BYU started the 2013 season looking like it might not win many games. In fact, thinking that the Cougars might actually beat the Boise State Broncos probably made some of you laugh -- perish the thought.
But, a stunning 37-20 win over Boise State this past weekend has now catapulted the 6-2 Cougars into a bowl game and marked the first time ever that BYU defeated the Broncos.
In other words, times have changed. BYU can not only defend when needed, it can score, as you saw two weeks ago at Houston, against another team with an explosive offense.
Nobody in their right mind thought BYU would ever have a passing game since they were all witness to that laughable loss at Virginia. So much emphasis had been placed on Cougar QB Taysom Hill hiking the ball quickly and then running the football until the springs in his knee brace gave way, you know.
But Hill has passed for over 300 yards in three straight games, leaving some to question their own ideas -- and possibly endorse him as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.
While the jury is still out on the recommendation as the top college football player in all the land, one thing is abundantly clear: BYU is not the same team that played poorly at the first of the season, and neither is Hill.
The Cougars are now 6-2, which by record alone makes them the best team in the state of Utah.
Utah Utes fans may disagree since their team in red did beat BYU, but the Cougars are headed to a bowl game -- and the Utes still have two games to win to even get to a bowl.
How BYU got there is simple; the Cougars have been able to string together more wins. And losses to Virginia and Utah seem like those happened eons ago.
BYU has an explosive offense and a good defense that held Boise State to under 500 yards -- which may not seem like much except you have to consider that the Broncos have been averaging over 600 on just about every opponent.
Looking at most of the statistics in this game is misleading as well because BYU and Boise State were nearly identical in most categories.
There were, however, a few particular areas of interest in which BYU dominated Boise -- and all led to the Cougars victory.
Here's how the BYU Cougars upset Boise State this past weekend...
Boise State is not the type of team that routinely finds its offense unable to move. At BYU, however, the Broncos started off terribly. Boise State rarely punts the football, for example, instead preferring to go for it on fourth down.
On the Broncos' first drive of the game they elected to go for it on the BYU 35. Boise came up short and BYU turned around on the next drive and missed a field goal try.
But, that turnover on downs set the tone for the rest of the game, as the Broncos punted twice threreafter during the first quarter alone -- resulting in a Cougar touchdown and field goal and a 10-0 lead with less than a minute gone in the second.
Was it that Boise State had forgotten how to punt? The Broncos are not the Oregon Ducks, you know.
And after being down 10-0 early in the second quarter you would think Boise State would let off the gas when it faced a fourth down, right? Nope, the Broncos went for it again -- and came up short, again.
Oh, Boise State finally scored on a field goal in the next possession -- but BYU just responded with two straight touchdowns, the last after a Broncos fumble, to make the score 24-6.
Boise State had poor starting field position all game; BYU had better field position. The Broncos started at their own 21 in the first quarter and were 1-for-4 on third down; BYU began at its own 28 and was 3-for-6.
The field position battle went like clockwork the entire night, as the Cougars took snaps at their own 29 -- while the Broncos were at the 28.
Boise State also did better in the second quarter in terms of holding onto the football, but BYU scored about as quickly as it got the ball in the second. The Cougars had two scoring drives off of Boise miscues, both resulting in TD's, that lasted 59 seconds and 1:41.
Boise enjoyed its best field position in the third quarter, scoring 10 points and holding onto the football for over seven minutes -- while beginning drives at its own 36.
But the fourth quarter spelled doom for the Broncos, as Boise State began each drive, on average, at its own 13-yard line. A touchdown midway through the fourth helped keep the Broncos in the game but they had no answer for the Cougars.
Make Boise throw
If you look at the statistics from each team you will notice that both BYU and Boise State did fairly well in terms of amassing yardage in the air and on the ground.
What you might not notice, however, is that BYU dared the Broncos' raw junior quarterback Grant Hedrick to throw the ball more often than the 21 attempts he had the previous week.
BYU rolled the dice a bit and stacked the box, allowing Hedrick to throw the ball 42 times, double what he has ever passed at in any game as a Bronco.
The problem with that equation for Boise State was that Hedrick was still sacked twice, had 17 incomplete passes (a far cry from last week when he missed on just three throws) and was intercepted once.
Don't get me wrong; Boise State running back Jay Ajayi still had 151 yards on 23 carries -- but he didn't score a touchdown and fumbled once.
By comparison, BYU forced three fumbles in all -- and did enough to disrupt the high-powered Bronco offense.
BYU's offense has had some problems committing turnovers, particularly at the quarterback position. But, what a difference a few weeks makes.
Taysom Hill has not only become the Cougars team leader he has evolved into a complete quarterback who can run and throw.
He ran for just 79 yards and one touchdown -- which is probably something that Cougar fans are thankful for because it is hard to believe what BYU would do without Hill.
As for his play in the pocket, it was much better than his Boise State counterpart Hedrick; Hill also threw the ball over 40 times -- the difference was that he completed 27 passes, threw three touchdowns and didn't throw an interception.
What is happening in Provo with Hill is magical; it's something that hardly anyone expected and it is clear that the best quarterback in the state of Utah this year, as evidenced by BYU's stunning win over Boise State, is Taysom Hill.
And BYU was able to reverse that 6-3 loss in Boise last year, in a big way, heading into a bye week followed by a huge game at mighty Wisconsin.