Quarterbacks: There are a lot of them! Each week, QB Curve will keep you up to speed on the game’s most important position by putting a different college signal-caller in the spotlight and putting the rest of the field in perspective.
QB of the Week: BYU’s Taysom Hill
Typecasting: The Workhorse. If you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, you probably associate Brigham Young quarterbacks with the vanguard of college football’s high-volume passing revolution, decades before it was vacuumed up by the all-consuming concept of “the spread.” BYU was averaging 40 passes per game as early as 1977, while the rest of the country remained enamored of the wishbone. The school’s lineage at the position speaks for itself: Ty Detmer won a Heisman, Robbie Bosco won a national championship, and Steve Young, Jim McMahon, and Marc Wilson all went on to become first-round draft picks.1 Aside from Young, though, none of those guys could run a lick — as a group, the others combined for negative rushing yards in their college careers — and neither could later, less-decorated slingers like Steve Sarkisian, Max Hall, or John Beck, who were cut from the same mold. Cougar quarterbacks have always put up crazy stats, and always courtesy of their arms.
In Young’s case, a first-round pick in the USFL, which was a thing at the time.
Given Taysom Hill’s 6-foot-2, 232-pound frame, it’s easy to take one look at the BYU junior and drop him into the same bucket, just as recruitniks did when they labeled him a “pro-style” quarterback out of high school, in 2009. At the time, Hill was bound for Stanford, where the quarterbacks also look like they’ve been programmed from a statuesque template. When Hill resurfaced at BYU following a two-year mission in Australia, it seemed like a natural fit. And it has been, but not for the usual reason: The more we see of him, the less likely it seems Hill will ever develop into a prototypical, stand-and-deliver pocket passer — and the less that seems to matter, because he’s a legit athlete.
That was only the first of Hill’s three touchdown runs in Saturday’s 41-7 romp over Texas, an outing that accurately reflects how the offense has evolved to suit Hill’s talents. In 2013, he averaged 103.4 yards rushing on 18.9 carries per game, joining with tailback Jamaal Williams to form the most prolific rushing duo in BYU history. As a team, the 2013 Cougars embraced the run-first, option-oriented mentality and set a school record by averaging 267.4 yards on the ground — nearly 100 yards per game better than in any previous season under coach Bronco Mendenhall, who took over in 2005. Through two games in 2014, BYU has kept the ball on the ground on a little more than 60 percent of its offensive snaps, and there’s no reason to expect that number to decline.
At His Best: Any Texas fans who are still reading should have taken the hint from the last section and skipped ahead, because Hill’s national reputation may as well be, “That guy who keeps humiliating Texas.” Last year, Hill ripped the Longhorns for 259 yards on 15.2 yards per carry in a 40-21 upset in Provo, the most ever by an individual rusher against a Texas defense; that game marked the end for UT defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who was fired the next day, and the beginning of the end for Mack Brown, who could no longer justify the premise of an impending turnaround. On Saturday, Hill was less destructive, racking up a workmanlike 99 yards on 4.1 per carry, but once again delivering a sobering wake-up call to anyone who expected the Longhorns to make an abrupt U-turn toward national relevance under new leadership. And Hill’s most impressive run of the night, a stiff-arming, 66-yard sprint in the first quarter, didn’t make it into the box score because of a penalty that negated the score.
As his overall numbers indicate, though, Hill is capable of doing this against just about any defense, and usually does: In 2013, he also eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in wins over Middle Tennessee State, Houston, and Nevada, as well as in late losses to Notre Dame and Washington. In the 2014 opener, he sliced his way through the UConn defense for 97 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries. Against the Huskies, Hill also demonstrated the value of his elusiveness in the passing game:
As with most option quarterbacks, Hill commands enough respect from linebackers and safeties as a de facto tailback to open up the passing game immeasurably, especially on play-action. Altogether, Hill accounted for about two-thirds of BYU’s total offense in 2013 as a rusher and passer, and he is slightly ahead of that pace in 2014.
