Gridiron season battle

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The BYU football campaign began with hopes of competing for a national championship. That meant the quest for perfection came back in full swing. ESPN tabbed the cougars as the team most likely to go undefeated at the beginning of the season.

Even quarterback Taysom Hill quickly became a hot Heisman candidate with his plays.

That dream started to feel like a possible reality as BYU thrashed number 25 Texas on the road, picked up a solid home win against Virginia, and started 4-0 with a number 18 ranking. Then one play changed everything. BYU’s star quarterback broke his leg in the only in-state rivalry of the season against Utah State.

“There is no other Taysom Hill,” BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Taysom is mobile and is a good run threat and I think he can do a lot.”

The Cougars had to look to senior Christian Stewart to guide the squad. Despite the loss to the Aggies, Stewart remained confident in his skills to help the team re-group.

“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.”

Things went from bad to worse for the Cougars. After Hill went down, the injury bug hit the Cougars hard. Eventually eight starters were out for BYU and depth took a hit.

With so many injuries the defense really began to struggle. In the first four games of the season, the defense gave up 364 yards per game and allowed only 19 points per contest. The next four they gave up 473 yards and 41 points per game.

The Cougars last loss of the season came in a blowout against Boise State in late October. That’s when things turned around with Stewart leading the charge. Stewart improved from his first four games where he threw five interceptions, tossed eight touchdowns, and had a 119 pass efficiency rating. In his last four he threw only one interception, 14 touchdowns and had a 176 efficiency rating.

BYU picked up four straight wins to end the season including a down-to-the-wire road win over PAC-12 foe University of California. The team says the victory shows just how much heart it has to keep fighting even after the devastation of losing Hill and the chance for a national championship.

“But it doesn’t change it. We’re still hungry, we still want to get this bowl game,” wide receiver Jordan Leslie said. “We want to show everyone that we can hang with anybody.”

The Cougars play in the Miami Beach Bowl Dec. 22. They will take on a team from the American Athletic Conference which will be named Sunday.

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