Monson: Can BYU overcome Texas’ thirst for revenge?
BYU’s game against Texas this week has everything the rest of its schedule doesn’t have: 1) a storied opponent with a marquee name, 2) a storied opponent with a marquee name with revenge on its mind, 3) a storied opponent with a marquee name with revenge on its mind that is the flagship program of a Power 5 league, 4) a storied opponent with a marquee name with revenge on its mind that is the flagship program of a Power 5 league that BYU desperately wants to join.
Other than that, there’s not much to see here. It’s just another Nevada or Middle Tennessee State or UNLV. But … it’s not. This is the kind of game the Cougars have to win to help legitimize themselves this season — because they have so few opportunities to do so. Beating Texas on the road is worth a million wins over Savannah State.
There’s one other thing Saturday’s game in Austin brings with it: 100,000 fans.
BYU went ahead and thumped the Longhorns a year ago at the same juncture in the season — Week 2 — as this time around. The Cougars did to Texas in Provo what nobody does with any resultant Lonestar nonchalance: They turned the burnt orange red with embarrassment. Don’t think BYU hasn’t been on new Texas coach Charlie Strong’s and the Longhorns’ minds for a long time coming. The Cougars earned themselves some focused payback with that 40-21 win.
On that blustery night, Taysom Hill ran all over Texas, gaining 259 rushing yards. The Cougars offense ran for 550 yards, a school record, and gained nearly 700 overall. It cost the Longhorns big time. Within hours of the defeat, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was fired and head coach Mack Brown’s fate was all but decided.
Don’t mess with Texas? BYU did more than mess with Texas. It dump-trucked it. It humiliated it. It road-graded Texas, left it looking as though it were some sort of Southwest Presbyterian or Skidmore or Oberlin, and laughed at its stumbling ineptitude. It’s one thing to be beaten by a newfangled offense, by bits of unexpected offensive innovation or misdirection, it’s another to be clubbed upside the head and righteously rolled by a team that runs the ball straight over your manhood.
Cougar running back Jamaal Williams said before the game that if BYU played its brand of football, the Longhorns would "get tired and bow down to our will."
Williams did more than talk. He went out and gained 182 yards.
Revenge might be overblown in these matchups, but, then again, it might not be.
Strong, who darn-near kicked half his players off his team upon his arrival at Texas in search of a few good men, who is a fanatic for defense, is said to have watched the BYU film again and again, and every time he watched, he was angered by the Longhorns’ lack of efficiency and effort. The coaches have used video of that abysmal showing as often as possible to push their players.
Texas defensive end Cedric Reed was asked by one outfit that covers Texas football how often coaches have reminded the players about the BYU defeat and their coming shot at revenge. His answer: "Every day. We’ve got BYU marked on our calendars."
All right all right all right.
In a season during which the Cougars don’t play their historic rival, and in which they have so few quality opponents, they’ll face a proud, reenergized team that has designs on taking them down, taking them down hard, in its own house. It’s as though the game is part of Strong’s exorcism of demons and deficiencies of the past. The Longhorns can face them now and put them to rest.
They’ll have to do that without starting quarterback David Ash, who was ruled out on Monday due to symptoms of a concussion suffered against North Texas last week. Ash also was concussed during the BYU game a year ago. That’s unfortunate. When revenge is to be exacted, all hands are needed on deck.
That hardly spoils an intriguing, entertaining match, though, a game that carries meaning for both teams, as much meaning for BYU as any game this season, and considerable heft for Texas for the aforementioned reasons. Strong has called Taysom Hill a Heisman-type quarterback, mostly because in the film he’s watched over and over, he played like one.
If BYU wants to become relevant again on a national level, and it does, if it wants in the Big 12, and it does long for that, too, there’s no better way to prove it belongs than to beat, and then beat again, home and away, the league’s biggest dog. If the league’s biggest dog is a bit desperate, that’s all the better. A win in Austin carries more weight this season than anything else the Cougars can do.
Revenge, on the one hand, is no more powerful a motivation than a reach for respect on the other.
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