BYU takes next step after Hill injury at UCF
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — In just one play last week, BYU went from having one of nation’s most explosive offensive players and daydreaming about a possible undefeated season, to facing a remaining schedule now soaked in questions.
The Cougars (4-1) have had a short week to adjust to losing Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback and leading rusher Taysom Hill to a season-ending broken leg during their loss to Utah State last week.
The loss dropped BYU out of the Top 25, but coach Bronco Mendenhall is hoping his team can begin to put things back together Thursday night when it visits UCF.
His first task is to convince his team that it is deeper than one player.
“I think there was a level of confidence, I wouldn’t say dependence,” Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall said this week of Hill. “Taysom is gone. One player does not make a team, even though Taysom is a fantastic player, but the execution of all positions within their assignment, within their technique — that has to improve right now.”
That begins with senior quarterback Christian Stewart, who will make his first start as a Cougar against the Knights. He struggled last week in relief of Hill last week, completing just 10 of 29 passes for 172 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
“I looked at the film and what came to my mind was the best quarterbacks take what the defense gives them. I was trying to force things,” Stewart said. “I learned a lot about things that I can do going forward just with what the defense is giving me and looking at my keys, making the throws I need to make.”
Stewart will face a Knights defense that has steadily improved in back-to-back victories the past two weeks.
UCF has given up just 19 points combined in the wins, after surrendering 26 and 31 points in two losses to open the season. But Knights coach George O’Leary doesn’t expect to have an easier time with Hill out.
“BYU is BYU,” O’Leary said. “With Stewart, they’re doing a lot of the same things they were doing with (Hill) in the game. And they have enough personnel groups, they’re gonna mix and match and I’m sure they’ll tweak some things. But offenses, I think for the most part when you get to the fourth or fifth game — that’s who you are.”
Here are some things to watch for in Thursday’s matchup between the Cougars and Knights:
QB SHUFFLE FOR UCF? O’Leary said recent inconsistency from sophomore quarterback Justin Holman could prompt him to insert sophomore backup Nick Patti at some point against BYU. “If we’re struggling at all at quarterback, he’s gonna see action,” O’Leary said. “We just gotta get things going offensively. We have too many good players at certain positions that we need to get the ball in their hands and we gotta get it to them quickly, and do the things that we’re supposed to do.”
RETURNING HOME: After beginning the season with a neutral site game against Penn State and trips to Missouri and Houston last week, the Knights are playing just their second true home game of 2014. Entering the week only UCF and Eastern Michigan had not played at least two games in their home stadium.
VERSUS THE AMERICAN: BYU is 18-2 against American Athletic Conference teams, having defeated Connecticut 35-10 on the road and Houston 33-25 at home earlier this season. The Cougars beat the Knights in 2011 in Provo in the only previous meeting between the teams.
COUGAR TARGETS: Stewart will have a capable receiving corps to throw to in his first start. Receivers Jordan Leslie and Mitch Mathews both had 100-yard games against Utah State, with Mathews collecting a personal-best 117 yards (for 251 yards on the season) and Leslie tallying 135 yards (362 yards in 2014).
STREAKING KNIGHTS: A win over BYU would give UCF six straight seasons with at least two non-conference victories.
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