting on the cake.
The rushing game was straight from Bronco Mendenhall's fantasies, 396 yards. Defense? Don't even ask. The Cougars sent two opponents off on gurneys.
Barring injury, BYU has even figured out its quarterback situation for the rest of the season, though Mendenhall appears not to know it. The Cougar coach said after the game his first-line guy remains Riley Nelson. Quick, someone get an X-ray. If not of Nelson's injured back, then maybe of Mendenhall's head. But what BYU truly hasn't discovered yet is whether it really is back on track, or whether the outcome was just the product of Hawaii's dreadful defense.
"Even though Hawaii was struggling, it was a positive for our program when we needed it," Mendenhall said.
BYU bounced back from consecutive defeats against Utah and Boise State. As expected, the Warriors offered zero resistance.
"I don't think we should be patting ourselves on the back," cautioned defensive back Preston Hadley.
The Cougars do know freshman Taysom Hill can move the offense, after just one start. One hundred and twelve passing yards is no big deal, but he completed 12 of 21 and threw two touchdowns. He rushed for 143 yards and another TD. Meanwhile, the Cougars can see that Jamaal Williams (155 yards) is a load for even good defenses to contain. BYU's own defense is as stout as the Wall of China, holding Hawaii to just 149 total yards.
So what does that mean? When you play Hawaii, you're viewing yourself in just the right lighting, at just the right angle. The Cougars will almost certainly beat Idaho and New Mexico State and should still be still favored to beat San Jose State, despite an improvement there. But Utah State, Oregon State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech remain formidable.
For the Cougars, the details are still coming into focus.
That's not to minimize the importance of the win. After gaining a miserly 200 yards last week against Boise State, it was obvious something had to be done in that area, and it was. First, they started Hill, who had been patiently waiting behind the battered but unbowed Nelson.
You could hear the sigh of relief all the way to Payson.
Nelson at 100 percent is feisty and improvisational, if sometimes careless with the ball. At 66 percent he's unfit for starting duties.
So the Cougars went with Hill, a bigger, faster, less experienced version of Nelson. In so doing, they almost matched last week's entire offensive output by racking up 173 yards in the first quarter. The only times they didn't move downfield was during the two injury delays.
The rest of the time the Cougars moved unmolested. Hill connected with Ross Apo on a 22-yard touchdown at the start of the second quarter for a 14-0 lead. He moved the lead to 34-0 on a smooth pass to Devin Mahina on third-and-12.
Earlier, Hill ran for a 68-yard score and Williams rushed for two of his own.
It was aloha and mahalo time in Provo.
Though it was obvious BYU had found a healthy, hungry quarterback, the murky part was exactly whom to credit for the sudden improvement. Hawaii isn't exactly a good barometer of a team's capability. The Warriors came into the game ranked 119th of 120 FBS teams in scoring defense. They gave up 49 points to USC, 69 to Nevada.
It didn't help when defensive starters Geordon Hanohano and Siasu Matagiese left for the hospital with injuries.
But even with Hawaii at full strength, it wouldn't have mattered. BYU has won 21 of 29 games in the series, all nine in Provo. That wasn't going to change, even with a two-game losing streak in tow, and even with Nelson down and out. All of which left the Cougars looking like it does when you put on a tuxedo and check the mirror. Lookin' good.
Then you have to ask yourself: Compared to what?
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