Taysom Hill seemed indestructible. His knee injury in 2012 felt like a major fluke, a freak play at the end of a game that only happened because of a confusing set of coach signals. He played every snap in 2013 (which was a lot of snaps for the nation's quickest offense) and was trucking along (and through opponents) in 2014 until an awkward tackle left his leg busted.
This gave us Christian Stewart. You've probably heard his story, so the brief version is this: Stewart was a BYU walk-on scout teamer, served a mission, came back and was urged back into the program by Jay Omer at church, walked on again, and earned a scholarship for 2014, his senior season.
That scholarship came in part because both Ammon Olsen and Billy Green transferred. But had they not, Stewart may very well have been the #2 quarterback at the end of fall camp anyway, scholarship or not. Hindsight affords us the knowledge that Olsen didn't play well enough to have a firm hold of Southern Utah's starting gig, and Green lost his half way through the season at Weber State.
During camp, we heard often about Stewart's poise and big, downfield arm. (Yeah, he missed his share of those in 2014, but he gave us some home runs too.) He was on track to being #2 anyway.
I don't intend to downtalk anyone, but looking back in hindsight, can you picture either Olsen or Green dealing BYU to that Cal win? If you need reminding, Stewart was 15-of-20 for 330 yards and four touchdown passes in the second half. In one half. Yeah, I don't see it either.
That's why we as fans (his teammates, too) were ultimately extremely lucky that Stewart decided to play football again. He was a guy who had zero big football aspirations and still guided BYU's best offense in quite some time.
Without him, who knows what fate would have come upon the Cougars. A bowl game and 6-6 would have been a miracle. Flashbacks of 2002-03 quarterback play would haunt us all. Remember the last time a fourth-string walk-on was pushed into a start at quarterback for BYU? The Cougars lost a game of keep-away to Utah in a snowstorm, 3-0, and BYU's decades-long streak of not being shut out came to an end.
That was Stewart, essentially. He was the guy who was supposed to run the scout team and just enjoy being part of the program. Instead, he turned in the 26th-best (by passing yards) season in BYU history in only 8.5 games. With 2,621 yards, he ranks better than 2004 John Beck, when BYU's offense turned a corner and Beck was throwing to Austin Collie and Todd Watkins. (Remember how he made it rain on the blue turf in Boise?) It ranks better than 2011 and 2012 Riley Nelson, and 1997 Kevin Feterik.
In passing TDs, Stewart 2014 ranks 21st -- ahead of 1977 Marc Wilson, 1995 Steve Sarkisian, 2013 Taysom Hill, and 1982 Steve Young.
All things considered, that's not bad. Everyone concerned with the success of BYU football is lucky Christian Stewart put on the pads this season.
Sure, the brief Stewart era was ushered in during what would turn out to be the first in a four-game losing streak. But I knew I would ultimately love the guy no matter how many picks he threw against Utah State. He came out wheeling, dealing, and firing, doing all he could in his first moments as a Division-I quarterback to get BYU back into the game despite the defense falling for double moves harder than Princess Anna fell for Prince Hans. (I am a father to a young child. Deal with it.)
It's worth noting Stewart's stats in the four games BYU lost with him as a starter:
UCF: 22-of-37, 153 yards, 3 TD 1 INT, 115.6 rating
Nevada: 39-of-63, 408 yards, 4 TD 0 INT, 137.3 rating
Boise: 23-of-38, 259 yards, 1 TD 1 INT, 121.2 rating
Memphis: 23-of-48, 348 yards, 3 TD 3 INT, 116.7 rating
Too many INTs against Memphis, but it's not like BYU's greats never had games like that. Not tons of yards against UCF, but it was his first-ever start two time zones away. Overall, I'm not sure you could say Stewart was ever the first, second, or third reasons BYU lost those games.
BYU quarterbacks have posted only four games of 400+ passing yards against FBS opponents in the last eight seasons. Guess who has half of them (in 8.5 games?):
2007: Max Hall, 537 (Tulsa)
2013: Taysom Hill 417 (Houston)
2014: Christian Stewart, 408 (Nevada)
2014: Christian Stewart, 433 (Cal)
If I told you two years ago that Taysom Hill would break his leg in the fifth game, and a guy from Timpanogos High would take over, who the season before was a non-scholarship fourth stringer -- what would you expect from the rest of that season? In that context, that quarterback returned BYU to the ball-slinging ways so many fans cried for, and went 4-4 as a starter even with one of the worst statistical defenses in two decades.
All while being a model citizen, impeccable teammate and a respected leader?
Thank you for donning the Y, Christian Stewart. I enjoyed watching you play. Best wishes for what life brings you.