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What makes Dax Milne so effective? Former Cougar great Eric Drage weighs in

Former Bingham High star has turned into one of the nation’s most productive deep threats. And his route running is a big reason why

BYU wide receiver Dax Milne, right, runs for a touchdown as Houston cornerback Shaun Lewis, left, watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Houston.
AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith

Dax Milne is having a dream season in a BYU uniform, and legacy receiver Eric Drage is more than impressed with the skills on display by the former walk-on.

Once upon a time Drage was a target for Heisman winner Ty Detmer and John Walsh. Last weekend he was on a golf outing to St. George and Mesquite, Nevada, with former Cougar quarterbacks Charlie Peterson, Ryan Hancock and Steve Clements. No doubt BYU’s current status at 6-0, statistics and stories of yore were in play as well as Titleists.

This week I asked Drage to break down what he sees in Milne. Back in the day, Drage caught 56 balls for 1,093 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1992. His average catch was for a whopping 19.5 yards — something Milne is approaching this season at 17.3.

Only two receivers have had more receiving yards (639) than Milne after six games in a season. They are Drage (748 in 1992) and Austin Collie (673 in 2008).

Drage said watching games on TV only gives a narrow perspective. You can’t see receiver routes most of the time unless shown a breakout replay. “But it seems like, from what I can tell, he runs some of the best routes I’ve seen in a long time. Like, I mean, he’s open 80% of the time, like open, open, like nobody’s around open. You don’t do that without having some speed and athleticism but I would say it’s probably a result of his route running.”

PPF College rates Milne as the No. 2 receiver in the country against single coverage with a 94.2 rating behind leader Kyle Pitts of Florida at 96.0 and ahead of Alabama’s DeVonta Smith (93.0). He has been added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club.

Drage believes Milne runs the best routes by a BYU receiver since Collie, the school’s all-time single-season receiving leader. “The last time we saw this crisp of route running and getting this open was with Collie.”

Drage would like to know Milne’s speed, guessing it is at least 4.5 for 40 yards.

“And he seems like a decent size kid, I don’t know that he’s, you know, he’s not huge but he’s, what, is he 6-foot-1, right, 180 or something?”

Milne is listed on the roster as 6-1, 190. Roster numbers commonly fudge just a little.

“I just can’t imagine him getting open all the time and I’d love to spend some time breaking it down, but you know, back in the day, all we had is receivers who were kind of like him. We had to run crisp routes to get open,” he said. “Occasionally, we would have a different kind of receiver like Tyler Anderson, who was the exception, but more times than not, BYU’s best receivers were those who were very good route runners and having a Ty Detmer or John Walsh made it easy.

“Obviously, Zach Wilson is phenomenal with his accuracy, and that has become his strength, but I’d love to watch every play Milne runs and see his routes.”

Aware of BYU’s soft schedule, Drage said people can argue that, but the fact is, Wilson and Milne are hooking up for 50-yard passes and even going against air (nobody defending), it is hard to complete at a 78% rate.

So far this season, Drage said his favorite Milne catch is the 78-yard opening play touchdown against Houston — a team Drage claims had very talented cornerbacks.

“That was contested and, you know, he goes up and gets it. I mean, the DB was right there and he went up and high-pointed it and made a play. He just went up and stole it from him and it is one that sticks out and kind of set the tone for the game.”

Drage agrees with the theory that when you have a quarterback that can deliver the ball on time and read defenses, the Cougar receivers, who are for the most part overachievers, can step up and make huge plays. He puts injured Gunner Romney in this category of big-time playmakers as a target of a very talented Wilson.

“Romney is a phenomenal dude and fun to watch too,” he said. “It is unfortunate he’s been injured.”

Drage then broke down an aspect of what folks are seeing in Wilson’s game — daring to throw downfield and trusting receivers to make plays, and how big that is for the offense.

“So, I was hanging out with these three quarterbacks last week,” Drage said. “It was funny, but Hancock, when Ryan came in, he wasn’t a quarterback per se. He was a (baseball) pitcher. He didn’t read a defense like Steve Clements, and like John (Walsh), and like Ty and the other guys we play with.

“When you have a quarterback that has confidence in his receivers, then the receivers have confidence in the quarterback, ‘Hey, just give me a chance and I’ll go make a play for you.’ And I think that’s what you’re kind of seeing right now with Zach. He’s thrown a few balls that maybe weren’t the best but he read the receiver, put the ball out there and the receiver just made a play for him. In other words, now we’re completing passes that maybe we shouldn’t be completing and it turns into something big.”

The facts back this up. Wilson and his receivers are among the national leaders in completing deep balls. “He’s hitting the money strikes at a high percentage and that’s hard to do with no defense.”

So, what about the golf, who won?

Drage confessed, Hancock, Peterson and Clements were superior.