As the final seconds of BYU’s latest quest for college football distinction ticked off the clock Saturday evening, quarterback Taysom Hill rolled to his left and launched the ball toward the end zone in a play that resembled John Beck’s long-ago search for Jonny Harline.
There would be no miracle this time, especially considering BYU trailed by 10 points. The pass fell incomplete. So ended a final drive that BYU managed poorly and a game that exposed the Cougars’ offense as needing much more development to succeed at this level of the sport.
Wisconsin’s 27-17 victory was mostly a matter of BYU’s offense running into Big Ten athletes and a good defensive scheme. BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s summary: "Not our normal game."
Or was it standard stuff, against this kind of opponent?
This visit to Camp Randall Stadium was everything the Cougars could have wanted when they became independent, with a meaningful November game against a Top 25 team. The reality is BYU just was not ready to perform on this stage.
The Cougars (6-3) desperately wanted this game to serve as validation of their offense, their season and their entire program. Instead, it mostly became an indictment of Texas, Middle Tennessee, Utah State, Georgia Tech, Houston and Boise State.
Hill framed this event as "a pretty good showing for BYU," but that’s not applying high enough standards. If the Cougars want to become a Top 25 program again, they have to do better than producing three points and 142 yards in the first half. The final total of 370 yards may look decent in the boxscore, but 118 of those yards came in the last six minutes. And even then, Anae acted with a stunning lack of urgency at the end.
So an offense that was remarkably productive against inferior opponents lately was exposed by Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s group — featuring linebacker Chris Borland, whose 13 tackles included two sacks.
BYU had five three-play sequences, inefficiency that was accentuated by Wisconsin’s ability to sustain drives and reduce the number of possessions.
"Looking at us in the mirror, we weren’t as sharp and we weren’t as physical and we weren’t as focused tonight," Anae said.
The other guys had something to do with those deficiencies, but BYU had miscommunication with signals from the sideline, Hill said, which is a strange development in the ninth game of the season. The Cougars also hurt themselves with false-start penalties in key moments and had 12 men on the field — following a Wisconsin timeout — when they were about to attempt a fourth-and-3 play near midfield in the fourth quarter. "Not acceptable and very frustrating," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Hill accounted for 315 yards of passing and running against Aranda’s Utah State defense last season, although the Cougars produced only six points in that victory in Provo. Aranda was ready for him this time, with an alignment that surprised BYU and a scheme that clearly was designed to limit Hill’s running.
Hill managed only 60 yards of passing and running in the first half and the Cougars posted only eight first downs. This, from the offense that produced 275 yards and 18 first downs in a quarter at Houston.
In the second half, BYU responded with Hill’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Cody Hoffman to make it 20-10. But the Cougars’ next three drives failed to produce anything, and another Hill-to-Hoffman touchdown came too late to really matter.
Hill finished with 260 total yards, a figure boosted by those last two possessions. Afterward, Hill spoke of "little mistakes that killed drives."
The Cougars hardly were perfect in those six wins, but they were good enough to score 31 points or more every time. Wisconsin was another story.
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