BYU football season in question after devastating loss to Utah State

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In the first week of autumn, there was change in the air. Unfortunately for the BYU football team and its season ambitions, the changes were unwanted. With a 35-20 loss to Utah State on Friday night, a season-ending injury for Taysom Hill, several other injuries to key players and a defense that seemed lost, the tone for the remaining season has changed.

The Cougars started the game in high spirits. Within the first two minutes of the game, BYU’s offense marched down the field in swift fashion with a deep pass and a Taysom Hill scramble for a touchdown, highlighted by him jumping over a USU defender at the goal line. Fans could only compare this to his leap over a Texas Longhorn’s defender for a touchdown earlier in the season.

Taysom Hill leaps over Utah State players into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game. (Elliott Miller)
Taysom Hill leaps over Utah State players into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game. (Elliott Miller)

With just under five minutes left in the first half, BYU held a lead, but then the entire complexion of the game and season changed. A fumble by BYU’s Jamaal Williams on BYU’s 22-yard line provided Utah State with an opportunity to take the lead. After a pass to Hunter Sharp, USU pulled ahead for the first time, 21-14.

The pivotal point of the game happened during the next drive. Hill scrambled to his right for a gain, but that would be the last play of the season. It was clear that Hill was seriously injured as he hobbled off the field and to the medical table on the sideline. LaVell Edwards Stadium had an eerie silence to it.

BYU was forced to punt, and Utah State scored again with a 72-yard pass to Sharp, making the score and putting Utah State up by two touchdowns at the end of the first half.

The Cougars headed into the locker room unsure of what the fate of the team would be, especially without Hill. All they could focus on was standing behind their new quarterback, Christian Stewart.

BYU wide receiver Jordan Leslie was shaken up over the injury.

“You know, of course it’s a big loss for us,” Leslie said. “It kind of knocks the wind out of you a little because he’s a great athlete, a great quarterback. You know, a team captain, a team leader.”

Fan watch as Taysom Hill is takin back to the locker room with a fractured leg in the game against Utah State. (Elliott Miller)
Fans watch as Taysom Hill is taken back to the locker room with a fractured leg in the game against Utah State. (Elliott Miller)

Stewart showed moments of potential, but everyone noted Hill’s absence. Stewart finished the game with 172 total yards and managed to gain the proper field position for two field goals. However, with the adrenaline running while trying to lead the Cougars back, Stewart threw three costly interceptions, preventing the Cougars from scoring. They ultimately lost the game 35-20 Utah State.

As for BYU’s defense, it played less aggressively in the first half as it allowed Utah State to score four touchdowns. The second half seemed to show more attention to assignments, but the damage had been done.

“Still not happy with (the pass rush) and so ways to go still as a defensive unit for aggressive play,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “So the second half, I actually thought we played much better. … But too passive in general; we need to be more aggressive with the quarterback.”

USU’s quarterback, Darell Garretson, played a game that the Cougars should have copied. He ended the game, completing 19 of 25 passes, 321 total yards and connecting the deep ball on several occasions. With no interceptions and three touchdowns, USU deserved the win.

“They really out-executed us, made a few more plays than we did, a few too many balls over our head, too many turnovers,” Mendenhall said. “In a game like that, that I think could have been a great football game, but they executed more cleanly from beginning to end.”

As BYU looks ahead, questions arise about the state of the football team and its potential to win throughout the rest of the season. However, Mendenhall had optimism that his team will be able to rebound.

“First of all, for every problem there is always a solution,” Mendenhall said. “We’ll find it; we’ll work hard at it, and that’s what coaches and teachers do, and that’s what people do that really want to excel. The first thing is letting them know what they can improve on. Second thing is giving them the right chance to respond correctly and put them in the right positions.”

BYU quarterback Christian Stewart fills in after Taysom Hill fractured his leg. (Elliott Miller)
BYU quarterback Christian Stewart fills in after Taysom Hill fractured his leg. (Elliott Miller)

Christian Stewart is one of those people who is ready to work and move ahead.

“If there’s a guy that’s ready to step up to the challenge, it’s me,” Stewart said. “That’s why I came here; that’s what I’m about. I’m a leader, I’m a confident guy in my ability, and I know my teammates have that same confidence in me, and I can feel it tonight.”

BYU will play Central Florida on Thursday night in a quick turnaround. With only four days to get ready, BYU has a lot to do to get its new quarterback prepared and the team focused on making a comeback.

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