The Big 12 has had a very rough month of September but one of the few bright spots for the league has to be the play of West Virginia in racing out to a hot start to begin the season.
The Mountaineers started rolling on offense and didn’t really stop on Saturday afternoon but needed their defense to come up in a clutch situation to stay undefeated, putting away a pesky BYU team 35-32. As a result, Dana Holgorsen’s squad may have just installed themselves as the Big 12 favorites and de facto playoff hope after the first month of the season.
Quarterback Skyler Howard was nearly perfect on the day, going 31-of-40 for 332 yards with a score and an interception. Despite spreading the ball around to 10 different receivers in the outing, Howard’s favorite target was the uber-productive Shelton Gibson — who didn’t score but did tally 144 yards on just four catches.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill wasn’t quite as sharp as his counterpart but did help rally the Cougars early in the fourth quarter to cut it to a one-score game with nearly six minutes left. However he tossed interceptions on back-to-back drives to end the game and drop the team to 1-4 with yet another narrow loss. Running back Jamaal Williams was a nice bright spot for the team however, as he ran for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
Though the shaky ending may have caused a few scared looks at FedEx Field among the Mountaineers faithful, West Virginia will likely find themselves in the top 25 on Sunday and one of the surprising favorites to win the whacky Big 12. Holgorsen entered 2016 on a bit of a hot seat but with such a good start to the season, things appear to be going just fine in Morgantown ahead of next week’s conference opener against Kansas State.
Shootouts in college football are by definition fun, fast-paced and back-and-forth games involving just a little bit of everything.
If that’s the case, consider the first half of West Virginia and BYU’s matchup as more of a slow developing shootout. The Mountaineers went to the locker room with a 21-13 lead and the score probably could have been a little worse had there been any urgency to their offensive drives, which were methodical and efficient outside of a Skyler Howard interception.
Howard did have 180 yards passing through two quarters however and was dinking and dunking down the field against a normally tough BYU defense. Tailback Rushel Shell didn’t have a great half with just 2.1 yards per carry but did punch it into the end zone twice for West Virginia.
The third score of the day for the Mountaineers came on defense. Rasul Douglas found himself at the right place, at the right time, when Taysom Hill was pressured into a bad throw. Douglas snagged the ball out of the air and returned it 55 yards for an impressive pick-six to get the gold-clad crowd into the game.
The Cougars were able to move the ball in the first half even if the points didn’t quite follow, averaging 6.5 yards per play thanks in part to Jaamal Williams’ 128 yards rushing over two quarters.
BYU would have closed the gap between them and West Virginia even more had they not bungled the final few seconds of the half. Instead of getting out of bounds, receiver Mitchell Juergens decided to cut up field and the team needed a review to get one second left put back on the clock in order to kick a field goal.
This is a big game for West Virginia to hold on to as they’re one of just two undefeated Big 12 teams left heading into Saturday’s slate of games and one of the few bright spots for the league so far this season. As for BYU, the Cougars would love to pull of an upset on the East Coast (the game is at FedEx Field outside Washington, D.C.) and show Big 12 leaders that they can be very competitive in the conference should they ultimately decide to expand.
Either way, should make for a fun second half between the two.
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen has received almost all of the attention for UCLA this year but took a bit of a back seat to his teammates on the other side of the ball on Saturday night.
The Bruins defense put together their best effort in a long, long time against BYU to leave Provo with a 17-14 win that was a much more dominant outing than the score line indicated.
The Cougars managed just 0.9 yards per rush, failed to get much of anything going in the passing game and saw quarterback Taysom Hill throw one interception and record four sacks. While there was plenty of issues on the BYU offense, the fact of the matter was that the team from Los Angeles simply had defenders that looked faster, stronger and quicker on just about every snap.
It was a good thing that the defense rose to the occasion for Jim Mora too because the Bruins offense still hasn’t found much of a rhythm this season outside of their quarterback making some NFL-caliber throws. Rosen finished the night 26-of-40 for 307 yards, two scores and a pick but was only able to pick up six third down conversions all game in a bit of a one-man effort.
Nate Starks made his season debut at tailback and rushed for 39 yards on 15 carries as part of a mediocre ground game against a tough BYU front seven. The team’s leading rusher, Soso Jamabo, did not even suit up for UCLA while backup Bolu Olorunfunmi chipped in with 15 yards in limited action.
The win rounds out the non-conference slate for the Bruins and sets up a big showdown next Saturday at the Rose Bowl with defending conference champion Stanford. The Cardinal have been the one team that Mora has not been able to solve since arriving in Westwood but if the defense plays like it did against BYU, it could be an interesting Pac-12 contest between the two division favorites.
It’s not getting hype of Week 1, but Week 3 is shaping up to be a rather epic weekend of college football in its own right.
The top three teams in the most recent Associated Press poll, No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Ohio State, all play on the road, with all three games coming against ranked teams for that matter. Top-ranked ‘Bama travels to Oxford to face No. 19 Ole Miss, which has beaten the Tide the last two seasons, while FSU must trek north to take on 10th-ranked Louisville and Lamar Jackson, the quarterback who has singlehandedly scored more touchdowns than all but 13 FBS teams. Finally, OSU makes it way to Norman to take on a wounded but 14th-ranked Oklahoma.
The fact that the top three teams are all on the road against ranked opponents is a little bit of history in the making.
But wait, there’s more.
In addition to those games, you had the likes of No. 6 Houston-Cincinnati Thursday night as well as FCS power North Dakota State at No. 13 Iowa; No. 25 Miami traveling to an Appalachian State squad that nearly knocked off No. 15 Tennessee in Knoxville Week 1; Colorado at No. 4 Michigan in a revival of the 1994 “Miracle at Michigan” game; No. 22 Oregon at Nebraska, coached by former Civil War rival Mike Riley; Pittsburgh, coming off a win over its in-state rival, at an Oklahoma State squad still hurting from the screwing they received in Week 2; Mississippi State-No. 20 LSU and No. 17 Texas A&M-Auburn in a key pair of SEC West clashes; No. 12 Michigan State at No. 18 Notre Dame in the fourth of four ranked vs. ranked matchups; USC, reeling from a series of embarrassing incidents on and off the field the past couple of weeks, trying to right the listing ship against the best the Pac-12 has to offer, No. 7 Stanford; BYU playing host to Josh Rosen and UCLA; and capping a loaded weekend with seemingly revitalized and 11th-ranked Texas heading to the Left Coast to square off with Cal.
It may not be Week 1 good, but Week 3 is about as close as you can get.
Every year seems to turn up some brand new rock or rap anthems dedicated to college football programs, and most of the time they are complete garbage. This one for BYU by artist James The Mormon (Yes, that is his stage name and I love it), titled Tellin’ You Y is pretty well done. At least the music video is pretty well done, featuring shots both inside and outside of scenic Lavel Edwards Stadium in Provo, with the rap artist sitting atop a goal post and serenading us with a backdrop of BYU football players, cheerleaders and fans. There are even a few guest appearances sprinkled in, like one from Ty Detmer.
Some good moves by the BYU mascot in there as well. There is no telling just how well this will be received by the BYU fanbase, but it should definitely make its way into the pregame stadium soundtrack, right? What really needs to be asked is if this video can still be sent to the Big 12 offices for consideration with BYU’s sales pitch to join the conference.