At His Worst: As with most option quarterbacks, Hill struggles with downfield accuracy. And BYU has hardly abandoned the pass: Hill put it in the air nearly 34 times per game last year, not including drop-backs that turned into scrambles and sacks, and 27 times on Saturday despite the success of the ground game in Austin. But his completion percentage in 2013 was just 53 percent, well below the FBS median, and his overall efficiency rating (118.2) barely made the cut among the top 100 passers nationally. Against opponents from the Power 5 conferences — Virginia, Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Washington — his completion percentage dropped to 46.6 percent, and his efficiency to a truly dismal 94.9.
In obvious passing situations, the numbers were even worse. On third downs with at least seven yards to go, Hill completed just 21 of 69 attempts (30.4 percent) and converted only 17 of those for first downs. (Hill was actually more likely to convert on third-and-long as a rusher, moving the sticks on 11 of 39 carries with at least seven yards to go, which still made those situations to avoid.) When the offense stays on schedule on first and second down, Hill is efficient enough to keep defenses guessing, and to occasionally make them pay if the scales tip too far toward stopping the run. Once the running threat is off the table, though, the passing threat tends to go with it.
Saturday Thursday and Beyond: Hill isn’t a serious Heisman candidate, not really, but after his highlight-reel hurdle over the weekend, it’s not hard to imagine how a dark-horse campaign might take shape. Five of BYU’s next six games are slated for ESPN — including Thursday night’s home opener against Houston — and the Cougars may have just (literally) cleared the tallest obstacle to an undefeated season with the blowout win at Texas. The toughest remaining tests are at Central Florida on October 9 (another Thursday-night game), at Boise State on October 24 (Friday night), and at California to close the regular season on November 29.
At 2-0, Cal may be the most improved team in the nation, and it should only be better by Thanksgiving. If BYU can avoid a blemish before the trip to Berkeley, though, Hill may be able to ride the same wave of goodwill into that game that propelled a very similar player, Northern Illinois’s Jordan Lynch, to third place in the Heisman vote last winter. (Lynch finished ahead of Johnny Manziel, Tre Mason, and Marcus Mariota in that campaign. Did you know that?) The Cougars’ strength of schedule is certainly steeper than NIU’s was in 2013, but not so steep that they won’t be favored in every game as long as Hill remains in one piece.
• What is going on with Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave? A full-time starter in 2013, Stave remained mysteriously nailed to the bench in the Badgers’ opening-week loss to LSU, even as converted safety Tanner McEvoy unraveled in the second half. The explanation for Stave’s absence, apparently, is that he’s come down with a debilitating case of “the yips” — a mental block that manifests itself physically by rendering a routine task nearly impossible. The yips are a well-established phenomenon in golf, and to a lesser extent in baseball.2 In Stave’s case, he suddenly found himself misfiring on easy throws in preseason practice, leading coaches to move McEvoy to the top of the depth chart while advising the incumbent to “shut it down” indefinitely. “I’m throwing the ball after practice and everything like that just fine,” Stave told Fox Sports Wisconsin. “Right now, my arm is just not working the way I’d like it to, I guess. I don’t know what it is.”
And in other, less physically inclined fields: Every writer knows full well the fragility of the pathways between brain and fingers.
• Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett passed his first test in place of injured starter Braxton Miller, posting a 237.2 efficiency rating in the Buckeyes’ opening-week win over Navy. His second test couldn’t have gone much worse, however. Although Barrett made a few plays with his legs in Saturday’s 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech, he was in way over his head as a passer, enduring a 9-of-29 performance punctuated by three interceptions and seven sacks behind a largely rebuilt offensive line. The last of those interceptions came in the final minute, with the game still in reach, when Barrett was picked off by the Hokies’ Donovan Riley, who gave OSU fans plenty of time to contemplate the rest of their season as he sped 63 yards for the icing touchdown. If the Ohio State defense can’t keep opponents below 20 points on a weekly basis, it’s going to be an even longer year in Columbus than anyone expected.
