Saturday was sunny in southeast Texas, but Reliant Stadium’s administrators stuck with their decision to close the roof, just in case of rain.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill was in his element.
Having played high school football in a much smaller domed facility in Pocatello, Idaho, Hill once again thrived indoors. Never in the history of BYU’s prolific offenses was a quarterback asked to do as much in a multidimensional way as Hill did for four-plus hours against Houston, before ultimately delivering a 47-46 victory.
When a team runs 115 offensive plays, a quarterback inevitably will produce some big numbers. Hill’s statistics were staggering, including 78 plays of passing and running, personally accounting for 545 yards.
The last play was the best of all, an 11-yard touchdown pass to Skyler Ridley with 1:08 remaining and the Cougars trailing by five points as a wildly adventurous game wound down.
"I’ve never been part of something like that, but man, it was fun — so much fun," Hill said.
It also was agonizing and challenging for the offense, after seemingly being so easy at the start. In the first quarter, BYU’s Cougars registered 275 total yards and 18 first downs. They would post 456 yards by halftime and finish with 681 yards. Yet this almost became a hollow effort, partly because of Hill’s own doing.
One of his three interceptions was returned for a touchdown; another came in the Houston end zone, preventing BYU from regaining control of this game. Even while racking up all of those yards, Hill’s offense barely moved the ball during a three-possession sequence of the first half and struggled again after taking a 41-40 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Hill admirably blamed himself for his mistakes. Considering everything he went through Saturday, those were forgivable. If it’s possible for an offensive line to struggle during a 681-yard day, BYU’s front guys did so. Hill was sacked eight times for 66 yards in losses — subtracted from his stats — and was forced to scramble on many other occasions. With running back Jamaal Williams sidelined for much of the second half, Hill became BYU’s primary runner, with 34 carries.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall loves gutsy efforts, and this fit that description. "Just the sheer mileage on his legs and the wear and tear and the plays he’s making … that’s an amazing performance," Mendenhall said. Twice in the fourth quarter, Hill brought BYU back. His 25-yard touchdown pass to Cody Hoffman gave BYU a 41-40 lead, before Houston’s Cougars went back in front. BYU’s next drive stalled, but succeeded in flipping the field position. So BYU took over at the Houston 48 with 1:50 left.
Finally given good protection, Hill scanned the field and turned back to his left to find Ridley open for 28 yards. Two plays later, he hit Ridley on a back-shoulder throw in the top-left corner of the end zone.
"I trust the heck out of Skyler," Hill said.
His coaches and teammates should have considerable faith in Hill as well. This game should not have been such a struggle for BYU, and the Cougars’ season remains to be defined by their play against the likes of Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
But there’s some significance in the way BYU won. When’s the last time BYU’s offense was asked to win the game for the defense, and delivered to this degree? You’d probably have to go back five years, to Max Hall’s rescuing a 45-42 victory in a shootout at Colorado State with a late touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta.
That’s the kind of performance Taysom Hill delivered under the roof Saturday. Hoffman said his quarterback’s game "couldn’t have been better," which was not quite true. If that’s how his teammates remember it, though, Hill’s showing means even more than the score suggests.
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