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The Woeful State of BYU Passing

BYU is in its worst 4-year stretch of passing since 1975.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Passing is easier than ever in college football.  Rules are in place that give receivers every advantage possible.  The offensive innovations found in all the exotic formations and receiver option routes make the college football landscape a place where 25% of its starting QBs reach the 3,000 yard mark.  It is confusing to me, that during a time where passing is easier than ever, why can't BYU, the school who revolutionized passing*, pass anymore?

* I wrote in a previous article about the passing revolution:

In 1976, Gifford Nielsen became the 7th man to ever pass for over 3,000 yards in college football.  In 1979, Marc Wilson threw for 3,720 yards, the 11th man ever to pass over 3,000 yards and BYU became the 1st school in college football history to have 2 QBs reach the 3,000 yard mark.  The following year, Jim McMahon became the first man to ever throw for 4,000 yards in a season and totaled an astonishing 4,571 yards.  McMahon went for over 3,000 in 1981 becoming the first player to ever reach 3,000+ yards twice.  Then Steve Young hit 3k twice and so did Robbie Bosco, including in 1985 a 4,000+ yard season making BYU the first school to reach 2 4,000 yard passers.  For the record, BYU reached 2 4,000 yard passers before any other in all of college football even had 1.  Ty Detmer became the first man ever to 5,000 yards passing en route to passing the 4,000+ mark an amazing 3 times in his career.  John Walsh, Steve Sarkisian, Kevin Feterik, Brandon Doman, John Beck, Max Hall all went on to surpass the 3,000 yard mark.

Since Max Hall graduated in 2009, BYU has gone through their worst 4-year stretch in terms of passing dating back to how far has game logs (1975).

Since 1975, BYU has had 6 seasons where they managed to reach the 300 yard passing mark in a game only 2 times or less within the season.  BYU QBs reached 300 yards in a game twice or less in 1975, 1978, 2003, 2010 (only 1 game), 2011, 2013.

That means Taysom Hill only reached 300 yards twice last year against Houston and Boise St.  Matching the output of the immortal MattJohnToddJackson BerryBeckMortensenBrown, and the unforgettable JakeRiley HeapsNelson.  In each of those 6 seasons listed above, there was either a QB change or injury issues except for 2013.  Good thing Taysom can run or else history indicates that his passing performance would have gotten him benched**.

**This is, of course, not taking into account what I call the TGBBIL factor.  Oh, what's the TGBBIL?  Toughness and Grit that Blinds Bronco Into Loyalty.

And sure, many of you are now yelling at your screen saying, "Yards are yards!  BYU's never had a QB run like Taysom!"  True, but passing matters more than running.

In the 17 seasons that BYU has finished ranked by the AP, 14 of them BYU passed for over 4,000 yards with the lowest passing output of these 17 seasons being 3,659 yards in 2009.

In the last 4 years, 64 of the 100 teams that finished the season in the AP Top 25 threw for over 3,000 yards.  All 100 teams racked up 333,932 passing yards for an average of 3,339 yards per season.

While it is certainly possible to be nationally ranked by running the ball, it is a tougher road to travel.  It is a road that BYU has never successfully travelled before.  It's tougher because there is a smaller margin for error.

It is easier to defend the run than the pass.  Which offense would you rather face?  A pass dominant team like Texas Tech or a run dominant team like Navy?

Run dominant teams rely on field position, time of possession, playing with the lead, and superior athletes than your opponents across the field.  Passing can flip the script on any of those running game requirements far more efficiently.  If you can pass, various game scenarios still provide a pathway to victory, and it becomes more about winning individual battles against linebackers and safeties.


Of course, there is another element to success in the passing game.  Receivers.

The 2014 team loses Cody Hoffman, BYU's all time everything record-holding receiver.  Many have argued that Hoffman is the best of all time because he put up those numbers during the worst 4-year production in the passing game since 1975.  While that's a valid argument, a counterpoint is, who else was Jake Heaps, Riley Nelson, and Taysom Hill going to throw to?

BYU hasn't had a #2 receiver during this stretch.  Statistically, JD Falslev was the 2nd most productive receiver.  You know, JD Falslev, the guy you wouldn't have known was on the team last year if it wasn't for him fumbling punt returns?

The most productive returning receiver, Mitch Mathews, averaged less than 2 catches and 30 yards per game.

The most productive returning receiver over his career is Ross Apo.  Apo gets the McKay Jacobsen award for plateauing as a freshman.  He has earned a nickname too.  Ross Dropo.

Mitch Mathews is the only returning receiver to gain over 75 yards in a game.  He has done that once (@ Utah State last year).

BYU, staring a season of those facts and receivers squarely in the face, went out and brought in 4 (four!) transfers to beef up the receiving corps. Has BYU brought in that many transfers for the same position at the same time EVER? Even further, all 4 of the transfers came because they believed they would play.  Moreover, what were BYU recruiters saying about the returning receivers that convinced 4 players that they could play over guys with experience in the offense?  These 4 receivers have been much ballyhooed around the fan base.  Because, in reality, it is the only hope to hang our royal blue block-Y hats on.

Even Bronco speaks emphatically about the addition of Nick Kurtz, Devon Blackmon, Jordan Leslie, and Keanu Nelson.  Constantly referencing their importance in "widening and deepening the opposing defense."

UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie joins the team with 8 career D1 games of gaining 100 or more yards.  In his first 3 seasons, he gained 2015 yards on 125 catches for 15 TDs.  For reference, the career outputs of Mitch Mathews, Ross Apo, Brett Thompson, Devin Mahina, Kurt Henderson, and Terenn Houk combine for 155 catches for 2057 yards and 19 TDs.  Leslie is a major upgrade!

Outside of Jordan Leslie, the other 3 receivers are guys brought in on potential.  Blackmon and Kurtz are standout JC players, who definitely look the part.  Nelson has 1 catch for 4 yards in his time at 4 consecutive BCS bowl games Stanford, buried behind their amazing talents of Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste, Kodi Whitfield, and Michael Rector.  How will these 3 perform at the D1 level?  Not long now until we find out!


BYU has tried to increase the overall talent for Taysom Hill's targets.  Taysom Hill is working hard to increase his ability in delivering the ball.  It is obvious that passing has to improve if BYU are to be special.

For BYU fans, this is the most anticipated aspect of the oncoming season.  Can we have more than 1 legitimate receiving threat?  Can Taysom pass more like Max Hall and less like Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson?  Can we get to the 3,000 yard mark?  If, and it is a huge if, the answer to these questions is yes, BYU will be very exciting this year.