Matt Gade, Deseret News
Taysom Hill is on a run.
The BYU sophomore is steadily trending. From where he began this fall and in the Cougars’ first game at Virginia, this is a quarterback who has made remarkable strides. His coach, Bronco Mendenhall, calls him amazing.
We can’t discount the significance of Hill throwing for more than 400 and running for more than 100 last week. Nobody’s ever done that at BYU. Only seven have done it in FBS history. Nobody’s done that this year. Neither Andrew Luck nor RGIII ever did that.
But this is also worth noting. Hill was credited with 128 yards rushing Saturday but he actually ran for 194 yards. Hill gained that much on the ground. He was sacked eight times and lost 66 yards to show 128 in the box score.
One may argue that Hill’s performance this past week against Houston came against an inferior non-BCS football team. But I’d argue undefeated Houston was plenty good; faster, more motivated and better coached than the Texas team the Cougars whipped back in September. It’s a Houston team that hadn’t given up a hundred yards to any rusher, was undefeated, albeit against inferior teams — but in the tradition of Houston football, was outstanding with the pass with talented freshman quarterback John O’Korn.
Hill’s rise came before Houston.
Hill’s a guy who began the season completing 32 percent of his passes at Virginia, 33 percent against Texas and just 37 percent against Utah. After a few of the early practices we were allowed to observe in August, Hill looked inaccurate at times. He showed elite arm strength and power, but it looked unharnessed and hit and miss.
Hill’s meteoric rise has been remarkable following BYU's loss to the Utes in the third game. His completion and efficiency rate the past four games — 73 percent, 141 rating against Middle Tennessee State; 53 percent, 159 rating against Utah State; 70 percent, 158 rating against Georgia Tech; and 66 percent, 161 rating at Houston — illustrate his effectiveness.
Both USU and Georgia Tech defenses were ranked around 20 when Hill faced them.
An inaccurate passer doesn’t throw the strikes we saw him make to Cody Hoffman the last two Saturdays and the game-clincher to Skyler Ridley in Houston.
Hill’s success is directly related to the health of receiver Hoffman (hamstring) and his return to practice full-time. It’s also paralleled more consistency with his protection, which still has a long ways to go.
But most of all, it correlates directly with his worth ethic and focus. And facing more press-man coverage from opponents, he’s developed trust and confidence with his tall receivers Hoffman, Mitch Matthews and consistent Ridley and JD Falslev.
In BYU’s last three games, Hill has thrown eight touchdown passes. He currently ranks No. 8 in the NCAA in total offense behind No. 1 Sean Mannion of Oregon State, No. 2 Johnny Manziel, followed by Fresno State’s Derek Carr, SMU's Garrett Gilbert, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Brett Smith of Wyoming and Taylor Kelly at ASU. If he hadn’t lost 66 yards in sacks Saturday, he might be ahead of Kelly and Smith, right behind Mariota.
Thing is, I’d wager all those QBs have more seasoned and efficient offensive lines. BYU is still playing musical chairs with its offensive line. The eight sacks Hill took at Houston is unacceptable. Having to run Hill 34 times is way too much. You run a running back 34 times and you gamble with wearing him down or getting him tired and prone to injury.
I remember sitting in the press box at the Rose Bowl Oct. 9, 1993, when UCLA sacked John Walsh 10 times. QBs who get sacked that many times are concussion and shoulder separation bait. They are lucky if they don’t end up like Texas’ David Ash this year or Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford in the 2009 opener.
Walsh survived that day. He got lucky because he was an absolute punching bag. Hill survived Saturday because he has elite speed and strength. But it had to take a toll on his body to run 34 times. Hill is talented enough to run out of trouble, but BYU must design more ways to keep him upright and healthy. Sidelined QBs are not fun. Just ask Utah.
Hill’s progress has been momentous.
After what happened to him at the end of the Utah State game a year ago, he deserves to continue his run, extend his 2013 story against Boise State, go to Wisconsin and experience Notre Dame.
Anything short of that would be another tragedy.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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