As BYU prepares for the University of Connecticut, some Cougar fans can't help but think about last season's 19-16 loss vs. Virginia.
The similarities are hard to miss. BYU is playing in the Eastern Time Zone vs. an opponent with a losing record last season. It’s little wonder Cougar fans feel a little déjà vu headed into this game.
However, the circumstances are different this time around.
First of all, BYU is in year two of Robert Anae’s “Go fast, go hard” offense. That makes a huge difference, as players on both offense and defense know what to expect when using this offense this season. They will be much better prepared for the increased tempo and number of plays against UConn than they were vs. Virginia.
Furthermore, don’t forget about the addition of “Go long” to Anae’s offensive philosophy. Long passes were a huge emphasis in fall camp, which was noticeably lacking last year, and BYU appears to have the wide receivers to make this offensive work.
Second, quarterback Taysom Hill has had a full offseason to improve his game, unlike last season where he spent much of that time recovering from an ACL tear. This season, he was able to do things such as attend the Manning Passing Academy as an instructor.
While Hill did struggle during one of BYU’s public scrimmages, he’s actually thrown the ball well during much of fall camp. There’s no doubt Hill is a better quarterback than he was when he started vs. the Cavaliers.
Third, the weather surrounding BYU’s loss to Virginia is unlikely to happen again. It’s uncommon for a football game to have a two-hour rain delay. While the Cougars still should have won that game, that delay did take the struggling offense out of what rhythm it had.
Lastly, Virginia and UConn are two different programs at different places in their development. The Cavaliers have a surprising amount of talent given how much they’ve struggled. In fact, Virginia has put together a Top-30 recruiting class every year since 2011, according to Rivals. For one reason or another, Virginia just hasn't been able to put it all together.
UConn, on the other hand, hasn't finished better than No. 65 in recruiting over that same time period. The 2014 class finished tied with Miami of Ohio for No. 117. In terms of recruiting, these two teams aren't even in the same ballpark.
Also, don't forget that the Huskies have a whole new coaching staff. While BYU installed a brand-new offense in 2013, UConn has to do the same on offense, defense and special teams. New head coach Bob Diaco proved himself to be a solid defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, but this is the first time he's been a head coach at any level of college football.
It's rare for a brand-new head coach to come into a struggling program and turn it around before the first game of the season, particularly if the talent isn't already there. UConn is a giant question mark.
Here's an interesting fact: BYU was a one-point favorite vs. Virginia. The Cougars are a 16.5 favorite against UConn.
Does all of this mean that BYU can take UConn lightly? Of course not. The Cougars cannot afford to lose this game given their current position in the changing college football environment.
That said, Cougar fans don't need to panic about the UConn game being a repeat of the Virginia loss last season. While this is a season opener on the road against a East Coast team, there's plenty of important differences between the last year's disaster vs. the Cavaliers and this year's matchup against the Huskies.
Lafe Peavler is a staff sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.
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