Jim BUrton Extra Point Graphic

 

Now what?

Quite naturally, that’s a question BYU fans are asking themselves today in the wake of Friday night’s 35-20 loss to Utah State in Provo.

But what about the Cougars themselves? Nope. Not really.

Currently ranked No. 18 nationally and likely to take a major drop, BYU not only lost a game, it lost Heisman Trophy-candidate quarterback Taysom Hill, who is now out for the season with a broken leg.

He underwent surgery Saturday morning. Coach Bronco Mendenhall said the early indications are that the junior is looking at a 3-4 month recovery process. His teammates said they were saddened by the loss and insisted he is still a team leader.

But they never asked, “Now what?”

“Of course it’s a big loss for us, it kind of knocks the wind out of you a little,” receiver Jordan Leslie said. “(Hill is) a great athlete, a great quarterback. A team captain. A team leader. Of course that’s going to shock you a little.”

Leslie, himself a senior leader, wasted no time in expressing a vote of confidence for senior backup Christian Stewart, now the Cougars’ starting quarterback.

Yes, of course it was shocking to see Hill go out like he did, being carted to BYU’s locker room. But that didn’t stop Leslie from using the phrase “next man up” in regard to his team’s quarterback situation.

“That’s kind of what we have to go by,” he said.

The Cougars now sit at 4-1 on the season and their hopes of a Heisman run for Hill and, more importantly for them, a shot at a perfect record and a New Year’s Day bowl game, are completely shot.

That’s the sad nature of their independent schedule. There’s now a loss on the schedule and nothing but pride left to play for.

“It’s a loss. Of course we wanted to go undefeated but it’s just one loss,“ Leslie said, speaking confidently and saying the things one might expect from a leader. “We can still finish the season 11-1 (and) go to our bowl game.“

Leslie is wrong and he’s right. The Cougars aren’t going 11-1; they’ve got a game Thursday in Orlando, Fla. with Central Florida, 2-2 on the season, but scrappy and no doubt anxious to take a crack at the Hill-less Cougars.

Even if they get past UCF, Boise State is lurking as is a season finale against Cal. There is at least one and maybe two more losses on the schedule.

But Leslie is right in the “why” and the “how” of what he said.

Next man up, he said.

Just one loss, he said.

And others joined in.

“I’m sure people are going to hop of the BYU bandwagon, we don’t even care,” junior Mitch Matthews said. “We’re gonna go beat the next team we play. That’s what makes it easy.”

Leslie, Matthews and all the rest, they’re football players and it’s not in their nature to play the “Now what?” game.

Seeing Hill go down in the prime of his season, with so much to play for, was truly shocking. But it would’ve been even more shocking to hear one of his teammates say what the folks in the press box and in the stands were saying.

“We’re done. It’s over.”

“It’s a good thing they’ve got Savannah State on the schedule, otherwise they may not win again.”

Players can’t afford to be pessimistic, at least not in public.

If BYU is going to have any success going forward, it’ll be because of players who not only say what they’re supposed to say, but they believe what they say.

“If there’s a guy that’s ready to step up to the challenge, it’s me,” Stewart said. “That’s what I’m about. I’m a leader. I’m a confident guy in my ability and I know my teammates have that same confidence in me.”

Oh he’s confident alright. He has to be.

It sure beats the alternative: asking, “Now what?”

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo

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