Houston-BYU Preview

It’s far too early to tell if going undefeated would land BYU a spot in the first College Football Playoff, but two dominant road wins to kick off the year certainly have the 25th-ranked Cougars feeling good about themselves.

They also have good reason to be wary of a letdown heading into their home opener.

BYU needed a late comeback to avoid falling to Houston last season in one of the wildest games of the college football season, a close call it isn’t interested in repeating Thursday night.

Taysom Hill totaled five touchdowns and helped BYU rack up 513 yards in a season-opening 35-10 win at Connecticut, then scored three times on the ground in a 41-7 demolition of Texas on Saturday.

The junior quarterback has completed 73.0 percent of his passes after hitting on 53.9 percent last season.

"Ultimately, Taysom Hill is a phenomenal player," coach Bronco Mendenhall said after the win over the Longhorns. "He made a lot of great decisions, but there are just some sheer athleticism things that aren’t coachable. He is just more poised than he was a year ago. He’s better at leadership and the game is slowing down for him. His throwing the ball is more accurate."

BYU held a Texas team missing starting quarterback David Ash to 258 yards, and easily passed what looked to be one of the more difficult tests on its schedule. Visits to UCF and Boise State in October loom, but for now it begins a three-game home stretch with its first Top 25 ranking in two years.

Houston had 275 rushing yards in a 47-0 win over Grambling State on Saturday after being held to minus-26 on the ground in a season-opening 27-7 loss to Texas-San Antonio, but coach Tony Levine was already looking ahead to BYU.

"You put the film on, and offensively last year they went to the no-huddle and they were able to go up and down the field all season and put points on the board," Levine said.

He would know.

BYU had 681 yards and ran an FBS record-tying 115 plays against Houston on Oct. 19 at the home of the NFL’s Texans, yet it still needed an 11-yard touchdown pass from Hill to Skyler Ridley with 1:08 left to escape with a 47-46 win in a game that featured seven lead changes.

That was Hill’s fourth TD through the air and the last of his career-high 417 yards. He also ran for 128, becoming just the eighth FBS player since 1996 to throw for 400 yards and run for 100 in the same game.

Hill threw three interceptions in that victory, one of which was returned 29 yards for a touchdown by Houston linebacker Derrick Matthews.

Matthews also had three of Houston’s eight sacks and took Hill down for a safety, and those were hardly BYU’s only mistakes. It had 14 penalties that cost it 125 yards, and went just 7 of 21 on third downs.

BYU was the nation’s sixth-most penalized team in 2013, and it already has 21 this season.

Mendenhall’s team has given it away twice in each game, but it’s a plus-2 in turnover margin after taking advantage of four Texas miscues.

That could spell big trouble for a Houston team that’s been rather sloppy. Levine’s team has coughed it up eight times, though six of those came in the opener.

John O’Korn threw four picks in the opening loss before throwing for 200 yards and a touchdown without an interception against Grambling State. Houston also mixed in receiver Greg Ward in some wildcat packages, though Levine remains confident in his sophomore signal-caller, who threw for 363 yards with three TDs and three INTs last year against BYU.

"We saw improvement from John from Week 1 to Week 2," Levine said. "… And I would like to say in a postgame press conference Thursday night that John O’Korn again improved from Game 2 to Game 3."

BYU’s only 3-0 start in Mendenhall’s first nine seasons came when the Cougars won their first six games in 2008.