SALT LAKE CITY — Realizing the backup might have been the better NFL prospect, BYU coach Kalani Sitake and offensive coordinator Ty Detmer still went with Taysom Hill as the starting quarterback throughout last season.
Even as Hill struggled at times with his accuracy in throwing the football, the BYU brass refused to make a change. Only a serious elbow injury in the final regular-season game benched the fifth-year senior, who averaged a mere 6.25 yards per completion to go with 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
A sizable portion of BYU fans clamored for a switch, wanting Tanner Mangum to get a chance. The fact the coaches didn’t go with Mangum until they were forced to reflected more on him than it did on Hill.
For probably several reasons, Mangum wasn’t mentally prepared to play at a high level. Even though miserable weather was a factor, his uneven performance in the win over Wyoming in the Poinsettia Bowl indicated that Mangum wasn’t the same quarterback he was as a freshman the year before.
But Hill is gone now, off to try to make it with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent. Mangum is ready to pick up where he left off after a stellar season in 2015.
“His mindset is great,” Sitake said during an interview on 97.5-FM and 1280-AM The Zone. “He has been awesome all year long.”
Barely two months off a church mission, Mangum went into the 2015 season expecting to serve as a backup to Hill, who was coming off his then second season-ending injury. Hill’s dreams of a big senior season were shattered by another serious injury in the first game against Nebraska.
Mangum’s legend began immediately with a game-winning Hail Mary to Mitch Mathews on the final play. One week later he followed with another miracle bomb to beat Boise State. For the season, he ended up throwing for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Immediately, there was talk of Mangum leaving BYU early to purse the NFL. The professional dream is still a possibility, but he will need to come up big this season after doing virtually nothing last year.
After Bronco Mendenhall and most of his staff left to take over at Virginia, the newly hired Sitake and Detmer wanted Hill to rehab his latest injury and return for one more season. Suspecting Mangum might be better suited for the NFL, the coaches named Hill the starter during training camp in August.
Mangum spent last season on the sidelines learning Detmer’s offense. He returns for this season in a great position mentally and physically, having absorbed Detmer’s schemes and gotten stronger.
“He knows he’s the guy,” Sitake said, “and I feel like he knows it’s his team now. Last year it was kind of a weird dynamic with him and Taysom, but I know he’s a natural leader and he’s taken this team and this offense especially as part of his deal.”
Losing a significant amount of talent off of last year’s offense, BYU probably will need Mangum to be better than he was as a freshman. Jamaal Williams, the program’s all-time leading rusher, has graduated and was drafted in the fourth round by the Packers.
Hill and Williams combined to rush for 2,150 yards last season. The top two receivers from last year’s team also were seniors.
Detmer’s offense this season figures to feature several players at running back and receiver, with Mangum counted on to be the mainstay.
“I’ve been really impressed with his leadership and with things he’s doing with our group in the offseason,” Sitake said. “He is definitely on his way toward having a great year in my mind. I think he’s got all the intangibles ,and it’s just a matter of him getting out there and having the opportunity.”