Cougar fans will barely have time to let the sting from Friday's loss against Utah State sink in. The loss that resulted in the end of Heisman hopeful Taysom Hill's junior season, the BYU Cougars' hopes for a chance to finish undefeated, and the hope to play in a January bowl. The loss ended it all in one fell swoop, and will need to be a loss that both the team and the fans will need to get over quickly, because there's still plenty of time left to salvage this season. The first step toward this is coming out strong this Thursday, less than a week after the game, against the UCF Knights in Orlando. UFC is a good football team, and BYU cannot afford the luxury of dwelling on last week's mishaps. BYU is still a good football team. They have a chance to prove it on Thursday. Hill's injury is a terrible blow, but it's not one that this team can't overcome. It can't be. According to Bronco Mendenhall, Hill could be out as long as six months, and may be back in time for spring ball. This means, that for better or for worse, it's Christian Stewart's team. It stands to reason that BYU's new signal caller is going to be our breakout player this week.
Let's put aside the memories of Stewart's ignominious handling of the first team duties last week. He will have had reps with the first team offense this week, and even a few reps can make a world of difference in how a quarterback performs from week to week. The timing of the routes will be different, and a lot of those deep throws that sailed over the heads of open receivers should find their targets this next week. Stewart does need to work on his reads, and his progression. As I recall, Hill wasn't a great passer either, although, he had the option of his legs to put pressure on a defense. When BYU faced more athletic teams on defense, particularly Washington in the bowl last year, Hill showed an inability to get it done with his arm. Stewart is not what you would call a dual threat quarterback. He shows some mobility, he's not Carson Palmer back there, but he's definitely not going to break into an open gallop and run over two guys going into the end zone like Cougar fans have gotten used to this season, either. He does show a nice ability to slide in the pocket, move to where his protection is and avoid the rush. If he can put that together with getting the ball to the open receiver, he should do well.
Bronco and the Cougar coaching staff have done a great job this season of going out and getting weapons for their quarterbacks. This cougar team has a lot of speed. Hine and Williams should provide a safety net for Stewart out of the backfield, and both have shown the ability to take short passes the distance this season. He has Mitch Matthews and Jordan Leslie, two very sure handed, big bodied receivers who can box out defensive backs and move the chains on third and long. He has Devon Blackmon and Mitchell Juergens, who have shown flashes of big play ability in the open field. He has his tight ends, led by Devin Mahina, who can help him attack the middle of the defense. Stewart doesn't need to be Superman to win with this crew. He needs to go through his progressions, and check down, and make smart decisions. He needs to be a general. The team has given him plenty of troops to work with. I think that he will step up, and have a good game; he doesn't need to have a huge one. He needs to make some key plays, move the chains, and avoid turning the ball over. If he can do that, the Cougars have a great chance to win this week, and carry that momentum all the way to Miami Beach in December.