The magic is gone. The undefeated run is over. Heisman hopes are dashed. It’s midnight for the Provo-based Cinderella. Let’s get it out of the way now: BYU Cougars' Christian Stewart is not Taysom Hill.
Stewart does not run as fast as Hill. Stewart does not have a quick, strong pass like Hill. Stewart does not have big-stage experience like Hill does. Stewart is not a dual-threat quarterback like Hill is.
Are your expectations for Christian Stewart anywhere similar to that of Taysom Hill? No? Good.
Because Christian Stewart deserves a clean slate.
Stewart was put into a tough situation Friday night in a game BYU should have won easily. Not only did Stewart have to be prepared to take the reins from Taysom Hill, he had to stage a comeback against an in-state rival after watching his teammate go down with a broken leg.
Flashback to fall camp when several beat writers touted Christian Stewart’s throwing arm and accuracy.
"Stewart is our No. 2 guy." Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae said during fall camp. "And he can run. He can really run. He can do some of the same things as Taysom. Both of those quarterbacks are in a level that is very efficient and they are similar."
Anae said that because Stewart could run the offense similarly to Hill, they only had one "script."
Stewart himself said back in August he gained confidence in his abilities to run the offense.
"Last year I felt like I was starting to understand the offense but now I can start understanding what the defense is doing. It's propelled my game forward quite a long ways," Stewart said.
Bronco Mendenhall also expressed his faith in Stewart way back in spring camp.
"I think everyone on the staff is encouraged (with Stewart) and gaining momentum and confidence in him by what we see," Mendenhall said.
On Friday night, it was clear they meant it. Anae did not close the playbook, but rather allowed Stewart to throw and run the ball at will. It wasn’t pretty, as Stewart ended the night 10-of-29 with three interceptions.
Stewart overthrew the deep ball by quite a ways on several occasions. Two passes he threw on the run were intercepted. Some balls were thrown just out of bounds and out of the reach of receivers. Some throws Stewart made were dangerously close to interceptions simply because there wasn’t enough zip on the ball to get to the receiver before the defensive back could make a play on the ball.
But he also showed promise.
Stewart hit Jordan Leslie twice and Leslie turned them in to gains of 37 and 41 yards. Mitch Mathews also connected with Stewart four times for nine, 15, 28 and 26 yards.
When he wasn’t trying to play the hero, Stewart showed flashes of poise in the pocket when there was pressure, and was able to escape pressure as well.
Stewart led BYU on an 82-yard drive down the field (which ended on the Leslie drop and subsequent Utah State interception), along with 45, 47, 35 and 41-yard drives down the field.
Leslie had a few key drops that Stewart threw accurately. One of Leslie’s drops ended up in the hands of a Utah State defender. Terenn Houk had a couple of passes thrown his way that one could argue he should have caught.
Stewart may have zeroed in on Leslie on certain drives, throwing multiple incomplete passes Leslie’s way, but he tried spread the ball around. Stewart showed he’s comfortable passing not only to Leslie and Mathews, but also to Houk and Mitchell Juergens, Jamaal Williams, and Adam Hine.
Stewart also showed that he does have the ability to run. His longest was a 7-yard run. His vision of the field was adequate enough for him to see holes (though perhaps he may have overestimated his ability to reach the hole before a defender in some instances), and he knows when to slide or run out of bounds.
He had some experience with the 1’s in fall camp, but now that Stewart will be able to practice with them consistently he can gain more confidence and work on the timing of those deep balls to his receivers.
Add the running game to the mix, a clear scoreboard and a full week of practice and BYU can still win several games on its schedule with the former Snow College QB at the helm.
Sure, there will be a lot more running the ball than throwing, but Bronco Mendenhall brought in guys like Leslie and Nick Kurtz to support BYU's air attack. And yes, BYU fans likely won't see a quarterback hurdling over another defender this season, but it shouldn't be necessary.
Does Christian Stewart have what it takes to carry the team to victory all by himself? Probably not. But Stewart can get the job done when the rest of the team does what they're supposed to do.
It won't be flashy, but the rest of the season still has many of the ingredients for (redefined) success in place.
Perhaps the clock has struck midnight for Cinderella. But just because there’s no Prince Charming in the form of ESPN pundits and national radio hosts or fancy ball gowns shaped like national exposure and poll votes, it doesn't mean we can't dance the night away anyway.
Besides, Miami sounds lovely in December.