By Aaron Bagley
Bronco Mendenhall’s record as a coach at BYU: 69-26. Of those 26 losses, 14 have come in September. In the Bronco era the Cougars always seem to come slow out of the gate. Or maybe it’s just that the expectations of BYU fans are too high each year. Again this year, the Cougars lost two very winnable games, in Salt Lake and Boise. The offense looked very sluggish in those games and it might have been a product of Riley Nelson’s back being hurt. However, BYU bounced back nicely against Hawaii. The Cougars’ offense ran the ball exceptionally well and snapped a 17 game streak of no 100 yard rushers. BYU had 2 in that game, both of whom happen to be true freshmen. One is also a quarterback, which is why I think Bronco has to let go of his attachment to Riley and start the freshman, Taysom Hill.
Why should BYU start Taysom? It’s inevitable that he will start when Riley is hurt, but if both are healthy–why start Taysom? Let’s face it…the Cougs aren’t busting the BCS this year. The best we are getting is the Poinsettia Bowl. So I think the question is–why not start Taysom? Don’t get me wrong, I love Riley and it must be miserable to have your senior season go like this. But at this point, what’s the difference between putting James Lark behind Taysom and putting Riley behind Taysom? Why not give Taysom reps and in-game experience against this tough schedule to prepare for the next three years?
I completely understand that you play for this season. I understand you play whoever gives you the best chance to win games. Right now that player is Taysom Hill. Both quarterbacks have something that Bronco loves: grit and determination. Both quarterbacks are similar in playing style. Riley has more experience, and a great winning percentage. But as former Cougar quarterback Paul Shoemaker wrote, Riley’s wins have been against sub par teams. The overall record of teams Riley beat last year is 26-47. Not overly impressive. He lost to TCU last year, as well as Utah and Boise this year, the most important games thus far. He has been hurt this season but at this point I don’t see a reason to keep starting him. The jury is out on Riley. He is a great leader, great guy, it’s impossible to not like him as a person, but he just isn’t that great of a quarterback.
In my opinion, Taysom is an overall better player. He is one of the fastest players on the team. He outran the Hawaii secondary! I don’t think Riley could put on the afterburners quite like Taysom did on that play. Taysom is just as good a passer as a freshman as Riley is now. He will get much better. He under threw Cody Hoffman in the first quarter last game and it was pretty ugly. But it can’t get uglier than Riley’s deep ball. Other than that throw to Hoffman, Taysom looked very clean and highly productive.
Taysom also spreads the ball around, something that Riley doesn’t do well. When Taysom started against Hawaii last week, Ross Apo finally got on the board with a touchdown, and Hoffman got targeted a few times but just couldn’t get going. Falsev did well out of the slot and Mahina got a good touchdown. A key to beating Utah State is to incorporate the tight ends and to spread the ball around because USU is going to be all about stopping the run after last game. And I think Taysom gives us the best option for that.
I suspect the main reason for Bronco being so hesitant about playing Taysom as a true freshman has to be because of the Jake Heaps mess. The fact is, Taysom Hill is NOT Jake Heaps. If you will remember, in the off-season of 2011, of the 66 team workouts (which were not mandatory) Jake Heaps attended three of them. Yes, only three. After the game against Hawaii, Bronco said that Taysom stayed on campus working and studying for the game until 10 p.m. and walked out the building with Coach Doman. Doman really appreciated that. Just from that experience I think it’s safe to say that Taysom and Doman have a special chemistry and camaraderie. With these two on the same page, I believe this offense will click much better than it does with Riley.
The remaining opponents on BYU’s schedule are intriguing. The Cougars play Utah State on Friday, and then play Oregon State, Notre Dame in South Bend, and Georgia Tech in Atlanta. I think all of these are winnable games. BYU’s defense is easily good enough to win all those games. It just depends on the offense, and Taysom Hill at QB is the better option.
The 2013 schedule increases in strength so why not get Taysom experience on the road like that to face next years schedule? Throwing him into the fire won’t hurt his confidence either. He has weapons all around him. Good receivers, and a good backfield even without Michael Alisa. It will probably be hard on him against good defenses like USU and Notre Dame, especially with an offensive line that hasn’t been very impressive. But the Cougars’ defense will keep them in every game. We might not win all of them, but we will compete.
And I like BYU’s prospects…even with a true freshman at quarterback.