Gordon Monson: At last, BYU gets legitimacy in victory

Houston defensive lineman Payton Turner, right, celebrates his sack of BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, bottom left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

It was that famous football expert, coach Elvis Presley, who said: “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin' away.”

Well. Five games into BYU’s football season, the sun creased through gathered-and-then-suddenly-departed clouds to shine on the Cougars, its truth arriving with all the tension and trouble and then glory of an early lead, a botched lead, a deep deficit, and then a stirring comeback on Friday in Texas.

That’s how and where BYU took victory from Houston, 43-26, in one of the Cougars' rare opportunities to show the college football world how legitimate they really are. Three lopsided wins against inferior foes, and a narrow one against the same, had been enough, just like in the old days, to boost BYU in the rankings, all the way up to the 13th spot in the coaches' poll, the 14th in the AP’s.

And then … Houston happened, when BYU soared and sagged and soared again to win a game against an opponent that might not be a world-beater, but most definitely was no embarrassment to play. Which is to say, in the Cougars' first authentic test in their revamped season, they passed.

No, really. They passed — a lot.

Zach Wilson, who had been so comfortable, so cool and efficient against opponents Navy, Troy, Louisiana Tech and UTSA, showed the same calm against these other Cougars, despite short spells of difficulty. Houston tried to pressure him, and it did, at times, but his confidence, sharp deliveries would not dull. Particularly clutch was the sweetest of touchdown passes, a perfect throw to Dax Milne for a decisive TD with three minutes left.

Wilson’s final pass numbers: 400 yards, four touchdowns, no picks.

That big, strong offensive front that had walled off threats to its passer so effectively in previous weeks replicated the feat just enough on this occasion. Houston, much more athletic than anything the Cougars had seen, committed multiple assets to disrupt the timing and the vision of Wilson, as he repeatedly studied the field up ahead, but wavered only here and there in making timely throws.

The Cougars' run game, though, was stymied, garnering just 78 yards.

BYU gained an early 14-3 lead, the first touchdown on a 78-yard rocket launched by Wilson to Milne. But that advantageous margin flipped to a six-point deficit at the half. BYU failed to convert on fourth-and-short near the UH goal line. And after the break, had a 46-yard touchdown play wiped out by a penalty for an illegal block.

Houston’s lead grew to 12 points in the third quarter, BYU temporarily unable to sustain drives through the air or on the ground, while UH’s quarterback Clayton Tune had his way with the back end of BYU’s defense, ultimately throwing for 310 yards. BYU missed its best defender, nose tackle Khyiris Tonga, who stayed in Provo due to illness. Pressure on Tune for a time was absent. It arrived later on.

A BYU resistance that had destroyed opponents over the first few weeks and that showed a few cracks against UTSA, lurched more than a bit in finding the speed necessary to stay with Houston’s fleet feet. Big plays vexed the Cougars, here and there, but not in any disastrous ways. The same schemes — three up front, eight in back — that had mostly stoned earlier opponents, slowed Houston just enough to allow BYU’s offense to catch up and blow on by.

All told, BYU gained 478 yards, Houston 438.

What it all means is this: Through no fault of its own, BYU, with its rearranged schedule — the legitimate original 86′ed because of COVID-19 — provided three real hurdles this season, edged in between a slew of guaranteed wins. The three: Houston, Boise State and San Diego State. It’s not exactly murderer’s row, but it avoids the shame of so many games that no matter how BYU plays, in either direction, it simply cannot lose.

It wasn’t pretty, but now the Cougars are one-for-one, hacking through their first bona fide challenge and, in doing so, creating some confirmation for what all their previous victories revealed. It’s justified, just a little more, that those wins were gained because BYU is more good than the opposition is bad.

The Cougars showed mental wherewithal in scoring 29 unanswered points down the stretch, taking their 29-26 lead with just more than 10 minutes left, and increasing it to the impressive count at the end.

Five consecutive wins, particularly this last one, in beating Houston on the road, suggest that this season’s BYU team really is different, considerably better, than teams of the program’s recent past.

At last, nobody can say BYU hasn’t beaten anybody. The way the Cougars defeated the other Cougars looked like last year’s BYU team at its absolute best, beating quality opponents — USC and Tennessee and Boise State.

There are two remaining legitimates.

Friday night’s win, then, was more than helpful to BYU. One real outing, one real challenge, because there are so few of them, boosted a month’s worth of victory, enabling the Cougars to forge on, wholly undamaged.

That’s the shine of the sun that ain’t goin' away, not yet anyway, a truth BYU will gladly receive.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.

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