PROVO — As spring football practice for BYU draws to a close, several topics have been up for debate over the course of the last month.
They include finding a replacement for the great linebacker Kyle Van Noy, integrating new receivers and fine-tuning the offense in Robert Anae’s second season in his second go-round as the coordinator. But really those issues, among others, take a distant backseat to the one that matters the most.
For the Cougars to remain close to relevant without a conference affiliation, they need to steamroll into November with no more than one loss. Given a potentially soft schedule, they may even need to be 8-0.
And for that to happen, it mainly rests with Taysom Hill. Specifically, for BYU to finally have a breakthrough season as an independent, Hill must substantially improve as a passer.
If spring practice is any indication, the junior-to-be is right on target. In the scrimmage played at LaVell Edwards Stadium, Hill completed 19 of 27 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns.
“I thought we threw the ball more accurately and more on time than we have consistently for a while,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall.
"I thought we threw the ball more accurately and more on time than we have consistently for a while."
The completion ratio of 63 percent represents a significant improvement over last season, when he connected on a mediocre 54 percent. Hill was downright lousy in BYU’s five losses, completing only 45 percent of his passes.
Recognizing that spring practice isn’t a true barometer, BYU fans should take a cautious approach at Hill’s improvement. As is customary throughout the country, many projected starters on defense sit out during practices and scrimmages.
But for a number of reasons, Hill will be a better passer next season. He’s simply too good of an athlete to struggle as much as last year.
Being in Anae’s system for a second consecutive year will lead to better offensive production overall. And it’s worth noting that Hill was forced to spend much of last offseason recuperating from a significant knee injury, which obviously hindered the opportunity to hone his skills.
Even with the anticipated improvement, don’t expect Hill to become strictly a pocket passer. With Hill’s size and speed, Anae would be a fool not to take advantage of the quarterback’s outstanding running ability.
Mendenhall stated as much after the spring scrimmage, saying, “When we limit what he can do with his legs, which was the intent, we’re really trying to develop and add the complementary throwing game.”
For the love of all the great BYU quarterbacks, when did the forward pass become a complementary part of the offense? Welcome to BYU football, the 2014 version.
At his core, Hill is a runner first and then a passer. As soon as the protection breaks down or he feels a hint of pressure, Hill relies on his legs.
As we saw to the point of absurdity given the multiple and severity of Riley Nelson’s injuries in 2012, Mendenhall loves mobile quarterbacks. With a background on defense, he gets that it’s harder to defend a quarterback with the ability to scramble and run.
But the Cougars can’t afford a repeat of last season. It was ridiculous that Hill had 31 rushing attempts in BYU’s 31-16 loss to Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl while running back Jamaal Williams only ran 12 times. As we saw, the closer BYU got to the end zone, the harder it became to run the ball.
This season, Anae needs to limit the number of designed running plays for Hill. If necessary, eliminate the quarterback draw altogether. There’s no point in recruiting several outstanding receivers if they are rarely going to get an opportunity to catch the football.
Hill needs to borrow the philosophy of his former coach, Brandon Doman. An outstanding runner himself, Doman overcame the natural tendency to take off by constantly keeping his eyes downfield. If Hill can do the same, he will be the next great BYU quarterback.