Healthy Taysom Hill at quarterback key to BYU success

Publish date:

PROVO, Utah (AP) Taysom Hill constantly envisions running out of the tunnel at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, to face the Cornhuskers in the season opener. The BYU senior quarterback knows the end of his collegiate career is on the horizon and he has spent much of it on the bench with injuries during his freshman and junior seasons.

''I think about it all the time,'' Hill said. ''I think about those first four games I was playing in last year all the time. I get emotional thinking about that.

''I love playing football. I love playing for BYU. Thinking about Nebraska, Week 1 gets me very excited. I'm very emotional about it

Hill believes the BYU will be in position to win every game this season. And that's a low-key way to describe the optimism around the program.

BYU held its media day Wednesday to preview the season. There weren't any predictions, but it's clear a fourth consecutive 8-5 finish is not welcome.

''I've had a really clear vision since about Year 3,'' coach Bronco Mendenhall said. ''I envision a day where BYU wins a national championship while promoting our faith through football.

''Expectations are the same. ... I've made the standard so clear so many times, there's not really much else to say. It's more about doing.''

''Doing'' will be a challenge with a schedule that includes Nebraska, UCLA, Michigan and Missouri.

Hill returns from a season-ending broken leg and torn ligaments and is the single most important factor to the Cougars' success. He was considered a Heisman candidate before the injury. BYU has nine returning starters on an offense that both Hill and Mendenhall say could be the best in school history.

Senior running back Jamaal Williams is less than 1,000 yards from breaking the school's career rushing record. Senior receiver Mitch Mathews (6-foot-6, 215 pounds) had nine touchdown catches last season. Highly rated junior college transfer Nick Kurtz (6-6, 205 pounds) missed all of 2014 with a foot injury, but is expected to be another weapon on offense.

The questions on offense center on depth at quarterback and offensive line.

Hill, however, needs to be healthy for BYU to fulfill that promise. He's only played every game of a season once in three years.

''At the end of the day, you can choose to be bitter,'' Hill said. ''(Or) you can choose to say, `Hey, yeah this sucks. Let's make the most of it.' I've got another year to showcase what I can do as an athlete, as a quarterback and as a BYU football team. So let's make the most of it.''

The coaching staff has decided to game-plan ways to keep Hill from taking so many hits. Running the ball has always been a significant part of his game - Hill rushed for 1,344 yards in 2013. The staff plans to call more tailback runs, and utilize run-blocking tight ends, to cut down on the shots Hill takes. He'll still have his own called runs, though not as many, and be active with scrambles and zone-read calls. But Mendenhall said he learned a lesson in 2014 about the value of health.

''Taysom will continue, on any given play, to try to take over the game if he thinks it's going to help us win,'' Mendenhall said. ''Our job is to develop a structure that limits the number of times he has a chance to do that, but also gives him an occasional freedom to do that when necessary.''

Hill said he's come to grips with the risk.

''This is how I play football,'' Hill said. ''This is how, as an offense, we can be as good as we can. I'm still going to run the football.''

Quarterbacks coach Jason Beck said Hill will be a better quarterback despite the missed time. The injury actually helped Hill focus on pure quarterback development during the spring since he wasn't cleared to face contact or fully run. He improved throwing the ball and making decisive reads. The timing with receivers improved got better. Getting the ball out of Hill's hands sooner should also help avoid injury.

''There's a sense of urgency with Taysom,'' Mathews said. ''The focus of timing, precision, accuracy, anticipation, you can tell, has become more important to him.

''If you run Cover 2 against our offense, he's going to run all over you. If you go man-to-man, that's our specialty as receivers. When he's healthy and on top of his game, we're pretty hard to stop.''