Jaren Hall is hitting his stride, making his mark in BYU football history on and off the field
Cougars’ signal-caller is starting to turn heads as an NFL prospect after leading BYU to wins over five Power Five programs in 2021, with one big-time opponent remaining
Tyler Allgeier just put together the best two-game stretch for a running back in BYU football history, gaining 457 yards in wins over Power Five opponents Washington State and Virginia.
The former walk-on from Fontana, California, is not only moving up NFL draft boards, he’s starting to get a little bit of consideration for the Doak Walker Award.
Allgeier’s phenomenal play is also overshadowing the outstanding play of another BYU football star, quarterback Jaren Hall, the last few games. Finally healthy after sustaining injuries against Arizona and Arizona State that caused him to miss the South Florida and Utah State games and limited what he could do against Boise State and Baylor, Hall is hitting his stride heading into Saturday’s expected cakewalk against Idaho State.
“You mean a running back is getting more attention than a quarterback at BYU?” said BYU football coach Kalani Sitake, rhetorically. “When did we ever think we would see that? Jaren has done a great job. He’s humble. He doesn’t need attention. He will get it. He has had it.”
“I think Jaren is just as good as any quarterback in the nation right now, or even better. I believe (Allgeier and Hall) are going to do big things and am just thankful and excited I got to spend my last year with them and ball by their sides.” — BYU receiver Samson Nacua
Remember when the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Hall had to beat out fellow sophomore Baylor Romney and freshman Jacob Conover to win the starting quarterback job? Remember when some BYU fans were calling for Romney or Conover to start when Hall struggled a bit in his first games back from the rib injury that limited what he could do against the Broncos and Bears?
The new father from Spanish Fork and Maple Mountain High has quieted his critics with back-to-back standout performances to beat Washington State and Virginia and notch a total of five wins over Power Five opponents this season.
While Allgeier was bettering Jamaal Williams’ 455 yards in consecutive games against West Virginia and Toledo in 2016, Hall was not only managing the offense, he was posting a pass efficiency rating of 135.06 against Wazzu and 165.45 against Virginia. Throw in the 174.28 efficiency mark he had against Baylor, and Hall’s pass efficiency rating over the last three games — all against Power Five opponents — is a solid 161.7.
“I have been really pleased with the way he has handled himself on the field, and the decision-making that he has had,” Sitake said. “It is hard to manage that offense, but he puts us in great spots, makes the right calls.”
After Hall completed 22 of 37 passes for a career-high 349 yards and three touchdowns against Virginia and also rushed for 42 yards and a TD, Sitake decided it was time to “make an excuse for Jaren” to fans who weren’t happy with his performances in the losses.
“He’s been banged up,” Sitake said. “When he’s (healthy), he’s a much different player. We were in a position where he was (not 100%) and Baylor wasn’t cleared to go, so we had to protect him a little bit. But now he’s good. I mean, 66 points isn’t too bad.”
Hall shined Saturday, posting a 165.45 efficiency rating, despite not having two of his starting offensive linemen — Harris LaChance and James Empey — and leading receiver Gunner Romney.
“He is feeling really, really good now,” Sitake said. “He can do a lot of things. He can create more space, and create more time to throw the ball. He did a good job. I mean, no turnovers. That is a good sign for us, too. Man, he was on point. … We have had to play with some depth, and Jaren has done a good job of putting all those guys in the right spots.”
Flourishing as a father
As is mentioned on almost every national television broadcast of a BYU football game, Hall and his wife, former Utah Valley soccer player Breanna McCarter, celebrated the birth of a daughter in July. Jayda Mae has been a “tremendous blessing,” Hall said last month, while also acknowledging that the newborn has cut into his sleeping time.
“It is fun, man, he said of fatherhood. “It is humbling. It kinda makes me balance out my life a little bit better, put aside some distractions of the past.”
Hall said being a father has made him a better quarterback.
“When I am home I am able to focus on family life with my wife and my baby, and then when I am here, my wife knows this is what I am doing and she pushes me to use my time here to just get better in any spare time I have,” he said. “So it is nice for her to enjoy the baby and have some time together while I am gone, and that just takes the burden off my shoulders. I can just focus on football and do what I love. I am just grateful for my wife. She’s been so supportive.”
Hall, who became the first Black athlete to start at quarterback for BYU in a game at South Florida in 2019, made the decision last January to give up baseball — he was a center fielder for the Cougars in 2019 and 2020 — and focus entirely on football. He said last month he has no regrets, and can’t imagine what life would be like with a newborn and a two-sport career.
