PROVO — With so many projected starters being held out of Saturday's spring scrimmage at BYU, including senior quarterback Riley Nelson, there was plenty of attention on Nelson's backups.
A crowd of 7,500 attended the scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium on a warm, overcast afternoon.
While those four QBs didn't produce any prodigious numbers — or touchdowns — the Cougars are happy with their depth and talent at that position.
The quarterbacks, who engineered two series apiece, faced a disadvantage considering BYU had only seven healthy offensive linemen, who played all 39 plays. Meanwhile, the Cougar offense was going against an aggressive defense that forced a pair of turnovers and allowed only a handful of first downs.
But freshman Taysom Hill, who originally signed with Stanford and recently returned from an LDS Church mission, clearly impressed the coaches and his teammates.
Hill completed 2-of-3 passes for just four yards, but he also ran three times for 22 yards. Facing a third-and-nine situation, Hill scrambled out of the pocket and picked up 10 yards for a first down — something offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman loved to see.
"He's one guy that was able to show his ability today. He has a great feel in the pocket and he has the ability to take off and run," Doman said. "Ultimately, whether they're throwing a completion or handing the ball off for four yards or the quarterback is scrambling, as long as the chains remain positive, our goal is to get first downs. His ability to do those types of things will allow him to have the chance to be a pretty good quarterback. Today we saw a glimpse of that."
"Taysom Hill, besides being able to throw the football ... he's one of the fastest players on our team," said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "You had a chance to see him out of the pocket a little bit today. When that happens, he's hard to contain. I like that."
Defensive back Mike Hague liked how Hill was able to make plays.
"Taysom is an incredible athlete. It was a treat to watch him today," he said. "I came around on a corner blitz and anyone else I probably would have been able to get there. But he took off and I was chasing him. He's got an incredible arm, too."
Hague added that Nelson has been a great mentor for the younger QBs.
"Our young quarterbacks are looking really good, especially having someone like Riley teaching them," he said. "Riley is one of the greatest examples of perseverance, commitment and knowledge. He's passing that on to these young guys."
Senior backup James Lark completed 3-of-8 passes for 34 yards, but missed out on a golden opportunity for a touchdown when his pass to a wide-open Skyler Ridley inside the red zone fell incomplete, just off of Ridley's fingertips.
"Offensively, we did a good job," Lark said. "Personally, on my drives, we ran the ball well. We haven't had the opportunity because we haven't been going live. I think we just hurt our drives with penalties and drops. We would have had one touchdown on a dropped ball. But I think we accomplished a lot of things."
Running back Josh "Juice" Quezada played in just the opening series but gained 11 yards on two carries, while freshman Adam Hine rushed six times for 17 yards. Hine absorbed a hard hit, causing a fumble that was recovered by Robbie Buckner. Hine ended up returning to the field and did not exhibit any concussion-like symptoms, according to trainer Kevin Morris.
Lark praised the offensive linemen.
"The offensive line did one of their best jobs all spring. We've struggled running the ball throughout the spring and we haven't had opportunities to run the ball. Today, they proved they could do it. We ran the ball really well. I felt that the pass protection was really good."
Sophomore quarterback Ammon Olsen completed 1-of-3 passes for two yards while redshirt freshman Alex Kuresa was 1-of-4 for six yards, with one interception, and a nine-yard run. Originally, Kuresa was planning to leave for a mission this summer, but has decided to play this season before serving.
Hague picked off Kuresa on the first play of Kuresa's first series.
"Luckily, the ball was overthrown," Hague said. "I actually slipped right before I caught it but I was able to catch it."
On the next play, the defense missed out on a chance to score when safety Jray Galea'i nearly picked off Lark. Galea'i had a clear path to the end zone had he been able to hang on to the ball.
Speaking of Lark's performance this spring, not necessarily of his performance Saturday, Mendenhall said, "He's had, of all the quarterbacks after Riley, an excellent, excellent spring. I think he's gained our team's confidence, which is a huge thing because now it's not just contingent upon how Riley plays. He's elevated his status in the team's perspective."
"I'm really pleased with James," Doman said. "He's in as good a shape as he's been in and his attitude is as good as it's ever been. To his credit, his support level to Riley in a backup role has been impressive to me. But he's always fighting for more opportunities. In the event that he goes in and plays, I think we're in good hands."
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