East Hartford, Conn
As a starting point, the BYU Cougars finished nicely.
After leaving so much undone last season, quarterback Taysom Hill and the BYU offense completed a significant chunk of their work Friday in a 35-10 defeat of Connecticut at Rentschler Field.
The Cougars’ ability to finish drives in the first half was impressive, and so was their closing shot. Hill’s touchdown run topped a late 90-yard drive that seemingly was a product of some unnecessary urgency, but it worked out. In between, there was just enough of a replay of last season’s second-half lulls to cause some concern and tone down the degree of praise.
Yet the Cougars certainly did what they had to do in closing out the Huskies. Considering how BYU’s 513-yard showing came without suspended running back Jamaal Williams, this might be the start of something big.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall enjoyed seeing "flashes of what this [offense] can look like," as illustrated by four first-half touchdowns. Tougher tests loom ahead, beginning next week against a Texas defense that will be primed to deal with Hill after last September’s debacle.
Hill is a better QB than the Longhorns faced in Provo. He showed patience, polish and accuracy in completing 28 of 36 passes for 308 yards and three scores.
Hill personally made BYU’s opening drive come together with a sequence of critical plays. He kept the ball to convert a fourth-and-3 play, then made a nice, back-shoulder throw to Mitch Mathews on a third-and-8 pass before scrambling 7 yards for a touchdown.
The early success "just gave us a lot of momentum to build off," Hill said.
Who knows, maybe if the Cougars had turned the ball over on downs or settled for a field goal on their first possession, they still may have scored a bunch of points. But there was something about getting into the end zone on that first drive that suggested this might be a different season for BYU’s offense.
The Cougars often created their own obstacles, as they were penalized 15 times for 150 yards on offense, defense, special teams and even coaching. But when they played cleanly, they were crisp and efficient.
Thanks to Bronson Kaufusi’s fumble recovery and Hill’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Mathews on the next play, BYU enjoyed a 14-0 lead with the Huskies having run only one play from scrimmage.
The Cougars’ penalties kept them from continuing that scoring pace, but they finished two more drives in the first half with Hill’s touchdown passes to Adam Hine and Terenn Houk. Hill performed masterfully on each of those plays, first by faking a handoff and swinging the ball to Hine on a variation of the option and then by scrambling, stopping just short of the line of scrimmage and finding Houk wide open.
Those sequences were just unfair to UConn’s defense, and illustrated just how far Hill has come in his development. On the grounds of an old airfield where aviators Charles Lindbergh, Wiley Post and Amelia Earhart once trained, Hill piloted the BYU offense smoothly.
The Cougars’ trouble last season was a tendency to follow a productive second quarter with an unspectacular second half. That happened again Thursday, when "we lost a little bit of our edge," Mendenhall said. Part of the problem was the Huskies’ sustaining long drives, reducing BYU’s offensive chances. BYU’s two third-quarter possessions ended with a missed field goal and a fumble after promising starts.
BYU then went three-and-out to begin the fourth quarter, but responded with the 90-yard TD drive that gave everybody a better feeling in the end.
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