Taysom Hill once again propelled the Cougars to victory on an 11-yard touchdown strike to Skyler Ridley, with just over one minute remaining, to dismantle then-undefeated Houston 47-46 on its home turf.
HIll said he would do anything needed to come out on top in the game that lasted more than four hours and featured six turnovers, seven lead changes and more than 1,000 yards of combined offense.
“I’m competitive,” Hill said. “I wanted to win that game.”
The sophomore quarterback ended the game with 417 yards passing for four touchdowns and 128 yards on the ground, but the road to victory was anything but easy. Hill endured eight sacks and three interceptions. He showed the shades of accuracy and poise he exhibited against Utah State and Georgia Tech but also some of the mistakes that worried fans early in the season.
“I don’t know if you’ll see a gutsier performance than that,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Hill’s performance. “Just the mileage on his legs, the wear and tear. … He gave us a chance to win. That’s an amazing performance by him, and we’re lucky he’s on our team.”
Hill racked up nearly 300 passing yards by halftime, only to be held to none in the third quarter. Despite putting together a 97-yard scoring drive early in the fourth quarter, Hill and his offensive line stalled twice more as the Cougars found themselves down 46–41 with less than two minutes on the clock.
Hill responded with confidence and grit, efficiently moving the Cougars to the Houston 11-yard line to set up the game-winner. On second and one, he zipped the ball just over the pylon into the arms of a heavily pressured Ridley.
“When it came down to it, I trusted (Ridley),” Hill said. “I had no hesitancy throwing him the ball to win the game.”
With 1:08 left, all BYU had to do was stop Houston once for the win. Houston’s potential comeback drive ended as soon as it started when BYU linebacker Alani Fui intercepted Houston quarterback John O’Korn’s pass to seal the deal.
Senior receiver Cody Hoffman broke BYU’s all-time record for receptions on his first catch of the game. He caught seven passes for 156 yards and a touchdown, tying another BYU record.
“It really means a lot to me,” Hoffman said. “It’s something I thought I would never achieve.”
Beating previously unbeaten Houston proved to be an emotional victory for the BYU coaches and players. Mendenhall pumped his fist and yelled out in joy as the team exited the field. Wide receiver Ross Apo, who caught two touchdown passes, said the players went wild in the locker room following the victory.
“Everyone was throwing ice and Gatorade everywhere,” Apo said.
BYU’s performance against Houston characterized the ever-improving offense under coordinator Robert Anae. Whereas the passing game struggled in the first four games of the season, Hill has averaged 313 yards through the air in his last three contests. After only throwing one touchdown pass through the first four games, he has thrown eight in the last three.
Looking forward, the Cougars will have a sharp passing game to complement the heavy load being carried by the running backs. It comes just in time, as backs Jamaal Williams, Adam Hine and Paul Lasike have all battled injuries this season.
With the win against Houston, BYU improves to 5-2. The team is virtually a lock for bowl eligibility, needing only one more win to qualify for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. BYU’s remaining schedule is tough, but even in a worst-case scenario, the team faces Division II foe Idaho State at home in what should be an easy win on Nov. 16.
Boise State comes to Provo this Friday, Oct. 25. The Broncos are also 5-2 after defeating Nevada 34-17 in week 8.