• Nick Saban is not ready to declare a winner in Alabama’s quarterback derby, but Alabama fans certainly are: According to a highly unscientific poll conducted by AL.com, readers prefer senior Blake Sims over Florida State transfer Jacob Coker by a huge margin, a sentiment echoed by the more reliable Bama blogs. Although Sims has yet to uncork an awe-inspiring long ball, he was efficient enough in the Crimson Tide’s opening-week win over West Virginia to keep Coker on the bench until the dying seconds of that game, and he outperformed Coker in Saturday’s 41-0 bludgeoning of Florida Atlantic. Between both quarterbacks, the Tide bombed the Owls for 430 yards and three touchdowns on 38 attempts, the first time Alabama has passed for 400 yards since the 1988 Sun Bowl.
• In a similar vein, Oklahoma State fans and reporters alike are making the case for junior Daxx Garman to take over full time after he passed for 244 yards and two touchdowns Saturday in a 40-23 win over Missouri State, his first significant action since arriving as a transfer from Arizona. Their endorsements may not be necessary: Although coaches were noncommittal Monday about the status of starter J.W. Walsh, who left the game with an undisclosed injury, initial reports suggest Walsh may be facing a lengthy recovery period for a broken foot. If Garman is as good as his new cheering section expects, there’s no need for Walsh to hurry back.
Reggie Collier “Athlete” of the Week: Kansas State’s Jake Waters
The Reggie Collier “Athlete” All-Stars honor quarterbacks who best embody the “dual threat” ethos of their inspiration, the first player to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.
Waters accounted for 377 yards Saturday in K-State’s come-from-behind, 32-28 win at Iowa State, applying the dagger equally by ground (138 yards rushing) and air (239 yards passing) en route to a dramatic victory in his home state. On the game-winning drive, Waters accounted for 74 yards on an 80-yard march, the final eight coming on a touchdown run with 1:30 to play. Before the game, local writers reminded readers that Waters would have gladly signed up to play for the Cyclones — his father played at Iowa State, and he grew up attending ISU games — if only coach Paul Rhoads had thought enough of Waters at the time to offer him a scholarship. Afterward, they don’t seem very inclined to forget.
QB Curve Power Hour!
Ranking the nation’s best quarterbacks after Week 2.
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Saddled with a nine-point deficit and a dormant ground game against Michigan State, Mariota kept his composure and found a way to put the pedal to the metal in the second half. (LW: 1)
2. Jameis Winston, Florida State. Winston followed up a meh opener against Oklahoma State by completing 22 of 27 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns against the Citadel, which doesn’t even warrant a “meh.” (LW: 2)
3. Bryce Petty, Baylor. Petty sat out Saturday’s carpet bombing of Northwestern State with a bad back and watched his backup win Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week. (LW: 3)
4. Kenny Hill, Texas A&M. After putting it in the air 60 times against South Carolina, Kenny Trill took it easy against Lamar, settling for a mere four touchdowns on 26 attempts. (LW: 4)
5. Nick Marshall, Auburn. Marshall accounted for 204 yards and two touchdowns against San Jose State and was completely unintelligible afterward. (LW: 7)
6. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State. Two picks against Akron gives Hackenberg more interceptions (four) than anyone else on this list, but no one else in this top 10 is working with less support from his offensive line or running game. (LW: 5)
7. Brett Hundley, UCLA. At least the blame for this week’s too-close-for-comfort call against an inferior opponent falls mainly on the defense: Hundley did his part against Memphis by passing for 396 yards and three touchdowns. (LW: 8)
8. Everett Golson, Notre Dame. Statistically, Golson’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but a mistake-free, blowout win over Michigan vanquished any doubts that he’s in full command of Brian Kelly’s offense. (LW: NR)
9. Taysom Hill, BYU. If only every opponent could be Texas. (LW: NR)
10. Connor Cook, Michigan State. For a few minutes, Cook was actually outdueling our top quarterback in Mariota’s own stadium. Once things stared to turn the Ducks’ way in the third quarter, though, they turned decisively. (LW: 9)
Waiting: Kevin Hogan (Stanford), Taylor Kelly (Arizona State), Cody Kessler (USC), Trevor Knight (Oklahoma), Dak Prescott (Mississippi State)