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Utah-BYU: QBs put their reputations at stake in big game

Published September 20, 2013 10:06 am

College football • Saturday's game likely will be the last between Wilson and Hill.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Taysom Hill made national news when he rushed for 259 yards and three touchdowns to spark BYU's upset over Texas two weeks ago.

Travis Wilson answered any doubts whether he had the moxie to lead Utah's team when he kept Utah in a scoring shootout with Oregon State by rushing for three touchdowns and throwing for two scores.

Come Saturday, the two youngsters will start arguably the biggest game of their careers as the rivals do battle in Provo.

Sure, BYU's 40-21 upset over Texas made Hill a trendy name on Twitter, and Wilson's efforts against the Beavers revealed more fire and will than he ever has shown. But quarterbacks ultimately are judged for what they do in the games that matter most — rivalry games.

They are the contests that their neighbors, classmates and grocery store checkout clerks never let them forget. They are the games that can haunt quarterbacks forever or make them legends in their school's record books.

With Hill and Wilson both in the early stages of their careers, they no doubt will have plenty of chances to win "the big ones."

Unfortunately, the opportunity to beat their rival up north or down south — depending on one's perspective — is down to a one-game affair since Utah and BYU will take a two-year break after Saturday's meeting.

It's an unfortunate situation if you are a local college football fan, being denied the chance to watch these two form a quarterback rivalry. So it's best to take Saturday's result as a sort of career measurement to remember.

Wilson acknowledged the loss to Oregon State was disappointing, since he was hoping to win it for his friend, UCLA receiver Nick Pasquale, killed in California the previous week. However, he said he is determined to lead the Utes to a win Saturday.

"I want to make a statement," Wilson said. "It's my only time to play them, and I want to make this count and have a really great game."

Hill says he is well aware that fans will remember this outcome for a long time and judge the two quarterbacks by it — but he isn't putting added pressure on himself.

"I don't need to do anything special," he said. "I need to play within our offense, within our reads, and stick to those things that I know how to do and execute those. I am confident that as I do that, we will like the outcome of the game."

The matchup between Hill and Wilson is an intriguing one given their contrasting styles.

Wilson is perhaps the only quarterback to throw three interceptions, lose a game and still earn an "A" from his coach for his efforts in Utah's 51-48 overtime loss to Oregon State.

Wilson really only threw one bad pass that led to a turnover, in Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's estimation. The other two were caused by a great play by a defensive back and a poor route by a receiver, he noted.

What Whittingham most liked about Wilson's effort was the way he commanded the offense — bringing the Utes back from a 17-point deficit by taking shots down the field and also reading the defense well enough to rush for 142 yards, the most by a Utah quarterback since Floyd Hodge rushed for 167 yards against Wyoming in 1979.

Wilson has yet to win a big game and is just 5-5 as a starter. He has just one win over a team with a winning record — Utah State — but the numbers don't dampen Whittingham's enthusiasm.

"He is growing up right before our eyes," Whittingham said. "To look at where he was last year and how far he has come this year in three games, it's like night and day. He is playing with a lot of confidence and poise."

What Wilson takes into Utah's game against BYU is something the Utes haven't had in several seasons — the ability to beat teams with his arm and his body.

What he lacks, though, are the big wins and experiences that can give a QB an extra edge.

However, he did more than enough against Oregon State — as well as Utah's win over Utah State — to solidify his standing among his teammates, Ute running back James Poole said.

"He showed a lot of resiliency, throwing those picks then bringing us back late," Poole said. "He has a lot of self confidence right now, and it showed the way he is making better decisions."

As for Hill, he got his big win in leading the Cougars over Texas, but ending three years of misery against the Utes would eclipse the win over the Longhorns.

Hill, who played in six games before suffering a knee injury last year, has shown no ill effects from the mishap this year. He has beaten teams with his running abilities. The Cougars are averaging only 152 yards a game passing, but why bother going to the air when you have a steady guy like Hill making plays?

His 259 yards against the Longhorns was the second-most rushing yards in the program's history, earning him numerous award recognitions and the attention of the Utah defense.

Utah senior Trevor Reilly likened Hill to Utah State's Chuckie Keeton, who gained 85 yards on the ground against the Utes in the season opener. The difference is that Keeton is a more prolific passer.

Considering that Utah's defense is once again stingy against the run — giving up only 96.7 yards per game — Hill may have to take to the air for the Cougars to win.

"It comes down to guys like Cody [Hoffman] and Skyler [Ridley]," Hill said. "They are going to have the opportunity to make plays outside, and I am going to throw the ball to them and let them do it. We need to get Cody more involved in the offense. Seems like anytime you throw to that dude, something good happens. So I am excited about it. I like our chances."

It's good the your quarterback has confidence, since his reputation — and Wilson's — rides on this game.

Reporter Jay Drew contributed to this report —

Taysom Hill

So., 6-2, 221

Record as starter • 3-1

Biggest win • Led Cougars to a 40-21 win over Texas, running for 259 yards and three touchdowns.

Strength • An excellent athlete and one of the fastest players on the team, Hill is an explosive runner and an exceptional leader.

Weakness • Although he threw the ball well in wins over Utah State and Hawaii last year, Hill has yet to show that form this year, completing just 22 of 60 passes (33.3 percent).

 The X Factor • Hill has yet to play in a game this year when conditions were ideal for throwing the football, so judging his passing ability after two weather-delayed games is mildly premature. While Texas failed to make adjustments to take away his big running plays, Utah almost assuredly will pack the box and dare him to throw. Whether he can also could depend on the health of star receiver Cody Hoffman, who is nursing a sore hamstring.

Travis Wilson

So., 6-7, 240

Record as starter • 5-5

Biggest win • Led Utes to a 30-26 win over Utah State this year, throwing for 302 yards and two touchdowns

Strength • Wilson finally has given the Utes what they needed, a complete quarterback. Wilson has a strong enough arm to create some explosive plays downfield and is athletic enough to hurt teams with his feet as well.

Weakness • Wilson still is a young quarterback and still is going to make some bad decisions because of his inexperience. BYU can use this weakness to its advantage by getting pressure on Wilson and making him hurry, which could lead to mistakes.

The X Factor • Wilson has helped the Utes battle back from deficits against Utah State and Oregon State this year, so he is accustomed to playing in difficult situations and has responded well. Playing in Provo in front of a hostile crowd won't be easy, but Wilson has proven he can handle the pressure, even when the Utes fall behind on the scoreboard.