Dick Harmon: Cody Hoffman's legacy will be how he filled BYU's offensive void
Ravell Call, Deseret News
This season, the Cougar senior has established himself as the all-time receptions and touchdowns leader at a school that has rewritten the NCAA passing record book on more than one occasion.
Heading into Saturday's Idaho State game, Hoffman now has 239 catches, 18 more than second-place Dennis Pitta, and 33 career touchdowns, three more than second-place Austin Collie.
That’s some elite company. I’d wager Collie is the best all-around receiver in BYU history and Pitta is among the toughest, most clutch players the school has ever fielded. You go down the list — from Phil Odle, Jay Miller, Golden Richards to Lloyd Jones, Glen Kozlowski and a myriad super tight ends, plus Joy Bellini’s two sons — and the Cougars have had some excellent pass catchers. All of them had standout traits.
Hoffman will stand out for a myriad reasons after he plays his final home game this Saturday. Among them is his 6-foot-4 size and the obvious fact that he is a tremendous fighter with the ball in the air.
One aspect that’s been very impressive with Hoffman is his lone wolf singularity.
He'll stand out because his career came under the umbrella of three offensive regimes: the first Robert Anae era, the Brandon Doman era and the second coming of Anae. He's had three receivers coaches: Patrick Higgins, Ben Cahoon and Guy Holliday. Tough to remember a BYU receiver who'd been coached by that many key faces.
Hoffman has put up these incredible numbers after being singled out as BYU’s main weapon. He's been targeted big time by his own quarterbacks — and opposing defenses.
Hoffman has done what he’s done while breaking in quarterbacks. He came to the Cougars when Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson were trading starting roles, and he introduced Taysom Hill. He’s been kind of an orphan asked to rise up and be the family.
He’s done so over and over again.
Unlike Collie and Pitta, he’s never had the luxury of a consistent Max Hall. Unlike Collie and Pitta, who had the luxury of taking turns being The Man and having defenses play off both of them, Hoffman has basically forged through with almost all the attention from defensive coordinators focused solely on him.
Hoffman’s accomplishments grew in an era of BYU football when the tight end has not played a prominent role for multiple seasons for the first time since Brian Billick.
Ever since BYU’s climb as a recognized passing offense began in the mid-'70s, the tight end and running back positions have dominated statistics. When BYU wide receivers have had great years, they’ve usually been complimented by star talent at tight end: Eric Drage and Chris Smith; K.O. Kealaluhi and Chad Lewis and Itula Mili, or Collie and Pitta.
BYU’s tight end position traditionally has been a big producer. So has the halfback hybrid receiver. The actual wide receiver spot at BYU has usually been complementary in the pass game.
This tight end vacuum for Hoffman to work with? Look no further than 2010, Hoffman’s freshman year, when he was second on the team in catches (42), just three behind leader J.J. DiLuigi, a running back. The third-ranking receiver was McKay Jacobson (37), followed by Luke Ashworth (22) and running back Bryan Kariya (21). Then it was tight end Devin Mahina with 11.
Hoffman put up big numbers because Nelson targeted him. Over and over again. One may wonder what kind of numbers he could have put up if the tight end position had been putting up other big numbers and defenses were forced to worry about that production.
Another standout figure has been the competition. Most of Hoffman’s career came after BYU left the Mountain West Conference. While BYU’s foray into independence took awhile to beef up the schedules, Hoffman has faced the likes of Texas (twice), Florida State, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Washington, TCU, Mississippi, Boise State, Oregon State and Boise State.
With Hoffman still to face Idaho State, Notre Dame, Nevada and an opponent in a bowl game, Hoffman’s best game has been that record-breaking effort at New Mexico State last year. Sure, it was a questionable Aggie team that was dragging at the end of the season, but remember that Hoffman had just lost Nelson to injury. Nelson’s replacement, James Lark, got his first career start.
That day all of Hoffman’s superior skills as a BYU receiver were on display: his size, fight and dominance. Remember, not only was he breaking in Lark, he suffered a separated shoulder the previous week at San Jose State that would require surgery in the postseason. That day in Las Cruces, N.M., Hoffman had 12 catches for 182 yards and five touchdowns. Under those circumstances, it was very impressive indeed.
And so it was last Saturday in Camp Randall Stadium, against Wisconsin, a team that was a touchdown away from being equal with possible national champion Ohio State. Hoffman caught seven passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. With little tight end help — again — and route mate Mitch Matthews injured, Hoffman was targeted by his quarterback and the Badger defense mugged him every time he left the line of scrimmage. Hoffman simply went over the century mark for the 17th time.
An orphan with a mission.
That singularity is Hoffman’s legacy: the fact that his career has been spent with a bull's-eye on his back. This is a guy who has caught passes in 39 consecutive games — almost half of them for more than a hundred yards.
This stands out to me as the most significant thing Hoffman has done with these numbers as his days in Provo come to an end.
When Hoffman receives his senior blanket and walks down the tunnel for the last time, his departure will mean more than numbers. It will completely be about the void he filled.
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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