Provo • Exactly a year ago, quarterback Taysom Hill stood on the sidelines at the Poinsettia Bowl, his surgically repaired left knee still on the mend, and watched BYU’s defense rescue a sputtering offense led by seniors James Lark and Riley Nelson in a 23-6 victory over San Diego State.
Hill believed the starting job would be his when spring camp started in March if his knee healed well enough but couldn’t be sure. Rumors were flying that offensive coordinator Brandon Doman was about to be dumped and the offense would be drastically changed.
“There were quite a few unknowns, a lot of uncertainty,” Hill said.
Flash forward to December 2013, as the Cougars prepare to meet the Pac-12’s Washington on Friday in the Fight Hunger Bowl (7:30 p.m., ESPN) at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Hill has proved to be the answer to much of that uncertainty.
“They sky is the limit for the kid,” receiver and punt returner JD Falslev said.
Robert Anae agrees. Hired last January to coordinate the BYU offense for the second time, Anae said Friday his approach was to pick a quarterback, then tailor the offense to fit him. Seeing as how Hill became the first BYU player ever to run for more than 1,000 yards (1,211) and pass for more than 2,000 (2,645) in a single season, and 23rd player in NCAA history to do it, Anae made the right choice.
Anae said he wanted to “mold and develop [an] offensive scheme to fit his skill set. So I do believe we are right on the money with his skill set.”
Not surprisingly, Hill’s development mirrored the offense’s development, after that inauspicious start at Virginia when the Cougars picked up just 362 yards, a season low. He completed just 13 of 40 passes, and threw the ill-fated pass that Jamaal Williams let slip through his hands for an interception.
The regular season ended with Hill willing BYU to a 28-23 win over Nevada, after the Cougars failed to score in the first half. He passed for two touchdowns and rushed for one.
“Really high,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said of his satisfaction level with Hill’s progress. “I love Taysom. I think I said that even after the Virginia game. There was a stretch in there where he played, and is playing, at a really high level.”
Anae said he is “very proud” of the way Hill was able to run the ball so much and “be physical,” yet protect himself from getting hurt.
“He’s made smart decisions and grown tremendously in that regard,” Anae said.
Mendenhall and Anae both said the next step is to improve the passing game, which starts not necessarily with Hill’s accuracy (he enters the bowl game a 54 percent passer), but with a better, more-experienced offensive line and more receivers who can get off the line of scrimmage and get open.
“We have taken quite a few hits at the wide receiver spot in terms of depth,” Mendenhall said. “If we were able to have obtained depth at that position, I think there would have been another step still [from Hill] that we all would have seen. … Being able to distribute the ball more to the perimeter and more to the outside, I think is the next phase that we would all like to see.”
Despite his progress, Hill knows the next step for him includes beating teams the Cougars aren’t supposed to beat, such as Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Washington, a three-point favorite, also fits that description. He threw interceptions against the Badgers and Irish, and was a combined 40 of 77 passing for three touchdowns.
“When we make little mistakes against a real quality defense, we don’t see the success,” Hill said. “And so our emphasis will really be executing, making sure no one is making mistakes. … And if we do that, we are going to be hard to beat.”
Regarding his individual progress, Hill said it has mirrored the offense’s development.
“I think we saw the offense progress and get better and move the ball more frequently, and more efficiently, because I was making better decisions,” he said.
Taysom Hill’s regular-season stats
Games Comp-Att Pct. Yrd INT TD Rush Yrd TDs
12 211-390 54.1 2,645 13 19 215 1,211 9
Fight Hunger Bowl
O At San Francisco
BYU vs. Washington
Friday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
A closer look
Best sophomore quarterback seasons in BYU history:
Player Year Pass TD INT Rush Total
Ty Detmer 1989 4,560 32 15 -127 4,433
Max Hall 2007 3,848 26 12 14 3,862
Taysom Hill 2013 2,645 19 13 1,211 3,856
John Beck 2004 2,563 15 8 -35 2,528
Marc Wilson 1977 2,418 24 18 20 2,438