PROVO — Mired in a two-game losing streak after a pair of heartbreaking road setbacks, BYU could turn to a true freshman, Taysom Hill, to lead the way at quarterback.
If senior Riley Nelson isn't healthy enough to play against Hawaii on Friday (6 p.m. MT, ESPN) at LaVell Edwards Stadium, Hill will earn his first career start.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said this week the coaching staff is "going to hold out as long as we can" in making a decision on the starting quarterback, which is dependent upon the status of Nelson's back injury.
"I believe in him and I'd like him to be our quarterback," Mendenhall said of Nelson. "If he's close to being able to go, we'll play him. If he can't go, then he won't play."
Hill, who enrolled at BYU in January following a mission, took the majority of reps in practice this week. While Hill hasn't started a game since he was playing at Highland High in Pocatello, Idaho, in 2008, he is confident in his abilities and his preparation.
"If the call does come to put me in, I'll be prepared and ready," said Hill. "I'm just working on becoming the best quarterback I can be right now."
Asked about the possibly of making his debut as a starter, Hill said, "I'm certainly excited about that. If it does come my way, I'll be prepared."
No true freshman QB in BYU history has won in his first career start. In 1997, Drew Miller lost at UTEP, 14-3; in 2003, John Beck fell to Stanford, 18-14; and in 2010, Jake Heaps dropped a 27-13 decision to Nevada.
Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman understands that starting a true freshman quarterback is not an ideal situation, but added that he, and the players, believe that Hill can do the job.
"That's going to be hard if we have to go with a freshman," Doman said. "The players trust him, and the coaches trust him, which is quite a unique thing. To lead somebody, it requires trust. Right now they do. I don't know that we've had a freshman that's put that kind of time into it. He's a grown man. He's a returned missionary. He's not like a true freshman. He's been around for a while. He's smart. He brings a high level of poise. So when he walks out there, the players don't feel like he's a freshman. They feel totally comfortable and calm out there and so do we as coaches. If we have to play him, I don't think we'll hesitate one minute."
Wide receiver Cody Hoffman likes the way Hill runs the offense.
"I'm very confident in Taysom. He's an athlete," he said. "I was here all summer with him. I know what he's capable of. He just needs to keep calm out there. He's the same style as Riley, a scrambling quarterback. One thing about him is his arm strength, and his ability to run and be physical. If we need a couple of yards, he can put his head down and get them for us."
Hill earned confidence from his teammates when he led a 95-yard drive for a touchdown in the waning minutes of the Cougars' 7-6 loss at Boise State last Thursday.
"The way he came on last game — driving 95 yards for a touchdown when we needed it — he kept his composure and showed that he looks older than a freshman," Hoffman said. "He's got a bright future ahead of him."
Certainly, Hill has been tested already. His first two drives after taking over for Nelson in the third quarter against the Broncos started at the 1-yard line. His touchdown drive started at the 5.
"We know we can trust him because that was our last drive and we scored," Hoffman said. "It was a hostile environment, and for him to be able to do that was just unbelievable."
With the possibility of a true freshman at the controls of the offense, Doman has altered the playbook somewhat this week.
"If Taysom's playing, we'll have to simplify the pass scheme a little bit," he said. "This passing offense is a great offense. As you get volume in it, it becomes an easy passing offense. For a true freshman to do it, it's hard. We'll have to tailor it a little bit."
Against Boise State, the Cougars passed for an anemic 61 yards and had five turnovers. That's not the type of offense Hoffman was expecting before the season started.
"It's been frustrating because we worked on the passing game so much in the spring and summer," he said. "But at the same time, we have a good running game as well. Once the passing game comes around, I feel like we'll be really good."
Hawaii could be the right team at the right time for BYU. The Warriors rank No. 115 in the nation in pass efficiency defense and No. 116 in scoring defense.