PROVO — No doubt the Eyes of Texas are fixed on BYU quarterback Taysom Hill.
It seems everyone in the Lone Star State knows all about Hill, ever since his otherworldly, 259-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance — an average of 15.2 yards per carry — against Texas last year in Provo, resulting in a stunning 40-21 Cougar victory.
“It was surreal,” Hill told reporters in Texas this week of that game. “It was like I was able to see a childhood dream come true.”
Twelve months later, Hill is still running roughshod through the Longhorns’ nightmares.
First-year Texas coach Charlie Strong called Hill a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. “I looked at last year's game and the quarterback is an unbelievable player,” Strong said.
Longhorn defensive coordinator Vance Bedford compared Hill to former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman winner.
“He's a strong guy, like a fullback when he gets the football in his hands,” Bedford said. “He's a little Tim Tebow-ish. Running around, making plays. He's faster than you think he is, he throws well on the run. Third down and short, he becomes a fullback. You see a quarterback power, a quarterback lead, he's a handful. If we can't contain him, it's gonna be hard to win that ballgame."
If Hill has a target on his back as BYU visits Texas Saturday (5:30 p.m., MDT, Fox Sports 1), he seems unconcerned.
“It’s football. Every quarterback has a target on his back,” Hill said. “It’s all the same. Last week it was all about UConn. This week, it’s all about Texas. Each game is a big one to me. My mindset is to win each of them.”
Of course, there are some obvious differences between last year’s game and this rematch.
Strong is a defensive-minded coach and he’ll make sure his players are assignment-sound, something they didn’t seem to be at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The Cougars ran for a school-record 550 yards — it was the most rushing yards Texas had ever surrendered in a game.
“If you get outside on the perimeter of the defense, you're going to have an issue,” Strong said. “When you look at a defense and that's a stat, you talk about rushing yards, you say, hey, we don't need to give up more than a hundred a game. That's five games right there that you gave it up in one. You have to be able to contain them and make sure that we don't allow the quarterback outside the defense. And it's all about responsibility.”
"We just have to stick to our keys, believe in the coaches' scheme, and I think we'll be ready to go," said Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs. "We have a great defensive coordinator and we have great defensive assistants, and those guys are going to have us ready, I can tell you that."
How will Hill compensate for the Longhorns’ defensive adjustments?
“My mentality is, our offensive scheme is so good that as long as we stick to our keys, our offense is really hard to defend,” Hill said. “If they want to put another guy in the box and put a spy on me, then we’ll do different things on the outside to combat that. With the personnel we have, it will give us an opportunity to incorporate a lot of the bubble screens and quick passes, which will complement our run game.”
As he proved in the season-opening win at Connecticut, Hill is a much better passer than he was against Texas last year when he completed 9 of 26 passes for 129 yards. Against UConn, Hill completed 28 of 36 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 97 rushing yards and two more TDs.
After that game, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said he expects Hill to only get better as the season progresses.
“Taysom’s management of the game was so clean and poised and confident that it was fun to see,” he said. “The focus has been not only to make great decisions at the line of scrimmage, with delivering the ball in the run game, but where he’s delivering the ball and to whom in terms of distribution in the pass game. It’s a huge step that way. I expect a continuation of that with consistency through the rest of the year. When we do that, we’ll be difficult to beat.”
Hill is quick to credit his teammates for the offensive improvement.
“The chemistry is higher. Our offense, I would say, is clicking on all cylinders,” he said. “This year, it starts up front. We have a lot of trust in our front five, those linemen. Their mindset is, they’re going to protect me. I love playing with those guys.”
While BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae said Hill’s performance last week was “a good start for him,” he emphasized that Saturday's game is not all about Hill.
“One guy never does make a team. To me, it’s our team against their team,” he said. “Your quarterback looks better when the guys around him are better. That showed (last week). Hopefully, we continue to grow as an offense. We grew as a team last year against Texas. I hope to do so this year as well.”
Meanwhile, the Eyes of Texas are fixed on Taysom Hill.