We have ourselves a rivalry! Where terrible BYU quarterback play is, there a rivalry is also. BYU's offense fully embraced the new rivalry under Riley Nelson's leadership and toughness, and thanks to Taysom Hill BYU actually managed to finish the game with one more point than they did turnovers.
"Riley is our quarterback, I love him. And I want him to be healthy, and I want him to be able to look me in the eye and say 'Coach I'm absolutely ready' but I don't have any different feelings about him than I did going into this game. There's no tougher person on the planet in my mind, he's a warrior and he won't come out unless you drag him out. So yeah, I like him a lot. I would anticipate him starting (next week)." Just when Cougar fans thought that they had seen the end of the post-Max Hall dark ages, Bronco came out and reaffirmed his love for Riley in the post-game. Since Gary Sheide was wearing BYU blue the Cougars have always stockpiled talent at QB, but after Max Hall left there has been talent everywhere but QB (except of course on the offensive line this year and last). Please Bronco, drag him out of the rest of the games! I know you love him, and you really like him a lot, but give your team a chance to win. Bronco's feelings haven't changed about Riley, but mine sure have.
Yesterday it was reported before the game that Taysom Hill overtook James Lark as the second string QB on the depth chart earlier in the week. I have been very high on James Lark since fall camp of 2011, I thought that Riley was only listed as the backup to Heaps back then because of the change of pace he brought. I was very surprised when Riley replaced Heaps against Utah State instead of Lark. Lark is a better pocket passer than both Riley and Hill, but two things that Bronco values very highly are game experience (see Uale starting over Hague last year) and establishing the run on offense. Riley had the game experience over Lark last year since Lark was fresh off his mission in 2010 when the post-Max Hall Cougar fan depression began. And Riley really helped bolster a terrible 2011 run game with his feet. I don't think that Hill would have been named the backup to Riley this week if the run game was existent in between the tackles. If the Cougars were capable of running up the middle consistently out of a pro-set I think Lark would have retained his backup job and we would have seen Lark lead the charge instead of Hill. But Hill is far too valuable in a running game that can only earn a living outside the tackles, and a powerful running game compliments BYU's elite defense.
The game started with Doman day dreaming that he already had Hill in the game. He called options for Riley and roll out passes for him. Both of which are not Riley's cup of tea. Of course, neither is passing from the pocket, Riley was terrible no matter what play was called. The first interception literally cost BYU the game. Apo was open on a deep out in the end zone and Riley forgot that he has the biggest little arm in division 1 football and underthrew Apo by 10 yards. If that's a touchdown pass then BYU wins, Boise State would have to play 8 quarters before they'd ever score 13 points or more against this BYU defense. The second interception even more literally cost BYU the game when Riley threw it right into the hands of big 99 (Atkinson) and he rumbled in for the score. The third interception actually helped BYU. Sick and tired of Riley's inability to play well against any team not in the WAC or the cellar of the Pac 12, Doman pulled Riley and in came the next great BYU quarterback.
Taysom's first drive started and ended on the first play when Michael Alisa fumbled the ball on the one yard line. That led to one of the most amazing goal line stands any defensive unit could ever dream of. BYU got the ball back and pinned back deep in their own territory BYU had a hard time getting anything going as penalties and missed throws by Hill stalled drives that otherwise were moving forward on Hill and Alisa's legs. Once Hill got the jitters out, this offense was very hard to stop. Once again starting deep in their own territory BYU got going, on a gorgeous pass from Hill and an even better catch by Richard Wilson. It was incredible how much more open the receivers seemed once Hill was in the game. Even though he missed on too many of the throws, his guys were open and he usually found them. It makes you wonder if Riley wasn't taking what the defense was giving him, because Hill was just making quick throws and the receiver had plenty of separation most of the time. More likely it was because the corners were playing off the receivers more because they knew they didn't have safety help as the safeties keyed in on the run.
Hoffman made a huge catch on 4th and 3 for a first down, it was really a tough catch away from his body with the defensive back right on him. Hill should have thrown it to Williams on the next play but still got 8 yards himself. Next Hill pushed 3 defenders backwards as he fought his way into the end zone. That play really wowed me. I remember watching BYU try to contain Jake Locker, and thinking to myself how good BYU would be if they had him at QB. They do now, if Bronco will play him. I certainly wasn't accustomed to seeing speed like that combined with the power to push 3 defenders back into the end zone, especially not at QB.
