This is an important week for Taysom Hill to be The Man.
Hill will lead the Cougars to Madison, Wis., for a showdown with ranked Wisconsin Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium. The last time the Cougars played there was Sept. 20, 1980. Jim McMahon was BYU's quarterback. Hill wasn’t even born. The Cougars won 28-3.
As history has shown, BYU's chances to win big games hinge greatly on the skill and leadership of the quarterback position.
After watching him suffer through a slow start before showing immense promise, some of the men who used to star at quarterback in Provo have offered high praise for the kid from Idaho who has passed for 756 yards and scored seven touchdowns in his past two games. Going into this weekend, Hill ranked No. 6 in the NCAA in total offense with 2,860 yards, an average of 360.9 per game.
Robbie Bosco, the All-American BYU QB who now works in the school’s athletic department, said it is obvious the game has slowed down for Hill and he’s playing "with tons of confidence."
That shift came after Hill’s third game. He completed just 35 percent of his passes against Virginia, Texas and Utah to open the 2013 season. But since a 37.5 percent effort in a loss to Utah, Hill’s accuracy skyrocketed to percentages of 73.7, 54.8, 70.4 and 65.9. Why? BYU shifted from having him throw option routes to throwing quicker-developing passes where he could react and fire and make progressions in sets that he feels comfortable with.
With defenses crowding the box to stop BYU’s run, Hill began attacking man coverage with Cody Hoffman and the rest of his receivers. It’s resulted in big plays against Middle Tennessee, Utah State, Georgia Tech, Houston and Boise State.
“The game has slowed down for him,” said Bosco.
“From a quarterback standpoint, the thing I’m most impressed with is he’s keeping his eyes downfield. He’s just not coming up, making a read and throwing it no matter what. He’s going through a progression, going from one, two, three and throwing to four. When he makes a decision to throw it, he’s throwing it on time now and making accurate throws,” said Bosco.
It's not just his progressions that are standing out, either. It's his raw skill set, physical talent, foot speed and arm strength as a package. With big, tall targets, it is all coming together.
“It’s amazing,” said Bosco. “He’s doing it at a pretty young age, as a sophomore. I only see him getting better and better. He’s putting up crazy numbers now. If he continues to progress like he’s doing and working hard like he’s doing, he’s going to put up some numbers that people aren’t accustomed to around here.”
That is a thought echoed by former BYU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman, who answered Hill questions on 1280 The Zone last week.
“This kid athletically is so unique, so talented. Now you are seeing him gain confidence in throwing the football,” he told co-hosts David James and Pat Kinahan.
“We’re not seeing him miss the mark very often,” said Doman. “I said early on, 'It is timing, decision-making and then the accuracy comes along.' He’s too good of an athlete that once he figures out the first two components, his timing and decision-making, the accuracy will be secondary for this kid and we’re starting to see him throw the ball right on the money in almost every case. He’s not missing many. That is only going to improve.”
The fact that Hill can run with speed and strength like Luke Staley is enhancing his skill set with the pass, said Doman.
“The running game is helping him so much. The defense is at bay all the time and they are constantly having to play one-on-one and the receivers are standing tall and making plays. Now the combination of the run attack, his ability to throw the ball accurately and those receivers out on the edge outmanning, flat outmanning the corners they are going against, it’s going to really be a difficult offense to stop.”
Running for 100 yards a game as a BYU quarterback?
Bosco laughs at how that’s not BYU tradition —certainly not his.
“I think my rushing average for my career was minus-100 yards.” In his career, Bosco attempted 162 carries (with sacks), gained 478 and lost 579 for minus 101.
“He’s making a lot of plays on the run,” said Bosco. “A lot of quarterbacks when they scramble, they put their heads down and are looking to run. He’s figured that out, that his progression is still going on as he’s running around and if he sees a guy open, he’s going to make the throw. I love that out of a quarterback. Once you do that, you are a crazy threat to a defense.
“Typically, if you are a running quarterback, if you get out of the pocket, the linebackers are coming, they’re coming after the quarterback. Corners have to stay in coverage, but once you get on the edge, the corners and safeties have to decide to cut off coverage and I think Taysom has figured out when to make them pay.”
In this regard, Hill reminds Bosco and others of former TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, who's now with the Bengals. Same size, weight, arm and speed.
“I remember our defensive coaches agonizing over how they were going to contain him,” said Bosco. “He could do both and do both well and he understood those things I’ve talked about. I know right now, Taysom is driving coordinators crazy.”
Ty Detmer, BYU's 1990 Heisman Trophy winner who's now coaching high school football near Austin, Texas, told 1320 KFAN radio hosts Tim Montemayor and Kyle Gunther this week past that Hill’s growth has come step by step because he had a limited spring practice due to injury. Now, he’s gained great confidence.
“(That) has helped his accuracy and that takes time to develop rhythm and timing with the different types of drops and zone-read fakes to try and turn and throw. He’s settled in. His footwork is better. And he’s playing lights out,” said Detmer.
“He has turned the corner and has confidence he can run or pass and make big plays.”
Former BYU and Packer linebacker turned TV analyst Brady Poppinga claimed Hill is better than Detmer or Steve Young. Fans have said Hill can run better than Staley, a Doak Walker winner. Asked about the comparisons, Detmer said it is hard to compare people.
Staley could really pound the ball, said Detmer. As for himself, Detmer said he didn’t face “abstract” defenses laced with NFL zone blitzes and different looks like college quarterbacks see these days. As time goes by, the newer guys are always better, he reasoned.
As for Hill being a better passer than Young or Detmer?
Let’s not get out of control here.
Detmer was a Davey O’Brien, Maxwell Award and Heisman winner. Both were collegiate All-Americans; Young was a Super Bowl MVP; and both have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Is it really that easy for BYU fans, all giddy over Hill, to forget the weightiness of all that?
Detmer threw for 121 college touchdowns and 15,000 yards; Young became the NFL’s most accurate passer in the mid-1990s.
“He’s a better all-around player than both of us,” Detmer told his hosts, speaking of Hill’s athleticism.
Detmer makes such a statement because of Hill’s running ability. It is uncanny. He has rushed 142 times for a net of 841 yards (gross 1,014 yards), eight touchdowns and a 5.9 yard-per-carry average. He averages 105.1 yards a game, the top rush leader on a squad that has another 100-yards-a-game rusher in Jamaal Williams. Hill has rushed 34 times in a game. He’s had a 259-yard rush game. He’s had a three-TD rush game and ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run. BYU quarterbacks simply do not do that.
Said Detmer: “I don’t know that he’s a better runner than Luke Staley and I don’t think he’s a better passer than me, but you put it all together and he’s probably better all-around. They’ve got to keep him healthy with all he’s asked to do. He’s definitely one of the best all-around players to ever play there.”
Hype aside, this is a big week for Hill and his Cougars in Madison.
It may be the most meaningful month of November for a BYU quarterback in a very long time.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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