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Can Hill Follow in the Steps of Steve Young?

10 September 2013 Brett Richins
Steve Young gave BYU a duel threat during his career as a Cougar. (BYU photo)

Steve Young gave BYU a duel threat during his career as a Cougar quarterback. (BYU photo)

Leading up to BYU’s 40-21 win over Texas last week, offensive coordinator Robert Anae told ESPN announcers Joe Tessitore and Matt Millen that his quarterback Taysom Hill reminds him of former BYU star and NFL Hall of Fame member Steve Young.

Considering that Young finished his playing career as the most accurate passer in the history of the NFL, and the struggles that Hill has had throwing the ball, that comparison may seem laughable. Unless you happen to be old enough to remember Steve as a sophomore quarterback at BYU.

The great-great-great grandson of Brigham Young started two games for an injured Jim McMahon in 1981, going a combined 48 of 80 passing against Utah State and UNLV, while throwing five interceptions and just two touchdowns. He was erratic as a passer and his throws looked remarkably like Hill’s during the first two games of his sophomore season, with them often sailing over the head of his intended receivers or going into the ground at their feet.

A miracle 12-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Todd Shell in the final moments of the fourth quarter avoided a 26-26 tie with lowly Utah State, while Young and the Cougars were shocked 45-41 by UNLV the following week.

After being named as the starter going into his junior season, Young led BYU into Georgia in week two to face the Bulldogs and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Hershel Walker. BYU lost that day 17-14 as Young completed just 48 percent of his passes and threw a whopping six interceptions.

He was 2-2 in his first four starts as a BYU quarterback, completing 57 percent of his passes and throwing 12 interceptions to just five touchdowns. After the Cougars dropped the first ever game in a newly expanded Cougar Stadium to Air Force the next week, there were plenty of doubters regarding Young’s ability to get the job done.

However, before the 1982 season was over, the left-handed quarterback had transformed himself as a passer and improved his accuracy to the point that he even set an NCAA record with 22 consecutive completions over two games against Utah State and Wyoming in weeks eight and nine.

The next year as a senior, Steve completed a remarkable 71 percent of his passes for 3,902 yards, 33 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He also ran for 444 yards and eight scores. The Cougars finished 1983 with an 11-1 record, reeling off 11 straight wins after a 40-36 season-opening loss at Baylor, as Young was named as the consensus All-American quarterback.

Anae was a junior that season and alternated at center with current ESPN analyst Trevor Matich, snapping the ball to the future Hall of Fame QB. He witnessed first-hand Young’s transformation from high school option quarterback to becoming one of the elite passers in NCAA and NFL history. So he just might know what he’s talking about when he says that he sees a lot of Young in his current young signal caller.

There’s no question that the two players are comparable athletes. In fact, Taysom may be even bigger and faster than Steve was, and he might prove to be an even more dangerous runner. The question is if he can make a similar improvement as a passer. In four starts as a freshman and sophomore, Hill has completed 50 percents of his passes, throwing four touchdowns and four picks. He’s also 3-1 as a starter, with wins over Hawaii, Utah State and Texas, and a loss to Virginia.

However, since the change to the “go-fast-go-hard” read option this year, he has connected on just 22 of his 66 throws, a completion percentage of only 33 percent. Part of that has to do with the fact that his receivers have dropped some 10 balls in the first two games of the season. Part of the drop-off may also have to do with him not yet being completely comfortable throwing the ball in the new system.

He does have some issues with his footwork that he needs to work on in order to become a more accurate passer. That can be cleaned up with good coaching and repetition. His decision-making and ability to read defenses in the passing game can also evolve and improve as he gains more experience.

Taysom also has a bit of a three-quarter delivery to his throws, something that can lead to the ball sometimes being thrown lower than you would like to see. But his mobility allows him to compensate and find windows to throw in. It’s tough to change a passer’s delivery at this point in his career, and seeing that it hasn’t really been much of an issue thus far, it may not be worth the time and focus needed to change what has become a natural delivery motion for him.

But if he’s willing to put in the work on his other weakness as a passer, Young’s example has shown that a talented running quarterback can improve his accuracy and efficiency. The hope in Provo is that Anae is right and that Hill will follow in the footsteps of the guy who was the one of the game’s first real duel-threat quarterbacks. If he can, the BYU offense could become unstoppable.

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