Earlier this week BYU entered the Associated Press poll for the first time in two years. The No. 25 Cougars made that momentum count with a 33-25 home victory over Houston on Thursday night. Here are three thoughts from that game:
1. Taysom the Great
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill was once again a jack-of-all-trades for the Cougars. He completed 21 of his 34 passes for 200 yards, one touchdown and two picks. He also rushed 26 times for 160 yards and another score. Behind Hill, BYU’s read-option attack kept Houston's defense on its heels.
Through three games this season, Hill is making the most of an improved passing game. In 2013 the quarterback completed just 53.9 percent of his throws. Through three games this season, that number has improved to 68.4. Hill did throw two interceptions on the night, but neither was entirely his fault. For the most part, the quarterback looks more polished in BYU's option attack.
BYU’s opponents know what to expect from Hill’s scrambling ability – he rushed for more than 1,300 yards last season, and through three games he's scampered for 356 yards (5.7 per carry) and six scores. But if he can keep defenses honest with his arm, the Cougars add a dangerous element to their offense. Hill was already one of the country’s most exciting players without being a very effective passer. A true dual-threat game is the kind of repertoire that could lift Hill into darkhorse Heisman discussion.
2. BYU defense
Hill steals most of the spotlight with his highlight-reel skills on offense, but BYU’s defense did a number on Houston for much of the game.
Early on Houston had no answer for BYU’s defense, allowing Hill and company to build a double-digit lead. The Cougars opened the scoring when linebacker Zac Stout burst through the line and slammed Houston’s Ryan Jackson in the end zone for a safety at 10:37 in the first quarter. By the time BYU scored its second touchdown late in the first period to go up 16-0, the Cougars’ defense had held Houston to -31 total yards.
Houston quarterback John O’Korn did his best to keep his team’s hopes alive by completing 30 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns, including a 45-yard Hail Mary at the end of the first half. But BYU’s defense kept Houston from extending drives on third down. Houston converted only 6 of 16 third downs, and it didn’t help that coach Tony Levine’s squad averaged a measly 0.8 yards per rush. BYU knew what to expect from Houston's attack.
BYU’s defense could be the real deal. It held UConn and Texas to a combined 17 points in its first two wins. On Thursday the Cougars were aggressive and forced Houston to stay one-dimensional. Hill will get plenty of headlines on offense, but the defense might be what helps this BYU team to an unbeaten season.
3. Playoff hopes?
Since demolishing Texas last week, BYU has gotten plenty of love as a potential sleeper for the College Football Playoff. The Cougars now have an impressive road win over a Power Five program and a 3-0 record. Plus, it’s difficult to find a guaranteed loss on BYU’s remaining schedule. Road games at UCF, Boise State and Cal might be the toughest roadblocks ahead for the Cougars.
An unbeaten BYU would be a remarkable story in the playoff’s first season. But would that be enough to convince the selection committee of the program's merit? Most expect the playoff era to make it tougher for a program outside the Power Five to contend for a national championship. That’s mostly because the playoff selection committee will supposedly stress strength of schedule in its human-comprised rankings. Even with a victory over Texas, BYU’s slate isn’t likely to stack up against other Power Five programs.
The selection committee says it will tab the “best” four teams for the playoff, not the most deserving teams. With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine BYU convincing 13 people that it’s a top-four team in the country.