With a dramatic double overtime win by the Utah over Oregon State on Thursday night, the Cougars and Utes have reached the midpoint in the season.
That gives us the perfect opportunity to analyze the surprises, special moments and even the disappointments for Utah, and BYU. It also allows us to award midseason honors for both teams.
Here is a look at how each school has fared during the first half of the 2014 season.
The Cougars started out the season with two blow out wins to earn plenty of national attention an even some Heisman hype for quarterback Taysom Hill. They followed it up with two more wins to improve to 4-0 before Hill was injured for the season in a loss to Utah State. A week later, BYU lost a heartbreaker in over time to Central Florida to finish the first half at 4-2.
The biggest Surprise
BYU went into Austin, Texas to face a Longhorn squad looking for revenge after they were destroyed in Provo, Utah, in 2013. After a tight first half, BYU blew the game open in the third quarter when they scored four consecutive touchdowns and ran away with a 41-7 victory.
The special moment
In the win over Texas, the Cougars were up 6-0 in the third quarter when Taysom Hill made the play of the season. He dropped back in the pocket and then avoided pressure before he took off down the field. Texas safety Dylan Haines had Hill in his sights and lined him up to make the tackle, but before the contact came Hill hurdled Haines before he finished off the 30-yard touchdown run to break the game open.
The biggest disappointment
While the Cougars have been hit very hard by the injury bug this season with just about every key players missing time, it was the injury to Hill that was by far the most disappointing moment of the season. He was the go to guy on the offensive side of the ball and the clear team leader. His loss has clearly impacted the Cougars in the win/loss column and changed the complexion of a once promising season.
Even though Hill was injured for the remainder of the season early in game 5, he was undeniably the best player on the offense in the first half. He had made vast improvement with his accuracy from the year before and was still a huge threat with his legs. In five games, he completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 975 yards and seven touchdowns. On the ground, he carried the ball 87 times for 460 yards and eight scores.
Even though Fua was injured in the Utah State game, he did enough in the first five games to earn the defensive most valuable player for the first half. He is fourth on the team in total tackles (30), second in tackles for loss (4.5), and first on the team with three sacks, according to BYUCougars.com.
Special teams MVP
The punting game has been a huge part of the Cougars success this season. Arellano has punted the ball 29 times for an average of 44.4 yards per attempt. Of those 29 punts, 12 have pinned the opponent inside the 20, 11 have been more than 50 yards and only once has there been a touchback, according to BYUCougars.com.
Before the leg injury, Hill was right in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race and his absence has proved how valuable he truly is. He could win a game through the air or dominate on the ground (a touchdown run in every game he played). When the Cougars need a tough yard, it was Hill who could be counted on to get it.
The Utes wrapped up the first half of the season with a 5-1 record. They started off the season with two huge home wins over Idaho State and Fresno State. Their first road test came in week 3 when they traveled to Michigan and came away with a big win over the Wolverines. The only setback of the season came in a home game against Washington where they fell 28-27. The Utes bounced back well with a pair of road victories in the Pac-12.
The biggest surprise
The play of Gionni Paul in his first game of the season coming back from a foot injury. His first appearance of the year came in the game at Michigan where Paul tried to make up for lost time. In the 26-10 win over the Wolverines, he totaled 14 tackles (including 10 solo), recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass, according to UtahUtes.com.
The special moment
Like the biggest surprise, the special moment came against the Wolverines. With the game tied at 3 early in the second quarter, punter returner Kaelin Clay found a hole in the Michigan special teams and returned the punt 66 yards for the touchdown. He capped off the electrifying run by sporting the Heisman pose in the end zone for a moment that Utah fans will never forget.
The biggest disappointment
It was easy to find the biggest disappointment in an other wise fantastic start to the season. After the Utes took a 21-0 first quarter lead at home over Washington State, Connor Halliday and the Cougar offense came to life and scored 28 of the last 34 points, including an 81-yard touchdown pass to Vince Mayle with 4:58 remaining. That touchdown gave the Cougars a 28-27 victory and handed the Utes their only loss to date.
There should be no surprise here since Booker has carried the load on offense in the last three weeks. One the season, he has carried the ball 120 times for 742 yards and seven touchdowns. Included in the total is games of 178 yards against Washington State, 156 yards against UCLA and 229 yards and three touchdowns against Oregon State.
Through six games, Orchard has been the biggest play maker for an excellent Utah defense and has become one of the most dominating defensive lineman in the entire country. He is leading the team with 10.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. He is also second on the Utes defense with 39 tackles.
Special teams MVP
This was by far the hardest decision to make when it came to position MVP’s. The Utah special teams have been awesome through the first six games. Andy Phillips has made all but two of his field goal attempts and has 23 touchbacks, according to UtahUtes.com. Tom Hackett has been equally as good with a punting averaged of 47.1 yards on 37 attempts. Of those 37 punts, 18 pinned the opponent inside the 20-yard line, 14 have been more than 50 yards and only four have been touchbacks, according to UtahUtes.com. Even with the great play on both sides of the kicking game, it is Clay who has done the most. He has totaled 18 returns on punts and kicks so far and has taken four of them back for touchdowns. He has 12 punt returns for 241 yards (20.1 average) and three trips to the end zone as well six kick returns for 194 yards (32.3 average) and another score.
There is no telling where this team would be without the ground game of Booker. He has almost single-handedly carried the offensive load as the rotating quarterbacks have struggled and the wide receivers have had a difficult time making catches. In the last three games, Booker has accounted for 563 yards rushing and five touchdowns as the Utes have jumped to the top of the Pac-12 standings.