Monson: BYU, Utah, Utah State are getting better (they couldn't get no worse)
Somebody recently suggested that I give optimism, as it pertains to college football around here, a try.
(Already would have done so if it weren't so delusional.)
The suggestion reminded me of the Lennon-McCartney song "Getting Better," when Paul wrote: "I've got to admit it's getting better, a little better all the time."
(And John added: "It can't get no worse.")
Winston Churchill once said, "I am an optimist it does not seem much use being anything else." Helen Keller said, "Nothing can be done without hope."
(But Oscar Wilde wrote, "The basis of optimism is sheer terror." And Havelock Ellis said, "The place where optimism most flourishes is the lunatic asylum.")
Let's try a little harder.
(Why? It's foolishness.)
Short of a blown ACL and MCL in Logan, the overall picture for college football is brighter than could reasonably have been expected for BYU, Utah and Utah State. That assertion, as it relates to the Aggies, might seem a little like saying that other than a few fireballs and meteorites, dinosaurs would have done just fine on planet Earth, but ... USU will roll forward.
(And off a cliff.)
The Aggies have a strong defense, a group ranked 25th in the country. It is giving up 335 yards a game. It ranks 26th in scoring defense (19.3 points), 38th in rushing defense (132 yards) and 28th in pass defense (203.7 yards per).
(BYU shredded that defense for 438 yards and 31 points last week.)
Utah State also has a lot of talented offensive players who can make up for the loss of Chuckie Keeton: That veteran offensive front and skill players such as Joey DeMartino and Joe Hill.
(In Keeton, USU just lost the best quarterback in the state, a player who cannot be replaced. Keeton was the foundation upon which the Aggies' football turnaround was built. No amount of sunshine blowing will change that. USU is nowhere near the same team without him. The Aggies' triggerman is gone now and so are the team's hopes of winning a Mountain West Conference championship.)
(Joe Hill is gone, too.)
Matt Wells said: "I think our team will rally just fine."
(Pinocchio's nose blew through a nearby window.)
BYU is emerging from its early season woes a loss on the road to Virginia and a loss at home to Utah.
(The defeat to Virginia looks worse by the week. The Cavs are 2-3, having dropped games to Oregon, 59-10, Pitt, 14-3, and Ball freaking State, 48-27.)
After a lousy start, Taysom Hill is transitioning from a terrific athlete/bad passer to a dangerous quarterback, creating a dual threat at the position that defines BYU football. Hill is a combined 31 of 50 for 455 yards and 3 touchdowns in his last two starts.
(At one point, he ranked last in the nation in pass efficiency, often missing open receivers and rarely hitting them in stride.)
Everyone knows Hill can run. But, as of the win over Utah State, he doesn't have to. In beating the Ags on their home field, the quarterback only picked up 14 yards on the ground, while his teammates carried that load.
(Still, the Cougars were only 5 of 18 on third-down conversions, an area where they should thrive, given Hill's versatility.)
Robert Anae called a fine game against USU, enabling Hill to complete some easy throws early then some tougher attempts later. He also slowed the pace a notch, a wise move.
(Anae still is too predictable on first down, where he needs to mix in some pass plays to fully engage the Cougar O. Much of Hill's success came after Aggie safety Brian Suite was injured.)
BYU's defense continues to shine, allowing only 14 points to USU and fewer than 17 on average. This is an extraordinary bunch, led by stars such as Kyle Van Noy and Eathyn Manumaleuna.
(No counter to that.)
Watch for the Cougars to rise as high as their developing offense takes them.
(That didn't work out so well a year ago.)
Utah is better than it was last season, and the ceiling is much higher because it now has an authentic Pac-12 quarterback. Travis Wilson really can wing it, having completed 105 of 159 attempts for 1,406 yards.
(Unfortunately, nine of those completions were to guys in the other jerseys, including six against UCLA in a loss at home.)
Despite some early struggles, the Utes still are 3-2 overall, having taken care of their local business by beating Utah State and Weber State at home and BYU on the road.
(But they can't win anything worthwhile in league, starting 0-4 their first two seasons in the Pac-12, and heading in that direction again at 0-2 this year. Both of those losses were at home, and now undefeated Stanford arrives.)
Utah's defense played well against UCLA, regardless of being forced to fight off the turnovers. The Utes yielded just 20 first downs and 218 yards passing to one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.
(But they only gained 99 yards rushing while allowing 186. And third-down conversions continue to sag. Utah has made good on 21 of 67 and just 3 of 27 in the last two games.)
Somebody once said optimists live longer than pessimists, that there's great virtue and value in looking at the rosy side. But finding optimism in football here sometimes requires a little distortion. I'll say this: Utah and BYU are better than they were a season ago.
(Even if their records won't necessarily show it.)
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.
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