UH faces daunting task against Hill, BYU
Head coach Tony Levine has never visited LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah.
One of the country’s nicer stadiums, it features an appealing scenery, with the sun setting over Y Mountain in the backdrop.
But for visitors — as Levine and UH will be for BYU’s home opener Thursday night on ESPN — performances on the field have been ugly.
Since 2013, BYU is 10-2 at home and has dominated in high fashion, outscoring opponents by an average scoring margin of 35-15.
“It’ll be a great challenge, and I know that it’s a tough place to play,” Levine said.
“I’ve never been there before, but again, I’m going to reference what I have said in the past: it’s about us and how we feel we can play. We’ve got to do a great job with the turnover margin and fly around and tackle on defense to get those guys on the ground.”
That won’t be an easy task
UH’s defense will have its hands full when it faces BYU superman quarterback Taysom Hill, who has launched himself into Heisman Trophy candidacy after dominating road performances against Connecticut and Texas. The average margin of defeat was 30 points per game.
The dual-threat quarterback has amassed more than 72 percent of his team’s offense and is tied for a nation leading five rushing touchdowns. He also leads BYU in rushing yards (196) and attempts (36).
Senior linebacker Derrick Mathews remembers the blue Cougars from last season 2013. BYU eked out a 47-46 victory to give UH its first loss, in which Hill recorded a whopping 545 total yards with four touchdown passes.
“It’s hard to contain a quarterback like him,” said Mathews, who had a game-high three sacks, including a safety, and an interception returned for a touchdown in last season’s matchup . “But we’ve got a great game plan going into this week and hope to execute really well.”
BYU runs a fast-tempo, no-huddle offense. It primarily runs out of the shotgun formation and with Hill’s presence in the backfield, three of its running backs with at least 10 carries this season average at least 4.4 yards per carry.
“It’s a nice stable of backs to have,” said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. “It’s more than two deep, so you end up almost being three deep with different combinations, which is really helpful in keeping the workload as much as possible off Taysom, even though he’s really dynamic with the ball. We’re throwing it better. So that helps, too.”
In two games, Hill has thrown three touchdowns to one interception. He has recorded a 150 quarterback rating while completing 72 percent of his passes.
“If you looked up a dual-threat quarterback in a dictionary, they should have his picture there as an example,” Levine said. “You put the film on, and offensively last year they went to the no-huddle and were able to go up and down the field all season and put points on the board and still have that physical mentality”
How does UH defense stack up?
The unit that recorded 43 turnovers in 2013 leads the American Athletic Conference in scoring defense per game (13.5) and has already recorded seven turnovers in just two games.
“It’s something you couldn’t say in the past,” said linebacker Efrem Oliphant regarding the team’s defensive success. Oliphant is tied with Mathews for a team-high 23 total tackles.
But it needs help
It will be important for the offense to sustain drives and keep Hill on the sideline. And it hasn’t as of late. Sophomore quarterback John O’ Korn has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in three of the past five games, dating back to last season. The offense has also converted just 26 percent of its third downs (117th in the nation).
“We’ve got to keep our defense rested because the (BYU) offense is going to be good,” said junior running back Kenneth Farrow. “I feel confident in our defense that they can go out and make plays, but establishing a running game will help (O’Korn) settle in and make everyone a little more comfortable.”