After the Cougars’ week-one loss to Virginia, many fans were hesitant to agree with BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s belief that the Cougars could become a tough team in protecting their quarterback and running the ball.
After a handy win over the Longhorns on Saturday, however, the Cougars’ season appears to be looking up.
Anae’s offense erupted for 550 rushing yards Saturday night en route to a 40–21 win over Texas. The win broke BYU’s single game rushing record of 465 yards against Montana in 1958.
Leading the ground attack for the Cougars was quarterback Taysom Hill, who finished with 259 yards rushing. Hill punched in three rushing touchdowns, including a 68-yard run in the first quarter. The run tied the longest touchdown rush ever by a BYU quarterback.
After the game, head coach Bronco Mendenhall spoke of the pressures Hill has faced and the way he responded against Texas.
“No one wanted him to succeed more than me,” Mendenhall said.
Sophomore running back Jamaal Williams pounded out 182 yards on the ground, and Paul Lasike added 87 tough yards and a touchdown for BYU.
“It was a blessing and a privilege to be out there as part of the running game,” Lasike said.
BYU’s offensive line — a much-criticized group after week one — dominated Texas’ front seven throughout the night.
“We were more focused in doing all our assignments individually and working together to fulfill our assignments collectively,” said Manaaki Vaitai, an offensive lineman.
Kicker Justin Sorensen aided the offense, making four field goals. Field goal kicking was a woeful area for the Cougars last year, but after Saturday’s performance, Sorensen is 5–5 on field goal attempts in 2013.
Despite Texas’ big passing gains, BYU’s defense hurried Longhorn quarterback David Ash throughout the night and held tough on third downs. Senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy disrupted the Longhorns’ offense early and often. BYU defensive back Skye PoVey recorded eight solo tackles and broke up a pass, while safety Daniel Sorensen broke up four Texas passes. Linebacker Alani Fua sacked Ash twice.
“Tonight we showed our true identity,” Van Noy said. “We showed tonight that we are able to get after the quarterback a lot.”
The game proceeded after a nearly two-hour delay after a sudden, intense rainstorm appeared an hour before game time. BYU’s season opener was also delayed due to inclement weather, but Coach Mendenhall said the team was more prepared and less anxious as it waited for the storm to pass.
The Cougars have a bye next week and will face rival Utah the following week on Sept. 21. With the victory, BYU has avoided going into its rivalry game with a winless record. Utah is currently undefeated after outlasting Utah State 30-26 in its season opener and crushing Weber State 70-7 in week two.
Mendenhall sounded confident that his team is establishing its identity just in time for one of the most anticipated Holy War contests in years.
“I’ve been meeting with the entire team more on what it means to be a BYU football player and what that looks like,” Mendenhall said. “Anytime we’ve been able to identify, as a coaching staff, what it is our team needs, we ask them and they respond.”
The two teams will be meeting for the last time until 2016, as the rivalry takes its first hiatus since World War II. The Cougars haven’t beaten Utah since 2009, when they defeated them in overtime on quarterback Max Hall’s pass to tight end Andrew George. The Cougars have since lost two close road games due to failed field goal attempts as time expired, and were blown out at home 54-10 in 2011. Several of BYU’s seniors are winless against Utah thus far in their collegiate careers.
If BYU wants to end that streak, Van Noy and company will be tasked with shutting down another high octane offense. Utah’s offense has enjoyed a resurgence under dynamic sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson and currently ranks 10th in the country for points per game.
On the offensive side, coaches will be closely monitoring Jamaal Williams’ availability for the contest due to a back injury he sustained in the fourth quarter while the Cougars were closing out the Longhorns game. Williams says he doesn’t think his injury will keep him from any action, however.
“I’m a warrior, and I’ll be fine,” Williams said. “Whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll do it. If that means going over 30 carries in a game to help the team win then I’m happy to do that.”