The marks of struggle on BYU Cougars quarterback Taysom HIll weren't confined to a mud-streaked jersey after a tough, muddy, rain-drenched, lightning-delayed, heartbreaking 19-16 loss to the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday.
Sacked three times, rushed countless others, and subjected to a number of drops by BYU wide receivers impacted by the adverse weather conditions and lacking their top wide receiver in senior Cody Hoffman, who has led the Cougars in receiving yards in each year of his career, Hill was beat up after the game, as described by Deseret News columnist Dick Harmon:
His arms and hands were bruised and scraped from his biceps to his knuckles. Both of his legs were similarly marked as if he'd been in a cage fight battling for his life.
The longterm concern for the Cougars, as Harmon describes it, is keeping their quarterbacks healthy after a remarkable string of injuries that have impacted play at the position for a number of years..
Against Texas on Saturday, the bigger concern will be whether the offensive line can keep HIll clean after the serious issues in pass protection against a Virginia defense that only registered 17 sacks last season and lost 4.5 of them to graduation. Unless the Cougars opt to take an approach similar to New Mexico State, they're going to have to take some drops and try to throw the football down the field.
Oh yeah, and there's also the fact that Hill completed only 13-of-40 passes, a number that still doesn't reach 50% even when including the six dropped passes as completions. Last season, Hill couldn't crack the 60% mark in 79 attempts. Also limiting his upside is the fact that he's only going to get better through on-field experience, not the normal maturation experience of young college quarterbacks -- Hill was a member of the 2009 recruiting class.
As much as Hill didn't inspire confidence with his end results or numbers against Virginia, the Cougars can use part of a gameplan from New Mexico State to attack Texas. While the first half for the Horns was more about what the Texas defense wanted to do from a learning standpoint in consistent substitutions, but also in a more basic attack that didn't feature as many blitzes or other games with the defensive line as coordinator Manny Diaz showed last season.
The problems defending the quarterback run on the zone read and some issues in controlling the edge to make it more difficult for the quarterback on plays that moved the pocket and in finding opponents in zone coverage are all things that BYU will notice quickly in film study this week and could feature prominently into the Cougar game plan.
Tight end Andrew Dean had six catches for 22 yards for the Aggies on plays that helped move and keep ahead of the chains and enabled some of their ball-control offense. Against Virginia, junior tight end Brett Thompson caught two of Hill's 40 attempts, picking up 30 yards. He wasn't a contributor last season, but the Cougars did have another tight end who caught 30 passes last year.
Hill will also have to make more plays on the ground against Texas -- he carried the ball 11 times for 42 yards in the opener, a number that included those three sacks. In 2012, he was more effective, averaging 6.1 yards per carry with six sacks on the season, though most of his truly explosive runs came against a Hawaii defense that finished No. 98 nationally in S&P+. His longest run of the season (68 yards) and all three of his other runs over 20 yards came in the game. Overall, 42% of his rushing yards came against the Warriors.
However, Hill also racked up 72 yards against Boise State last season and 80 against Utah State, so his production against Hawaii wasn't a fluke.
The BYU defense will provide significantly more resistant to Texas than New Mexico State, but it's still a game that will in large part be determined by turnovers and though Hall's interception late against Virginia was a massive mistake, it was also a wet ball that hit his running back in the hands.
Even with that factored in, Hill's career interception rate sits at 2.7% on 111 passes, a number that isn't quite ideal, but is also quite solid. In other words, there's no evidence at this point to suggest that he's prone to the type of bad decision-making that plagues poor quarterbacks, most likely aided by his escapability, which naturally decreases his need to force balls when he can pick up positive yards and also an area where he benefits from his age.
As a runner, Hall is a short strider with good feet and solid top-end speed who can run away from some lower-level FBS teams like Hawaii and also has some toughness in his 220-pound frame. Not quite Tim Tebow and not exactly a track star like Robert Griffin III, Hall has a nice combination of attributes that make him dangerous with the ball in his hands breaking into the open field -- he has the overall athleticism to break off some runs from 10 to 15 yards that could result in some important first downs.
Texas has faced a number of excellent quarterbacks over the years and Hill is hardly at the top of the list. He also presents some issues as the top of mobile threat that the Horns didn't deal with particularly well last week.
The weather predictions forecast only a 10% chance of rain that day, so Hill isn't likely to end up with a mud-stained uniform unless Horns defenders can put the types of hits and pressures on him that Virginia was able to deliver last week.
Having created twice as many sacks as Virginia last season and with the emergence of junior defensive end Cedric Reed as a more-than-serviceable replacement for the departed Alex Okafor and featuring a healthy Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas should be able to get some pressure against a BYU offensive line that lost Braden Brown at tackle and was pretty average last season.
In the face of what will likely once again be significant pressure in his face and possibly without the services of Hoffman again this week, Hill needs to have an impact game for BYU to avoid starting 0-2 for the first time under Bronco Mendenhall.