The football world is enamored with Colin Kaepernick these days. And unless you’re a Green Bay Packers fan, it’s hard not to be.
Following an impressive Super Bowl appearance last year, the second-year starter for the San Francisco 49ers put on a quarterback clinic Sunday night, racking up 412 passing yards with nearly a 70 percent completion rate against the aforementioned Packers.
It seems the QB known for his ability to torch defenses with his legs has developed into one of the NFL’s best passers as well.
This week the football world has also taken notice of another quarterback. After BYU racked up 550 rushing yards against the mighty Texas Longhorns, Cougar quarterback Taysom Hill was given attention in nearly every major publication and syndicated sports show in America for his 259 yards on the ground.
Sure, that attention has as much to do with Texas’ meltdown as it does Hill’s performance Saturday night. After all, Hill was very inconsistent in the passing game — something BYU fans aren’t used to historically.
But the attention has come nonetheless. The question is, can Taysom Hill perform when the rushing attack isn’t in the stratosphere? If the answer is yes, he must improve in the pass game. Because teams will inevitably start to bring help up front to slow the run.
And is there a comparison to be made between BYU’s present QB and the former Nevada Wolfpack player-turned-NFL superstar?
Kaepernick, Nevada and the read-option offense
Kaepernick was a four-year starter at Nevada from 2007-2010. Before the read-option was all the rage in college football and the NFL, he was learning under the tutelage of offensive mastermind Chris Ault, the creator of the Pistol Offense, which relies heavily on versatile rushing quarterbacks and read-option.
Ault and Kaepernick saw solid success running that offense together, capped by a 13-1 season in 2010 where the Wolfpack upset expected BCS darlings Boise State in dramatic fashion.
Kaepernick’s success launched him into the NFL draft where, after a year behind Alex Smith in 2011, he got his shot to shine and is now on the launching pad to stardom.
But before any of that could happen, he had to shine in Reno. And it was primarily with his legs.
By the numbers
Kaepernick was nothing resembling a prolific passer for a large chunk of his college career. In fact, he looked a lot like Taysom Hill. Granted, the sample size is small due to Hill’s meager four starts. But the comparison still holds validity.
In his freshman and sophomore seasons, as detailed in the table below, Kaepernick averaged 77 yards rushing and passed for a bit better than a 50 percent completion rate and 234 yards a game.
Hill, meanwhile, in four starts as a freshman and sophomore is averaging far more yards on the ground per game at 131. And he only averages one less completion on one more pass attempt, albeit for a good bit less yards and yards per completion.
But it’s not out of the ball-park.
|Freshman and Sophomore Seasons||Rush yds/gm||Pass att/comp - yds/game||Pass comp %||Avg yds/comp|
|Kaepernick||77||16/29 - 234||55.1||11|
|Hill||131||15/30 - 163||50||15|
And Kaepernick got better each season. By the time he was an upperclassman, his completion percentage topped 60 percent and he was rushing for 90 yards a game.
Keep in mind, Kaepernick was seeing this success in large part against the bottom half of Division 1 football. Hill’s sample does include his first start at a very bad Hawaii team, but includes three games against very solid defenses. You can bash Texas all you want, but Nevada was playing a Who’s Who schedule of the dregs of the FBS.
When you look Kaepernick’s numbers for his career against teams with a winning record, you find his completion percentage and rushing yards per game drop by double-digit percentages.
Plenty of work to do
Of course, nobody is going to say that Hill is currently on track to become Colin Kaepernick. After all, Hill lacks the size and strength of the former Nevada great.
But we get a glimpse of his possible upside. There’s no reason with lots of practice and game situations Hill can’t be pushing the 60 percent completion mark.
Last year against a Utah State, a top 20 defense, Hill completed 24 of 36 passes for 235 yards. So the potential is there. The consistency and accuracy, thus far this season, is not.
Aside from just making good passes, Hill also has to improve his reads. In the read-option run game, particularly against Texas, he was stellar with his reads. His good decisions allowed Jamaal Williams to gouge the defense between the tackles and sprung Hill himself loose outside all game.
Now that ability to read must translate to the passing game. His present shortcomings were illustrated clearly in a second half-drive when, nearing the red-zone, Hill threw a pass — his first read — into double coverage in the corner of the end zone. Had he progressed to his second read, he likely would have kept the safety on that first receiver and seen single-coverage on his second option across the field.
Once Hill learns to complete his progressions and make the smart pass — and do it accurately — BYU fans will have a pass game to cheer for in addition to the newfound ground barrage.
But it will take time. Kaepernick didn’t complete 60 percent of his passes until his senior year. But once he did, the Wolfpack was just one bad game in Honolulu away from a perfect season.
Hill needs similar reps to develop. The good news is, BYU has a run game and defense that will buy him plenty of time to improve.
And if he does, the next few years could be very bright for a BYU offense that, until last week, hadn’t shone since Anae was in Provo the first time.