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BYU vs UConn Breakdown: The Best and Worst of the Cougars' Season Opening Victory

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No Williams, no problem. Taysom outpaces the Huskies. BYU 35 UCONN 10.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Best:  Fast Starts

Getting up early is huge in any athletic event, especially football.  Most of the game plan for the trailing team goes out the window.  Adjustments are made on the fly.  This leads to riskier decision making, like a goofy fake field goal.

This is especially the case when playing the UCONN Huskies.  In their FBS history, the Huskies have only rallied from a 14-point deficit six times.  Put them behind the 8 ball, and they don't do much about it.

UConn was stuck trying plays they were less comfortable with due to the score.  They forced downfield passes.  They looked for runs on the edge rather than getting physical on the inside.  They had to play away from their strengths.

When Taysom Hill found Adam Hine for a 2nd quarter TD that put the Cougars up 21-0 with 9:13 left in the 1st half, this game was over.

Best:  Howell D

When you date a girl for the first six months you only get to see her with her makeup on.  You've been seeing her for six months, so obviously you think she is very pretty.  But there is this critical moment when she decides that it's not worth the fuss and effort anymore and you get the see her for the first time without any makeup.  There are two possible results here.  The first is that you take a good, hard look at this nice girl and think, that's my girlfriend's face, but it's weird.  The second is that you glance at her, and she is just as cute as ever.

People have compared new defensive coordinator Nick Howell to Bronco Mendenhall frequently.  Howell has even been referred to as "Colt" because he is a "little Bronco."  Now that's adorable.  And beyond how cute it is, Nick Howell's play calling really seemed to be in line with the style and philosophy of those super effective Bronco defenses.  This was a relief.

"Bend, don't break" lives on!  That Howell D will celebrate two forced turnovers and a glossy 10 points surrendered on five UConn red zone trips!

Worst:  Too Much Bending?

There was only one 3 and out drive in Friday night's game, and it wasn't forced by the BYU D.  Plus, five red zone visits by that UConn offense seems a bit high.  Two of those  five visits came from UConn drives that began on their own 19 and 20.

UCONN was 8 for 17 on 3rd down.  That on its own is a good sign.  What is strange though, was that the BYU D was more vulnerable on 3rd and long than they were on 3rd and short.  UCONN had six downs facing 3rd and 8 or longer, they converted on three of them.  UCONN was 6 for 11 on 3rd and 5 or longer.  3rd and short was fantastic for the Cougars.  The Huskies went 2 for 6 on 3rd and 4 or shorter. This will need to improve in the next week.

Perhaps adding Rob Daniel and Jordan Johnson at corner against Texas will enable more stops on 3rd and long.

Best:  Taysom Hill, Quarterbacking

After one game, it's clear that Taysom Hill has developed a ton during the offseason as a quarterback.  Taysom showed off the greatest offseason improvement by a BYU QB since John Beck between his junior and senior seasons.  The biggest revelation in Taysom's game comes in the form of his eye level when pressured out of the pocket.  Here's what I mean, watch this:

This pass to Terenn Houk was the big revelatory moment of the game concerning Taysom's development.  In the past, the ball would have been tucked under Hill's arm and he would be moving upfield with varying results.  Here, he moves laterally and feels his surroundings.  Keeps his eyes downfield.  Allows his WRs to find space.  Terenn Houk does an awesome job on the scramble drill finding space and then follows it up with the best individual effort of the game as he tightroped his way into the end zone.  This was a huge improvement.

Here's more evidence of Taysom Hill's eye level when forced out of the pocket.

This led to a 30 -yard rception to Colby Pearson.  These two plays were the biggest gains in yardage of the game.

There were even a couple more pass plays that Taysom bought time for his receivers and nothing came of it, so he smartly threw it away.

Beyond this, Taysom did pick nice spots to scramble on pass plays where his receivers failed to get open.  There were six called pass plays that turned into Taysom scrambles.  That means that only six of Taysom's runs were by design.  Given his 8.1 yards per carry, even a busted pass can result in a nice gain.  By the way, all of Taysom's scrambles went for positive yardage.

Plus, this means less damage to the most important position on the field.

Taysom finished the game at 28/36 for 308 yards (his 3rd career 300 yard passing game) and 3 TDs.  He went 23/28 for 2 TDs when throwing from the pocket.  5/8 and a TD when out of the pocket (includes two throw aways).

