Provo • Having won three straight games for the first time since the beginning of last season when they opened with victories over Washington State and Weber State to extend a streak started in 2011 to six, the BYU Cougars (4-2) leave the state this week for the first time since Aug. 31.
They are taking a whole lot of confidence with them as they travel to Houston to take on another group of Cougars who are on a roll. While BYU was blasting Georgia Tech 38-20 on Saturday, Houston (5-0) was taking care of Memphis 25-15 at BBVA Compass Stadium, one of the Cougars' homes away from home as they await the completion of their $120 million on-campus stadium.
Saturday's game, which will kick off at 1:30 p.m. MDT and be televised by the ESPNews channel, will be played at Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL's Houston Texans.
"I am coaching some really talented players who are working really hard. It's just fun. How hard this team is working is really showing in how hard they play," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said after BYU routed Georgia Tech for the second straight year. "Georgia Tech is a difficult opponent, in not only scheme, but to win against. I am proud of our team, and I like our chances [going forward]."
The Cougars' defense has become a constant the past few seasons, but lately the offense has shown signs of improvement, especially in the first half Saturday night when BYU rolled up 345 yards and 21 first downs against a pretty stout Tech defense. It seized up like worn-out engine in the second half, thanks partly to some conservative play-calling and the failure to adjust to Tech's halftime adjustments.
"We did a good job adjusting and stopping completely what they were doing offensively, and they did a nice job also," Mendenhall said of BYU's punchless third quarter. "They brought a lot more pressure and played a lot more man coverage. They were a lot more aggressive. That's what they chose to do."
Still, the Cougars continued their gradual climb up the charts in most of the NCAA's national offense rankings, and are now 30th in total offense and 69th in scoring offense, a gap that remains too wide but is closing by the week. BYU is 13th in rushing offense and 82nd in passing offense, but more importantly it is no longer among the 10 worst teams in the country in passing efficiency.
Quarterback Taysom Hill completed his first eight passes and finished 19 of 27, the third straight game in which he's completed better than 50 percent of his throws after sitting at 33 percent through the first three games.
"Initially, we had a lot of short, quick passes that allowed us as an offense to get into a rhythm. We realized that their corners were bailing, and giving us some easy 5-yard hitches and things like that, so that really allowed us to get into a groove in the first half," Hill said, later noting that the Cougars didn't do a good job adjusting to Tech's defensive adjustments in the second half.
Hill looked to run more against the Yellow Jackets than he did in the previous two games, and picked up 87 yards while losing 22 for a net of 65. Jamaal Williams rushed for 86 yards and is now 17th in the country in rushing with a 108.6 average. Hill is 18th at 107.3
A quick glance at Houston shows an undefeated team that is not getting much respect around the country, although the Cougars are receiving votes in both major polls. Perhaps that is because Jeff Sagarin says Houston has played only the 125th most difficult schedule in the country, having defeated Southern, Temple, Rice, Texas-San Antonio and Memphis. BYU's schedule ranks 25th.
Sagarin has BYU 24th in the country in his rankings, but Houston is just 56th, despite its glossy record. The Cougars are 27th in the country in total offense, averaging 476.6 yards per game.
BYU at Houston
P Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
TV • ESPNews
BYU's improving offense
Category Actual Rank
Total offense 473 ypg. 30th
Rushing offense 262.8 ypg. 13th
Passing offense 210.5 ypg. 82nd
Passing efficiency 104.97 111th
Scoring offense 29.2 ppg. 69th
Third-down percentage 34.0 pct. 95th