BYU’s aspirations of sneaking into the College Football Playoff ended when quarterback Taysom Hill‘s knee exploded. The Cougars’ letdown against the Utah State Aggies Saturday carried over to Thursday night’s contest against the UCF Knights.
Hill’s replacement, Christian Stewart, wasn’t quite good enough to help BYU regain the momentum the team built during its 4-0 start to the season. Instead, the Knights (3-2) captured a 31-24 overtime victory.
Stewart, a senior, played well for stretches. After a sub-par first half, Stewart seemed to hit his stride. BYU scored all three of its touchdowns during the third frame. But the offense couldn’t manage to make key plays down the stretch or in overtime.
The Cougars sorely missed Hill’s ability to improvise and push the ball down field in the passing game. Stewart finished 22-of-37 passing for only 153 yards. While Stewart isn’t the same level of athlete as Hill, he still added 52 rushing yards. It was a solid effort during the senior’s first career start. But his play will be compared to Hill for the rest of the season. When BYU isn’t victorious, Stewart’s performance will come under scrutiny.
BYU’s disappointing stretch doesn’t fall predominantly on its new starting quarterback, though. The Cougars vaunted defense didn’t play to expectations.
The Cougars’ defense is built on toughness by winning at the line of scrimmage and aggressiveness with the ability to get to the opposing quarterbacks. Yet, the Knights gained 389 yards of total offense.
UCF quarterback Justin Holman entered Thursday’s game with 12 combined completions during the previous two contests. Holman threw the ball 51 times and completed 30 passes against the Cougars.
BYU’s defense is banged up and missing multiple starters at the moment, but Cougars defensive coordinator Nick Howell remained aggressive in his play-calling. It wasn’t enough as BYU fell short each time the defense was required to make a play at crucial points in the contest.
The cougars didn’t have answer for UCF in overtime. The Knights quickly marched 25 yards on five plays to score the game’s winning touchdown when Holman found William Stanback out of the backfield for a four-yard touchdown connection.
As Stewart leads BYU through the rest of the season, the quarterback’s goal is to make sure the program stays on track and becomes bowl eligible. Two more wins should come easily, and the program is already locked into an agreement with the newly minted Miami Beach Bowl. Although, games against the Nevada Wolf Pack, Boise State Broncos and Cal Golden Bears look far more difficult now than they did two weeks ago.
UCF, meanwhile, enters the heart of their conference schedule with a contest against the Tulane Green Wave Saturday, Oct. 18. The Knights should become bowl eligible by the first weekend of November with the Temple Owls and Connecticut Huskies on the docket after next weekend’s game.