“Luck means a lot in football. Not having a good quarterback is bad luck.”
Of all the positions in all of team sports, none, with the possible exception of goaltender in hockey, is more important than the quarterback in football. Without that issue addressed, a team has nowhere to go, no hope for this week’s game and no hope for next week’s. A team playing without a solid quarterback simply has its heart and soul sucked away. It was former quarterback Ron Jaworski who said, “The heartbeat of a football team is the quarterback and I think everyone who has any intelligence about the game understands you must have consistency at that position to be a championship team.”
To be even a good team.
Nowhere is that truer than at BYU, a program whose name was built on great quarterback play. Everyone knows the builders who helped get that structure up. But over the past three seasons, the foundation has shifted, the beams cracked.
The ghosts and glory of the past did nothing but make the compromises of the present seem all the more deficient. The Cougars having a great defense wasn’t enough. In fact, it made the breach behind center more glaring. Having the best linebacker in school history — and the best receiver, too — didn’t help. The question kept emerging: “How great would this team be if …”
If BYU had what it has to have.
Perhaps, at last, it does.
Not going to jump all over BYU’s win at Utah State on Friday night as anything conclusive. But Taysom Hill showed not just some impressive potential against the Aggies, he showed impressive improvement. The sophomore threw for 287 yards and hit on better than 50 percent of his passes, a benchmark that had been elusive. He also fired off three touchdown passes, two of them perfectly thrown, one a deep ball and the other a fade that dropped like a feather off the back of a bird.
His total of 31 attempts was on target, as well.
That means Robert Anae did an admirable job of mixing his strong run game with the pass, finally balancing the ride of a racer that previously had been pulling hard to the side — and in the Cougars’ losses, straight into the wall. Anae smartly dialed up easy throws for Hill to complete, and, then, once the quarterback got in rhythm, he settled into a groove on all kinds of throws that bode well for whatever comes next.
Another BYU positive: Hill didn’t have to pick up huge chunks of yardage on his own — saving himself from absorbing a steady number of dents and dings on his body. Everybody saw — and was saddened by — what happened to Chuckie Keeton with four minutes left in the first quarter. Utah State’s season was changed at that moment in time when the most indispensable college football player in Utah was lost.
Although it didn’t mean as much to his team, Hill remembers his own heartbreak with that kind of injury from a year ago. No reason to rely too heavily on or expose too often a quarterback who can run, but who shouldn’t overcook that ability. It’s not a bad idea in the specific, but in the comprehensive, running too much is a lousy gamble.
If BYU was ever going to reach its upper offensive boundaries, it had to get Hill comfortable and confident. That’s exactly what it did against a tough Aggie defense. But it might have done even more. It might have uncovered the energized core of a program that’s been buried for three seasons.
Robbie Bosco once characterized what it means for a quarterback to bring that energy at BYU, saying: “It’s not just being a pocket passer, it’s knowing when to dump a ball off, when to scramble, when to run, when to take chances, when to hesitate before you throw. It’s finding the intuitiveness to do all of those things.
“As a BYU quarterback, you’re in charge of everybody. You are the guy everyone looks to. Depending on how you act, how you react, they key off of that. If you’re making plays, keeping drives alive, moving the chains, there won’t be anyone on that team who won’t go to war with you. If you have that, you’ll win a lot of games.”
Hill has a lot of road ahead of him. But there was a ray of hope — for him and his teammates — on Friday night that maybe, just maybe, BYU’s bad luck is ending.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.