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Provo • It was far from perfect, even though the record still is. It wasn't particularly picturesque. But what 4-0 BYU did against Virginia on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium showed the flawed Cougars can accomplish something out of the ordinary this season: Beat everyone on their schedule.
Some of that is a reflection/indication of the relatively easy road they're traveling. Some of it is a compliment regarding what they do remarkably well. Some of it comes from a conclusion that if BYU ever played a top-flight team, it would have to play considerably better to win.
Virginia is not a top-flight team.
The Cougars beat the decent Cavaliers, 41-33, after an early struggle that demonstrated the downside of their potential, as much as the upside. Fortunately for them, that upside is notable, including a quarterback with unusual dual-threat capabilities, a running back who runs hard, and enough help on special teams to lend a boost.
"I love all the things that can be worked on," Bronco Mendenhall said in the postgame. "I also love being undefeated."
A list of BYU's alternating bad news/good news against the Cavaliers goes like this …
Mendenhall can call them "penalties of aggression" if he wants, but they are sloppy and punitive, nonetheless. In the first half alone, when Virginia built a 16-13 lead, the Cougars committed eight penalties for 85 yards, helping the Cavs edge ahead. Those infractions slaughtered a number of BYU's offensive opportunities.
One example: After Virginia took its lead at 13-10, BYU had a great chance to go back ahead, but holding and personal foul calls killed it. All told, the Cougars ended up with 12 penalties for 133 yards here, and now have been flagged 45 times in four games. If Mendenhall hasn't worried about this deficiency, he'd best start soon. "It's time," he confessed afterward.
Good: Taysom Hill is a horse that has to run, and that's OK.
He also can pass and the one complements the other. For instance, on a significant play in the fourth quarter, Hill started to run and as Cav defenders closed on him because they had to honor that threat, he squibbed a bloopy touchdown throw to Mitch Juergens, giving BYU a 34-19 lead.
Hill threw for 187 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for another 72 yards and 1 TD. On a 15-yard third quarter scoring bolt, Hill showed toughness and determination, breaking three tackles. The concerns about him getting hurt can take a breather. If he does, he does. If he doesn't, the Cougars will probably win every game.
Bad: This BYU defense isn't as good as once thought.
The front struggled to put pressure on Virginia quarterbacks Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns, who looked comfortable, combining for 327 passing yards. The Cougars blitzed often because they had to.
But that left their secondary more vulnerable than it already is. Rob Daniel had a pick and a 32-yard return, which BYU turned into a field goal, but there are undeniable issues in the back of this defense.
Other defensive woes: missed tackles and an inability to stop the run. The Cougars gave up nearly 200 yards on the ground. And they were outgained overall, 519 yards to 332. First downs: UVa 35, BYU 16.
"We're not hitting the quarterback frequently enough," Mendenhall said. "… We have some work to do."
He added: "I would have loved to see us play more assignment-sound."
Good: Special teams.
Scott Arellano averaged 55 yards on five punts, taking some pressure off a tired defense, and had a long of 65 yards. Adam Hine returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. And Trevor Samson was 2 for 2 on field goals.
Bad: Time of possession.
Speaking of a tired defense, the Cougar D was on the field for more than double the minutes of the Cavalier D. The lopsided numbers: Virginia 40:55, BYU 19:05. It reached a level of hilarity, at one point. The Cougar defenders worked overtime for this win, and that was only partially their own fault.
The BYU offense had several chances to stretch their lead and put the game away, but labored to do so, largely on account of stumbles and bumbles. Said Hill: "We need that killer instinct."
Good: A win is a win is a win.
BYU, as an independent, finds itself in need of style points. People and pundits and poll voters have to believe the Cougars are great for them to have the kind of postseason opportunity for which they hope. That's why the season is more of an evening gown competition for them than for any team playing for a major conference championship.
They have to win and look as good as possible doing so.
On the other hand, Hill dropped the bottom line when he said: "I'm worried about wins. I let all that other stuff take care of itself."
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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