“Fatherhood and football keep me pretty busy,” he said. “And I try to be an (attentive) husband, too.”
Because he played baseball, Hall is starting to draw comparisons to a pair of professional quarterbacks who also played the sport — Arizona’s Kyler Murray and Seattle’s Russell Wilson. Nobody’s suggesting he is that good — yet — but certainly Hall’s play of late has caused some to wonder if he’s an NFL quarterback.
Don’t laugh — after playing in nine full games, which is what Hall has done after battling concussions in 2019 and missing the entire 2020 season with a hip injury — New York Jets starting QB Zach Wilson wasn’t being talked about as an NFL prospect, either. But look at him now.
Hall’s success in 2021 doesn’t surprise quarterbacks coach Dustin Smith of QB Elite, a former college baseball player who founded the company with former BYU star Ty Detmer and has tutored Hall since he was in junior high. Hall has also worked with former BYU QB John Beck, who famously helped develop Wilson and was just added to the Jets’ staff this week.
“What will separate Jaren from the other top quarterbacks in the country next year, and what separated Zach, is the ability to spot the ball in tight spots and do so with confidence and consistency,” Smith told the Deseret News in February. “And then also the decision-making — knowing when to throw the ball away, when not to throw the ball.
“Jaren can make all the throws,” Smith continued. “The next step for Jaren is learning to make all the throws consistently and accurately as you need to be a big-time NFL prospect. … I haven’t seen enough of Jaren because he has only played in a few games. But I think he can be.”
New BYU receiver Samson Nacua caught passes from Tyler Huntley of the Baltimore Ravens when they both played for the University of Utah. The graduate transfer says Hall has similar abilities to the first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback.
“Jaren is an athlete. He is a man. He ranks right up there with Tyler Huntley,” Nacua said. “Great decision-makers and great throwers when they need to. They can run the ball and make moves when necessary. I expect a lot of big things from Jaren.
“I think Jaren is just as good as any quarterback in the nation right now, or even better,” Nacua continued. “I believe (Allgeier and Hall) are going to do big things and am just thankful and excited I got to spend my last year with them and ball by their sides.”
If Wilson’s rapid ascension taught Smith, a former Skyline High QB, anything, it is that it only takes “one big year” for a quarterback to get a shot in the NFL.
“Nobody could say last year before Zach’s great season that he was miles ahead of Jaren,” Smith said. “They may have thought Zach was better, but it wasn’t a complete no-brainer. They were close. So if that is the case, it is reasonable for Jaren to feel like he’s not that far away from being a (pro) prospect. If he can get a little better, he can be in the same situation.”
Hitting his stride
Of course, Hall’s numbers in the seven games he’s played in in 2021 aren’t close to what Wilson was putting up last year — thanks to Allgeier’s emergence and a much more difficult schedule — but he was sensational against Virginia and showed that when the Cougars need him to deliver in a shootout he’s up to the task.
“It is almost going unnoticed, how well he is playing,” offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said on his “Coordinators’ Corner” program Monday. “First of all, five wins over P5 opponents. That has never been done here, and he has been the quarterback for all those wins. He’s just playing extremely well. His decision-making is as good as I have ever seen for a quarterback. He doesn’t make mistakes and takes great care of the football.”
Hall is No. 21 in the country in total offense, averaging 277.7 yards per game. He is 45th in passing efficiency at 146.74.
“His deep ball throws are just so on the money,” Roderick said. “I have gotten some comments on balls being underthrown, and I want people to know we are doing that on purpose. … Jaren has a knack for putting deep balls where our guys can come back to it and get it, and where defenders can’t see it.”
Indeed, with Romney also contributing, BYU is No. 7 in the country for most passing plays of 40 or more yards this season.
“He’s got a great knack for knowing how to underthrow those, how to back-shoulder them, where to put them,” Roderick said. “It is as good as I’ve ever seen.”
Roderick said Hall’s ability to run with the football, especially now that he’s fully healthy, adds another dimension to an already potent offense.
“On a lot of our shotgun run plays, there is one or two defenders on the back side of the play waiting for Jaren to pull the ball and run,” Roderick said. “So we are handing it off, and they are just wasting defenders because of the threat of Jaren running. It takes them out of the play. He is effectively blocking one or two guys just by riding the ball and handing it to Tyler.
“A lot of those plays that are creasing for big gains, there could have been another player in the box to stop the run, but they have to honor the fact that Jaren can go 60 or 70 yards on any given play.”