Matt Gade, Deseret News
PROVO — There were plenty of encouraging signs — in all phases of the game — for BYU in its 31-14 victory over Utah State Friday night at Romney Stadium.
The Cougars’ offense, defense and special teams each made numerous big plays against the Aggies that led to the convincing win.
Quarterback Taysom Hill completed 17 of 31 passes for a career-high 278 yards and three touchdowns, along with one interception and one fumble.
All three of those TD passes were caught by wide receiver Mitch Mathews, who finished with five receptions for 112 yards. Hill also had the longest completion of his career, a 60-yarder to wide receiver Kurt Henderson.
Running back Jamaal Williams, in his first game back after sitting out the Middle Tennessee contest due to a concussion, rushed for 79 yards, including a 44-yard run that set up a touchdown.
“It was just a matter of time — our staff and players coming together and getting adjusted to what we are doing this year offensively,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Hill and the offense. “I think (Hill) made progress in every game and I thought he had a strong game (Friday).”
“It felt really good. I knew we always had this potential,” said Hill. “I was just kind of waiting for a breakout performance. It was a great performance. We made a few changes offensively in our passing scheme this week and it paid off. (Offensive coordinator Robert) Anae called a great game, and we executed really well.”
The defense certainly enjoyed seeing the offense play at a high level.
“I’ve seen a difference in the whole offense, as they’re focused in and taking it upon themselves to work hard to get to this point to make some of these big plays,” said Cougar safety Daniel Sorensen. “I wasn’t surprised with some of these big plays, because you see them in practice. We see the potential; we see the talent; and it’s good to see it all come together.”
Defensively, linebacker Kyle Van Noy intercepted USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton on the first play from scrimmage and waltzed into the end zone from 17 yards out to stake the Cougars to a 7-0 advantage just 10 seconds into the game. As a team, the defense forced three USU turnovers. And linebacker Uani Unga collected a career-high 16 tackles.
“We took a step forward,” Sorensen said. “We got three turnovers. That’s something we’ve been emphasizing. It’s trying to get our offense field position and getting them into a position where they can score and get them the ball back. That’s our whole goal.”
On special teams, placekicker Justin Sorensen drilled a 27-yard field goal, and Daniel Sorensen blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt.
“I’m really encouraged by the win. It’s a difficult place to play,” Mendenhall said. “Our offensive balance improved. Our execution also improved and we took the ball away a few more times. Overall, (it was) progress and a good win.”
Of course, BYU has a lot to work on as well as it prepares to host Georgia Tech Saturday (5 p.m., ESPNU).
Turnovers continue to hurt the offense, as Hill’s fumble set up an early touchdown for Utah State.
“I just need to hold the ball,” Hill explained. “It was third down and I was pushing to get the first down and I was trying to do too much.”
The Cougars also squandered opportunities inside the red zone.
“There’s always improvements after any game,” Hill said. “We’ll go back and break film down and fix what needs to be fixed. We need to be better in the red zone. But we won pretty convincingly (Friday), so we’ll celebrate that one.”
Hill, who sustained a season-ending knee injury against Utah State one year ago, said he empathizes with USU quarterback Keeton, who suffered a knee injury against Utah State Friday.
“My heart goes out to Chuckie,” he said. “This was the game I was injured in last year. I was aware of that going into this game, and I feel for that guy. I know what type of kid he is and I’ve seen him play on the field. He’ll be back and he’ll learn from it, just as I did. He’ll be ready to go next year.”
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