Last year, the Hoos had the 62nd ranked offense in the nation, which is right smack in the middle nationally. Teams around them in the offense ranking won 7, 8, 9 and even 10 or 11 games. An average offense is good enough to win games, assuming the defense and special teams do their part. Well, as the Hoos 4-8 record showed, the defense and special teams did not do their part.
Coming into this season, there were question marks for the offense, the defense and the special teams. If the offense was, once again, average, would the defense and special teams be able to hold up.
It's only one week and one game, but the answer certainly appears to be a resounding yes. The Hoos, offensively, were pretty much awful. But the defense and special teams were both wonderful and held up the struggling offense.
The defense held BYU to 362 yards, but 52 of that came on a meaningless completion on the final play of the game. Jamaal Williams was able to find some creases and rushed for 144 yards, but it took him 33 carries to do it. Seven of his carries went for no gain or loss. Eleven more went for 2 or less yards. More than half of Williams' carries went for less than 2 yards. If you run the ball 53 times, chances are you're going to pick up some yards on a few of them. But the Hoos did a wonderful job of shutting down the BYU running game.
And the Hoos defense against the BYU passing game was simply amazing. Taysom Hill threw the ball 40 times, and completed just 13 of them. His 32% completion rate is 3rd worst in the nation (dead last is Logan Thomas, who completed just 19% of his passes. He was, of course, facing Alabama). Yes, BYU was playing without their top WR Cody Hoffman (who happens to be perhaps the top WR in the entire nation). But the Hoos defense had Hill so out of sorts that I'm not sure it mattered. Hill rarely had time to throw in the pocket, and when he was able to get out of the pocket, he was usually unable to find an open man.
The interception by Anthony Harris led directly to the game winning score by Kevin Parks. Sure, the pass wasn't on target, but Harris' grab was not an easy one as it went off Williams' hands. And Hill was under pressure from Brent Urban right in his face.
The Hoos defense even forced a safety, although forced might be a stretch. A bad snap that got passed Hill was really the culprit. Of course, after a season in which the Hoos didn't get too many breaks going their way, they'll take it.
And how about the special teams? Yes, there was a fumble by Khalek Shepherd, which could've been devastating. Still, the special teams were fantastic. Anthony Harris' blocked punt led directly to 7 points. Dominique Terrell was wonderful returning punts, making all the correct decisions, and even returning one 35 yards. That punt return may not have directly led to points, but flipping the field is what gave BYU the ball on the shadow of their own goalline, which led to the safety.
Then there's Ian Frye's 53 yard FG to end the first half. I think this play is getting overlooked in terms of the impact on the game. To that point, the Hoos offense had done precisely nothing. They had 99 yards on 37 plays, and 0 points. Going into halftime down 7 isn't a huge deal. But going into halftime with a 0 on the board is a bit demoralizing. Starting their drive on their own 22 with just 57 seconds left, I think a lot of people may have expected the Hoos to simply take a knee. And especially after back to back incompletions started the drive, perhaps a knee was warranted. But then David Watford completed few passes and got the ball to the BYU 36 yard line with 10 seconds remaining. They tried one more play, which was unsuccessful. This meant a 53 yard FG, which is on the edge of Frye's range. His career high coming into the game was just 30 yards, and he'd missed his longest attempt which was 44 yards. You can't underestimate how big that momentum shift was, going into halftime with some points. Not to mention the 3 points ended up being the margin of victory. Keeping in mind the wet field, wet ball, and difficult kicking conditions, I think that may have been the most impressive play of the game. Kudos to Ian Frye.
And now, some random notes:
- The Hoos DL was simply outstanding. Eli Harold will (deservedly) get all the accolades for his 11 tackles, 2 sacks and 3.5 TFLs, but Brent Urban, David Dean and Jake Snyder were also wonderful. Dean was in the backfield all day, Urban knocked down 3 passes at the line of scrimmage, and Snyder did a very good job of getting outside to stop several perimeter runs. All told, the DL had 4.5 TFLs and 5 passes defended to go along with Harold's 2 sacks.
- The secondary also did a great job. Once again, one guy (Anthony Harris, again deserved) is getting all the accolades. But Demetrious Nicholson, Maurice Canady, Drequan Hoskey and Brandon Phelps were all fantastic this weekend. With the Hoos playing a nickel defense for most of the game, Maurice Canady was often playing in or near the box and led the team with 13 tackles, including 9 solo stops. As a group, they had 6 passes defended and 32 tackles to go along with Harris' INT, sack and blocked punt. Canady, on the other hand, has to do a better job of wrapping up, because many of his tackles were of the "throw my body at the guy and hope he goes down" variety.
- Watford averaged just 3.5 yards per attempt. That would've been last in the nation last year by a wide margin. There were far too many dump-offs for a 56% completion rate. 56% is acceptable if you're throwing downfield a lot. Watford didn't throw downfield at all. The Hoos longest completion was 20 yards.And the interception Watford threw was just a terrible decision. Not that this is news to anybody. Just take the sack there.
- The ground game wasn't any better, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry. Parks was at 3.2, which is still bad. Yes, BYU's defense is very good. But the OL has to be able to open up some holes. To their credit, when they needed it, they got it. The hole that Parks ran through for the TD was enormous. Also, Parks' run was one for the ages. He absolutely ran over a Cougar defender at the 5 on his way into the endzone.
- It is difficult to know exactly what impact the weather had on the game. Obviously the delay was the biggest thing, but the game didn't change much after the 2 hour delay. Playing football in pouring rain isn't easy. The field wasn't in great shape for parts of the game, which is generally an advantage for the offense. However, throwing and catching a wet football isn't easy. Since both teams dealt with the same circumstances, I can't really give either team an edge based on the weather.
- I'm not complaining, but what the hell is BYU doing throwing with a 4 point lead and under 3 minutes to go in the game? Considering how well their defense was playing, and how poorly UVA's offense was executing, there's really no reason to throw. And their running game was working, as the Virginia defense was gassed. It seems obvious now, but if they run it there, they win the game. Hell, if they take a knee there, they most likely win the game. A run keeps the clock moving, and has a decent chance of picking up a first down. If not, you punt and hope your defense continues to do what they'd done all game. And frankly, if you're going to throw there, you throw it downfield. You don't throw a quick out. If the pass is complete, Williams' might have the first, but I'm not positive. All in all, a terrible play call from BYU. So, from all the UVA fans, thanks Robert Anae.