PROVO — The sun had set, though not so long ago. Still, Taysom Hill should have been in his pajamas.
You know the saying: Early to bed, early to rise …
But after building a 23-0 first-half lead, BYU dozed off, allowing Houston 15 unanswered points in the second quarter of Thursday’s home opener. A low-lying field goal fail and two botched PATs were all that prevented it from getting closer.
The game again could have been a runaway, with BYU ahead 33-15 in the second half, but Houston cut it to 10 with 7:18 remaining. That was the final margin (33-25). BYU’s bullish quarterback finished up as he always does, bruised but not broken, battered but not bowed, living to play another day. In the process, the Cougars missed a chance to rest a guy who thinks demolition derbies are a light workout.
Except for a series in the Texas game when Hill was out, he’s been on the field to the end.
Which is too bad.
With a commodity as valuable as Hill, it would be nice to protect it. Hill punishes people who get in his way. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine him traversing another full season unscathed. There are too many people looking to take off his helmet.
Good thing for him that UNLV, Savannah State and Middle Tennessee are on the schedule. Maybe then he can stand down. As Steve Young, another famous BYU run-throw threat, said this week on ESPN, sometimes Hill is a jackhammer, sometimes he’s a violinist.
Whatever the music, BYU again had a nice mix of rushing 323 and passing 200 yards. Houston roughed Hill up at any opportunity through the night — one of which included a late, late, late hit after he was out of bounds.
He came away apparently unhurt. But this was Game 3. A lot of games and plenty of ouchies lie ahead.
The drumbeat of optimism was everywhere Thursday at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Not only was it BYU’s first home game, but hopes of an undefeated season were being mentioned in the national media. One nagging worry was that Houston came razor close to beating BYU in Houston last year. Meanwhile, BYU had lost its third game of the season nine of the previous 10 years.
None of that ruined Hill’s return to Provo. Though not the Heisman favorite, he’s hard to ignore. At 6 foot 2, 232 pounds, he’s as big as a linebacker and as fast as a fullback.
Plus, he’s putting up numbers like other former BYU Heisman contenders.
Hill’s sophomore and junior years are matching nicely with the junior and senior years of BYU’s famous pass-run threat, Steve Young. Though they played in different offenses — Young in the pass-first era — the totals are similar. Last year Hill combined for 4,282 total yards while Young went for 4,346 as a senior. Though bowl game stats formerly didn’t count, the numbers are close enough for comparisons. This year Hill is on pace to compile 4,180 total yards in the regular season.
While Young would scramble and slash for long gains, when it comes to contact, Hill asks for it. Even at the game’s end Thursday, he was bucking his way for a first down inside the last two minutes.
Considering Hill’s penchant for contact — he is sliding more this year — there’s a decent possibility he won’t escape injury of some sort. University of Utah coaches did a study of 120 Division I teams after the 2012 season, and found they had only a 30 percent chance of surviving a season using just one quarterback, thanks to injuries or changes among starters.
On Thursday Hill stayed aloof from serious trouble early, handing off, passing and running in similar increments, but in the second half, with the Cougars bearing down to secure the win, he got all the more physical. He was in full rock-and-roll mode. When it mattered, he ducked his head after seeing receivers covered and went right up the middle for 26 yards, setting up a touchdown that put BYU up 33-15. He grounded things out, mostly with his legs.
This is what the coaches want. It’s why BYU wins. But somehow they need to find a place and time for Hill to put his feet up and watch.
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