BYU football head coach Bronco Mendenhall was all smiles after the Cougars’ season-opening 35-10 win over the UConn Huskies.
Mendenhall was not the only one celebrating, as junior quarterback Taysom Hill put away an impressive game and ended the night a statistics star. He scored two touchdowns, rushed for 97 yards, threw for 308 yards and managed zero interceptions.
“One of the things that has made a big difference from last year is we felt like we really needed to help our O-line, and I didn’t ever know if my running backs were going to get out in a pass route as we ran some things down the field,” Hill said. “So this year as UConn gave us some different looks that we weren’t prepared for the line allowed me to make some completions and move the chains.”
Hill’s name has been popping up on a lot of watch lists in the college football world, including prestigious awards like the Heisman Trophy and the Davey O’Brien Award. His standing on these lists is only stronger after his performance at UConn.
BYU fans were loving Hill’s performance, especially after last year’s season opener loss (19-16) at Virginia.
The week leading up to the game was not all smooth sailing for BYU, which had a number of its key players suspended for breaking team rules. Starting running back Jamaal Williams was suspended from the game earlier this month, while it was announced just hours before kickoff that starting defensive backs Robertson Daniel and Jordan Johnson would also be suspended.
BYU athletics implemented a new policy at the beginning of the summer, announcing that it would no longer tell the media what players did to get suspended. They simply state that the player “broke team rules.”
The Cougars didn’t let the suspensions affect them, though, as they went out confident, putting a lot of pressure on the Huskies’ quarterback, Casey Cochran.
“There were glimpses of a strong football team today, and I would say with the spots in the middle there was a lack of consistency, and so I will have to look harder at just exactly where those things were happening and where the penalties were coming from,” Mendenhall said. “I also think our special teams needs to be cleaned up, but again in between all that, it looks like the makings of a very good team to me.”
The first half the game started slow with referees who wouldn’t let any plays go without throwing a flag, BYU receiving 15 penalties alone.
The Cougars had complete control of the game at the half, but UConn gained momentum as the second half continued, kicking a field goal in the third quarter to bring the score up to 10 and marching down the field after BYU’s final touchdown in the fourth quarter. In the end, the Huskies were unable to score before the clock ran out.
“Coach let us know that we didn’t come out into the third quarter correctly and we weren’t prepared like we were in the first half,” said BYU wide receiver Mitch Matthews. “He also said that we were complacent and weren’t really playing our best ball, so we got it back into gear and did what we did in the first half.”
BYU will need the boost of confidence from this win as it prepares for next week’s game against the Texas Longhorns, whom BYU beat last season in a 40-21 upset, a game that contributed to Longhorns head coach Mack Brown’s retirement a few months later.
Cougar fans need not get discouraged, though, as Texas just announced that its starting quarterback, David Ash, will not be playing against BYU next week because of injury. Ash, a huge asset to the Texas program, will be replaced by sophomore Tyrone Swoopes. While Swoopes is inexperienced, he proved his talent in spring practices.
It would be an understatement to say that Texas is looking to get revenge in front of its home audience.
“It’s going to be a tough game because, as you know, last season we kind of gave them a good whooping; so now it is going to be hard to give them the same whooping as this past season,” said BYU defensive back Michael Davis. “We just hope to see that we execute every single play next week.”
After the first game, the outlook for the season is good for BYU, which has the potential to go undefeated if it can pull off a win at Texas next week.
A polished Hill and an effective offensive line will be the keys to getting the Cougars to the College Football Playoff. If not, BYU is looking at a great season finishing with a record of at least 10-2.