Let me say this, before this game I had Riley's back, and the thought of relying on a true freshman to beat USU, OSU, ND and GT was a scary thought. I wouldn't say I loved Riley, or that I reaaalllly like Riley, but I had confidence in him. After this performance I want Riley out and Hill in. Riley is hurting, I would make him win his starting job back in practice before he plays in any more games. If he isn't well enough to practice, and practice effectively, then he's not well enough to play on Saturdays. I think that Hill's dual threat will enable him to be more successful than most true freshman QB's are. Braxton Miller's completion percentage was very low last year, but he had a high touchdown to interception ratio and didn't attempt very many passes, and still had a pretty good yards per attempt average. He was sacked a ton, which was a lot of him trying to run. Terrelle Pryor's freshman year was almost identical to Miller's. I could see Hill's freshman season being similar to both of their freshmen years. Washington State would look a lot more like BYU than BYU would. Not that BYU looked anything like BYU while Riley passed for his 19 yards. With Taysom Hill starting BYU would look more like Ohio State.
If only the BYU O-Line was as good as Ohio State's O-Line. It was feast or famine for the offensive line run blocking last night. And just like our dieting not-quite-as-big fellas experienced this summer, more famine than feast. On the bright side, I witnessed something I didn't think I would see all season; holes in between the tackles. But all too often Alisa would get hit in the backfield just after getting the ball. It was either a gain of 6 or a loss of 3. Hard to sustain drives that way. There were two blocks (or lack thereof) that cost BYU the game, the first of which was Ryker Mathews chop block penalty at the 2 yard line that led to Riley throwing his first interception. The Cougars were running the ball well, and instead of having a 3rd and 1 on the 2 they had a 3rd and 16 on the 17 yard line. The other block was Brock Stringham getting totally owned by game MVP Atkinson on Bronco's gutsy 2 point conversion call.
Would I have called for that two point conversion? No. But I didn't hate the call. I sincerely believed that the odds were in BYU's favor to convert that. After seeing Hill impose his will on 3 defenders while he trucked his way into the endzone, I was confident that BYU would get it. Not as confident as I am that BYU would have won if the game goes to OT however. Boise State was physically incapable of scoring in the redzone against this defense. And they were even less capable of kicking a field goal. As bad as BYU's field goal kicking situation is, it is so much better than Boise State's kicking dilemma. Chances are that a field goal would have won it for BYU in OT. Bronco felt that the team had the momentum, so he wanted to go for two. To me, that's why he should have taken it to OT. Hill averaged more yards per carry than any of the three QB's did yards per passing attempt. This is a very good redzone offense when Hill is in the game. Bronco went for two, and the play call was perfect, roll Hill out to give him an option to pass or run for the conversion. When Stringham got worked over Hill had to go all the way back to the 15 yard line to get around Atkinson, and this took away the dual threat so the defense only had to worry about him passing it. Instead of a two point conversion it now had the degree of difficulty of a 4th and 10.
The Cougar defense was fantastic all game long. They were unbelievable on that goal line stand. It's unfortunate that the quarterback play was poorer than the defense was great. The headline in all of CougarNation today should be that the defense pitched a shutout in a win over #24 Boise State. Instead we have Bronco reaffirming his love for Riley while the fan base begs him to start Taysom Hill or James Lark. Preston Hadley didn't have the best day, and Ogletree gave up Harper's 35 yard run, but the defense would not be scored on. Boise State had much more success running the ball than I expected them to, with Harper running for 112 yards. But he only averaged 3.6 yards per carry, so the defense was still respectable against the run outside of the redzone. Inside the redzone Boise State's running game ceased to exist. Ansah had a great game, it was man against boys on that stuffed fake punt, he really worked that guy over. Van Noy was once again incredible, and Kaveinga really had a nice game. Sorenson played a really good game too, he made some big plays.
The defense made big plays all game long, but Riley and the O-Line single-handedly lost this one. The good news is that this game is now officially a rivalry game; the bad news is that Riley is still the starter, and BYU is that much farther from getting back into the top 25.
Follow me on twitter: @lancewarchibald
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