On its way to becoming a more highly tuned, more balanced, more recognizable football team at LaVell’s Place late Saturday night, BYU burned rubber, blistered down the strip, blew a tire, momentarily pulled to the side of the road, attached a spare and then zigzagged on. Mixed metaphor or no, the Cougars went ahead and finished their business against Georgia Tech, beating the visitors, 38-20, but releasing a speed parachute at the end was hardly necessary.
That business didn’t go as smoothly as it could have. Maybe it’s a nod to BYU’s tantalizing potential that such a complaint can be lodged in victory. A win is a win — that’s ultimately enough — and, yet, the Cougars had a chance to do more. They might have fully dressed themselves out as a growing offensive force. They had a shot to complete themselves — with the offense gaining ground on the defense, with the offense becoming a consistent threat, not just running the football, but throwing it, too.
Over the first 30 minutes of this game, that possibility hit everybody upside the head like a swinging pipe wrench. The undocked manner in which the Cougars’ offense blew through its lasting possessions was a throwback to the days of Detmer, Bosco and McMahon.
Early on, BYU went more than the whole nine yards, it went 10 after 10 after 10 after 10. All stacked up, the Cougars rolled for 345 first-half yards, 226 of them coming through the air. By the end of that half, nobody was dialed in on distractions, such as inefficient pace of play or play-calling as lopsided as a Kate Upton double gainer. All anybody could see was what we all saw: BYU metamorphosing into itself again.
It had been a long time coming.
Taysom Hill seemed to be assuming the position of the first real quarterback to play at Quarterback U. since … Hatin’ Max Hall. The Cougars looked to be back in the QB business. All those questions lingering about the sophomore’s tilted accuracy-inaccuracy ratio were drifting away.
Hill nailed 16 of 20 passes for the aforementioned 226 yards and a 45-yard touchdown throw. The only thing prettier than that scoring pass was Cody Hoffman’s over-the-helmet catch in the end zone. As a bonus, Hill also ran eight times for 57 yards and another TD. The Cougars led at the half, 24-13.
And then, just when the young quarterback’s comfort zone seemed to have grown as wide as Zach Galifianakis’, everything changed. Georgia Tech made adjustments and Robert Anae went conservative. Passes were dropped. More run plays were called. And first downs dried up. The Cougars moved the chains 21 times in the first half, and only five in the second, when they threw for just 18 yards.
“They [GT] were more aggressive [on defense],” coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
The same couldn’t be said for the BYU O, and that tack almost cost the Cougars. While they fiddle-faddled around, Georgia Tech gained more and more yards and more confidence. It took two fourth-quarter plays by BYU’s defense to put the game out of reach: One was a pick-six by Alani Fua, who returned a leaping grab 51 yards for a score, and the other a fumble recovery at the Cougar 31 by an unsuspended Spencer Hadley.
BYU made good on just three of 10 third-down conversions, with only one of those coming in the second half. And the offensive yardage numbers were fairly equal by game’s end: Yellow Jackets 400, Cougars 433. In the aftermath, Hill admitted his offense sagged late, saying, “We need to be better at adjusting …”
Conclusion: BYU’s offense was halfway to being what it wants to be, to being what it used to be — back in the day. A bunch of swaggering fools who can’t be stopped. But Mendenhall saw mostly progress, and, of course, those final numbers on the scoreboard.
“I’m encouraged,” he said. “I like our team.” He’ll like it more when the balancing is complete.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.