BYU football: Whatever happened to Quarterback U?
Provo • Remember when BYU was often referred to as the Quarterback Factory? Or Quarterback U?
Yeah, it has been awhile. And it could be even longer before the school that revolutionized the passing game in college football taps again into the pipeline of strong-armed, pocket passers established by legendary coach LaVell Edwards in the 1970s.
Actually, it may not ever happen again, at least as long as Robert Anae is the offensive coordinator. Along with implementing his rapid-paced "go hard, go fast" style of play, Anae has brought the popular zone-read option to BYU. Edwards Air Force Base, as LaVell Edwards Stadium was once called, is now more similar to Falcon Stadium, home of the run-loving Air Force Academy's triple-option.
The Cougars (3-2), who play host to Georgia Tech (3-2) on Saturday (5 p.m., ESPNU) have more rushing yards, 1,389, than passing yards, 1,019.
John Beck and other former great BYU quarterbacks have noticed. Although Beck won't criticize the way things are being done in Provo these days, he does wonder whether he would choose BYU all over again if it was running this offense back when he came out of Mountain View High in Mesa, Ariz.
"That's hard to say," Beck said. "Shoot, that's a good question. You do try to put yourself into a scheme that plays to your strengths. So, I'm not sure."
Coincidentally, then-coach Gary Crowton put in some elements of the zone-read option for quarterback Brandon Doman when Crowton succeeded Edwards in 2001, and that helped Beck get on the field as a freshman in 2003 because he was a better runner than Matt Berry. But Beck also fears that the Quarterback Factory has closed shop at least as he knew it.
"It's tough, because BYU, for me, was the place recognized for producing NFL-caliber quarterbacks, and when I was being recruited by them, I obviously looked at guys like Ty Detmer, Steve Young, Jim McMahon and Robbie Bosco, and I said I want to be like those guys," Beck said.
Did anybody foresee the day when BYU would be ranked 13th in the country in rushing offense and only 95th in passing offense?
"We are not who we used to be, that's for sure," said BYU quarterbacks coach Jason Beck, a backup to John Beck (no relation) from 2004-06 when the Cougars were still flinging the football around with the best of them. "We will still throw it around some, and try to be successful that way, but we are just putting more emphasis on the quarterback running it, and adding that dimension to the running game. We are still expecting to recruit great quarterbacks, and have them play at a high level, but we will throw it and run it, and be a little more dynamic, both ways."
BYU's reputation as a haven for pro-style quarterbacks started to fade when three-year starter Max Hall graduated in 2009 after becoming the winningest QB in school history. Five-star recruit Jake Heaps, who eventually transferred to Kansas, couldn't continue the legacy or wasn't given the chance, depending on one's perspective of that mess and Riley Nelson had a lot of grit, toughness and charisma, but lacked the tools, namely a big-time arm.
Since Hall left, BYU quarterbacks have completed an average of 58 percent of their passes. Hall, a 65-percent passer in his career, was 32-7 as the starter; since then, the Cougars have gone 28-16. Against big-time defenses, though, they've struggled, notwithstanding Friday's 31-14 win over Utah State. The Aggies and Cougars, ironically, are tied at No. 24 in the country in total defense, both giving up only 335.8 yards per game.
Which brings us to sophomore Taysom Hill, who in just seven career starts has already established himself as the best running quarterback not named Eldon Fortie ever in Provo, but has yet to prove he can complete passes consistently. Hill's completion percentage this season is 43.3 percent, but only after going 14 for 19 against Middle Tennessee State and 17 for 32 against Utah State to get himself out of the 33-percent range.
Hill is an ideal fit for Anae's zone-read option offense, which is similar to the offense he ran at Idaho's Highland High before committing to Stanford and going on a church mission to Australia.
Anae said Tuesday that fans can count on more of the same as long as Hill is the man at BYU. Anae and Jason Beck both said backups Ammon Olsen, Christian Stewart, Jason Munns and freshman Billy Green wouldn't be able to run the current offense as well as Hill can.
"I do believe it is the job of the coordinator to kind of match the talent level of your best players," Anae said. "You know, there is so much on the position of the quarterback in the outcome of a football game. So to do what your quarterback does best to start with, especially with a young one. That's been our philosophy. So that's where we have started, and we are going to grow from there."
Known as a pure pocket passer out of Seattle's King High School, Green committed to BYU when Doman was the offensive coordinator, and said Tuesday he "really doesn't know" if he would have picked BYU if he knew the offense would change. Bronco Mendenhall replaced Doman and gave Anae a second stint as the OC the week before Green arrived last January.
"I mean, you see all the old film of Steve Young and Ty Detmer and all those guys, and it was considered Quarterback U back then," Green said. "Obviously, the offense has evolved, but I still think we can be called Quarterback U, and I still happy with where I am at. I feel like I could run this offense."
So the zone-read it is at least until Hill moves on after the 2015 season. By then, Green will be pushing for the starting job, along with another pure passer, Tanner Mangum, who was the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class. He's currently on a church mission in Antofagosta, Chile and scheduled to return in July of 2015.
Alex Kuresa, the scout team quarterback in 2011 who was moved to wide receiver in 2012 before suffering a season-ending injury, will also be back from his mission at that time. He's not as big as Hill, but is almost as athletic, and was a great running QB at Mountain Crest High while earning Utah Gatorade Player of the Year honors.
Mendenhall said Monday the bottom line is that the offense will adapt to the most talented player.
"It is easy to tailor and shift a little bit, based on the skill set of a BYU quarterback," he said. "So we need [good] grades, and we need a really good player, and we need someone that is willing to live the standards. So there is some freedom within the system to move it a little bit either way."
The factory, however, might just have to choose another name.
BYU offense 2.0
Opponent Pass Plays Run Plays Total Plays
Virginia 40 53 93
Texas 27 72 99
Utah 48 47 95
Middle Tennessee 19 55 74
Utah State 32 50 82
Totals 166 277 443
BYU vs. Georgia Tech
Saturday, 5 p.m.