We've been through a lot together, you guys. Top-20 offenses and competent quarterback play are very much the norm around here.
But it's different now. The defense is dominating while the offense simply hopes to put together a scoring drive (is it too much to ask for two?), just enough to squeak by with a win. The offense worked decently well with a healthy Riley Nelson (see at Oregon State, 2011), but we have learned that a healthy Riley Nelson is an exception, not a norm.
Tonight, we (as fans) prepare to take the next step as true freshman Taysom Hill takes over the offense (at least for now. If Nelson can become healthy, coaches seem ready to give him his job back.) This is our glimpse into the future; this is Hill's chance to prepare for a beastlier 2013 schedule.
There are reasons to be excited about this. But there will also be some growing pains. So be advised!
Based on what we know, it's okay to be excited for Taysom Hill. His arm strength looks good. He is already every bit the mobile playmaker Riley Nelson ever was. There is the opportunity for some interesting wrinkles the offense can implement.
The intangibles like "grit" (drink!) seem to be there. Even in the summer, Hill was drawing praise from Bronco Mendenhall (hard to come by) and Nelson (the king of leadership and grit [drink!]). Put in an impossible position against Boise State (drives with average starting position of BYU's own 11), Hill still managed to lead the Cougars to a scoring drive and close to a win.
Even after Boise State initially blew up the potential game-winning two-point conversion attempt, Hill still made the right play and could have won the game if not for a spectacular diving tip from a Boise linebacker.
As criticized as the traditional under-center option has been by BYU fans, Hill ran it well and made some great reads. And mentally, unlike Jake Heaps was, Hill is older and benefits from the mental maturity that comes from serving a mission.
And finally, at least for game one, BYU gets to play Hawaii at home.
These are all good things.
As talented and exciting as a quarterback like Taysom Hill might seem, it's still important to remember a few things. With the 1.5 quarters played against Boise State, it's important to remember that Hill has approximately two quarters of college football experience -- two quarters that came after not playing football for two years.
It's important to realize that replacing Nelson with Hill doesn't mean Hill is going to be perfect (though I'll be damned if he doesn't play better than Nelson did the last two weeks). He missed a couple open throws last week, skipped a few off the turf. He'll need time to settle in.
And can I go back to the first point? He's a true freshman with two quarters of playing experience. Here's a lesson for you about true freshmen at BYU (with all credit going to CougarStats, who already did the homework and posted these nuggets via its Twitter account):
BYU is 0-3 when a true freshman is making his first start at quarterback.
The offense averages 9.7 points per game in those first starts, with the quarterback posting an efficiency rating of 96.7.
Specifically, here are the details of those three starts:
DREW MILLER | 1997 vs. UTEP
17-32 for 226 yards, 0 TD 3 INT
JOHN BECK | 2003 vs. STANFORD
22-45 for 279 yards, 1 TD 2 INT
JAKE HEAPS | 2010 vs. NEVADA
24-45 for 229 yards, 0 TD 0 INT
As good as John Beck ended up being and as highly-touted as Jake Heaps was, the bottom line is that true freshmen are inexperienced and may not be able to make all the plays or reads needed to win. If you are expecting a prolific display of quarterbacking tonight or in the near future, please adjust your dial.
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What does this mean? I'll tell you what it means for me, at least. I expect BYU's offense to be better with Hill. How much better, though? No idea.
I expect Hill to make some pretty great plays. I also expect there to be some head-scratchers.
Mostly, I'm just excited to watch Hill get the reins and play. "Growing pains" means exactly that: there will be pains. But with everything considered, I expect a whole lot more growing.