Comp/Att 0-10 yards Comp/Att 11-20 yards Comp/Att 20+ yards
20/23 4/9 4/4

It should be noted that Taysom only threw two passes downfield that travelled over 20+ yards.  Both complete.  Mitch Matthews on a post route for a TD and the previously mentioned Colby Pearson 30-yard reception.  The other two big passing plays came as a result of YAC (yards after catch) by Algernon Brown and Terenn Houk.

Which routes suited Taysom Hill?

  • Hitch 9-9
  • Cross 7-8
  • Swing 4-6
  • Screen 2-2
  • Slant 2-2
  • Post 2-2
  • Corner 0-1
  • Out 0-1
  • Fade 0-1
All in all, what you saw against UConn was Taysom Hill applying all the hard work he put in during the offseason and it was absolutely stunning and dominate.  He is learning position mastery.  He's quarterbacking.  He's gone from simple to game plan for (stack the box and have him beat you with his arm) to impossible to game plan against.

Best:  Throwing to Running Backs

In the CougarCast interview with Andrew George, he told us three things concerning BYU's offense.

  1. "Go Hard, Go Fast" worked like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book.
  2. Due to the amount of change in the offensive culture that was needed, Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae couldn't install an efficient passing and rushing attack within one fall camp.  Anae took a look at his talent and placed all his focus on running game.
  3. Red zone and 3rd down become far easier to convert with a tight end OR a receiving running back.  George referred to Harvey Unga and Manase Tonga as Max Hall's "fail-safes".

In 2013, BYU running backs caught a total of 30 balls for 188 yards and 0 TDs.  The highest total all the running back combined for in a single game was four.

Against UConn, BYU running backs caught 11 passes for 92 yards and 1 TD.  An additional two targets were given to backfield receivers.

Opposing defensive coordinators now have yet another concern to game plan for and this development is an important new wrinkle.  Taysom has a fail-safe.

Worst:  BYU's kicking

In a now yearly development that every fan always sees coming, BYU's kicking is unreliable.  Not only will you see multiple missed field goals this season.  You also won't see a kickoff sail across the  5-yard line.

Field position matters.  Kickoff coverage needs to be unbelievable or else BYU opponents will have a couple possessions every game start on the better side of their own 35.  It is, of course, far easier to score when you start closer to the goal.  This is going to be a problem this year.

On this point, are you ready to have the most depressing argument of the day?  This is year 10 for Bronco Mendenhall.  Who has been the best kicker for the Cougars?  Your candidates.

  • Jared McLaughlin:  2 seasons, 28-37 FGs, long of 53, 104-110 extra points, 188 points scored
  • Mitch Payne:  4 seasons, 47-63 FGs, long of 49, 193-201 extra points, 334 points scored
  • Justin Sorensen: 4 seasons, 43-66 FGs, long of 46, 122-125 extra points, 251 points scored
  • Trevor Sampson: 1 game, 0-1 FGs, long of 0, 5-5 extra points, 5 points scored

The question I'm wondering, "How many games will go by the wayside this season because of kicking?"

Worst:  Penalties and Turnovers

BYU was crazy undisciplined.  Sure, there were a lot of flags, but just like basketball, the players must adjust to how the game is being called.  15 penalties for 150 yards. If it weren't for penalties, the offensive performance could have been more emphatic.

The two Cougar fumbles were given way to softly.  A couple of UConn players will get credit for "forcing" a fumble, but really they were on Mitch Matthews and Algernon Brown.  Must hang on to the ball.

Best:  Returning Receivers Make Their Claim

All the hoopla over all the incoming WR talent and it looks like Terenn Houk, Mitchell Jurgens, Mitch Matthews, Colby Pearson have put their foot down and made their claim to playing time.  Sure two of the four incoming wideouts didn't play against UConn, but this group looks ready to contribute.  The best stat here?  No drops.

Best:  Comfortable Opening Road Wins

Drink it in!  This is the first time BYU has won by more than one point in an opening road win in over 20 years.  This doesn't happen all that often for the Cougars.  Plus, revenge is sweet when it is in the name of Jen Hamson and Kim Beeston.  It was a great opening scene.  Next plot point is in Austin, Texas.