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Austin, Texas • He ran backward into the end zone, sprinted past five-star recruits like they weren't there and broke tackles like he was the student-teacher playing against fifth-graders at recess all while wearing a clunky brace on his surgically repaired left knee.
Taysom Hill didn't just mess with Texas last year in a 40-21 BYU romp over the Longhorns, he "embarrassed" the once-proud program, new coach Charlie Strong has said several times the last few months.
Can Hill do it again? Or will Strong's defensive prowess, a backup quarterback and more than 100,000 revenge-minded, burnt orange-clad fans at Royal-Memorial Stadium win the day?
Kickoff is at 5:30 p.m. Saturday as Hill puts his meager, but budding, Heisman Trophy hopes on the line and BYU plays arguably its most important game in its four years as a college football independent in the heart of Texas. If they win a game in which they are suddenly favored due to Texas' quarterback woes and offensive line-sapping suspensions, the Cougars could start creeping into the national rankings.
Lose, and they won't play a nationally significant game the rest of the season. Even BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is acknowledging the importance of this one, in a Bronco sort of way.
"When we went independent, the idea was to play the best teams, on the biggest stages, in front of the most people. And this is a great chance to do that. So when you play well and win those games, it helps your program," Mendenhall said.
Hill knows it, too, along with the fact that this will be his best opportunity this season to show what he can do against a top-quality opponent. The Cougars quite likely will be favored in every game the rest of the way against a schedule that leaves a lot to be desired.
"Obviously we believe we are as good as anybody in the country and we can play with anybody," Hill said. "But our belief, and us saying that, doesn't mean a whole lot. So as we are trying to break into that next tier of the power-five [conferences] and stuff like that, there is some pressure that way. It is not a topic that we necessarily discus, but we want to go have a good showing."
Of course, the Eyes of Texas, and the Ire of Texas, will be on the 24-year-old from Pocatello, Idaho, thanks to last year's performance that he called "surreal" and "like a childhood dream." He ran for 259 yards and three touchdowns, part of the Cougars' school-record 550 rushing yards and 679 total yards. BYU settled for four chip-shot field goals when drives stalled, or the Hill-directed devastation would have been even worse.
Jamaal Williams, who will play against Texas along with four others who were suspended in last week's 35-10 win over UConn, added 182 rushing yards but oddly did not cross the goal line. "People have certain games they look forward to, and this might be theirs," Williams said. "But every game is circled for us."
Hill has downplayed the notion all week that there's a target the size of Texas on his back.
"It is football. Every quarterback has got a target on his back," he said. "So, it is all the same. I am taking it one day at a time, and when it comes to game time, I will take it one play at a time."
Gone are the Texas coaches Hill terrorized last year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was fired the next day and Mack Brown was pushed out the door at season's end but in their place is a crew that made a priority of toughening up the Longhorns' defense in the offseason. Texas held North Texas to just 94 yards in a 38-7 win last week.
Mendenhall and BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae said midweek they had nothing special planned in the way of advice for Hill this week and Anae said the target-on-the-back thing is "more of a media thing" and not relevant.
"My take is it is our team against their team. At the end of the day, our execution, our pile of productivity, the points we score, will be up there on the scoreboard, and that's our focus simply the scoreboard," Anae said.
BYU at Texas
O At Royal-Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas
Kickoff • Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
TV • Fox Sports 1
Radio • 1160 AM/102.7 FM
Records • BYU 1-0, Texas 1-0
Series history • BYU leads, 3-1
Last meeting • BYU 40, Texas 21 (Sept. 7, 2013)
About the Longhorns • Starting QB David Ash suffered concussion-like symptoms after Saturday's 38-7 win over North Texas and will be replaced by Tyrone Swoopes, a redshirt sophomore. … Offensive tackles Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison were suspended Wednesday and will not play. … They held the Mean Green to 90 total yards in last week's win.
About the Cougars • In their last visit to Austin, they fell 17-16 in 2011 behind sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps. … Receiver Kurt Henderson, a walk-on from St. George, has been awarded a scholarship. … Running back Jamaal Williams, receiver Devon Blackmon, corners Jordan Johnson and Robertson Daniel and tackle Marques Johnson were suspended in last week's 35-10 win over UConn but are expected to play against Texas.
Hill v. Texas (2013)
• Rushed for 259 yards on 17 carries
• Had touchdown runs of 68, 20 and 26 yards
• Completed nine passes for 129 yards, intercepted once