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Provo • Everywhere he goes, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill is asked about his passing accuracy. Is it any better than last year? Will he complete more than 53.9 percent of his throws in 2014? What did he do to develop his arm strength and refine his throwing motion?
But here's the thing: Hill and offensive coordinator Robert Anae identified a bigger reason why the Cougars went just 8-5 last season and the offense sputtered against the better teams on their schedule Utah, Notre Dame and Wisconsin and it had little to do with completion percentage.
Poor decisions, as much as anything else, were the culprit.
Not that Hill played poorly in 2013, because he didn't, and the Cougars likely wouldn't have won eight games without him, including the Houston and Texas games when he was nothing short of spectacular. He did throw for 2,938 yards and 19 touchdowns, after all, and rushed for 1,344 yards and 10 scores, almost becoming only the seventh player in NCAA history to rush for more than 1,000 yards and throw for more than 3,000 in the same season.
It just could have been better, and the player and offensive coordinator knew it.
"We have put an emphasis on [better decision-making] since before spring camp," Hill said.
In fact, at the Manning Passing Academy that Hill attended as a counselor in July, the college quarterbacks were given an hour toward the end of camp to ask NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning anything they wanted, and the discussion quickly turned to doing things off the field preparation, decision-making and studying film to improve performance on the field.
"Peyton is always barking orders at the line of scrimmage. We got to learn what that is all about," Hill said.
When he got back to Utah, he talked with Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck about how he could learn the protection packages put in for the offensive linemen. That's something coaches have never taught BYU quarterbacks, but Hill was willing to take it on.
"With the nature of the hurry-up [offense], we don't have a lot of checks or [audibles], but if it is something that can help me play better, I need to do it," Hill said.
Still, Hill did plenty to work on his accuracy, starting way back in February when he worked out with former BYU quarterback John Beck and throwing guru Tom House in St. George. He studied film of NFL quarterbacks who are known to be great decision-makers, such as Tom Brady and Manning, and film of running quarterbacks, such as Colin Kaepernick.
At the Manning Camp, Hill proved his accuracy has improved by making it to the semifinals of the Air-It-Out Challenge contest, which was won by Oregon State's Sean Mannion.
Hill said it is "hard to say" how much he has improved since that 31-16 bowl loss to Washington when he completed just 25 of 48 passes for 293 yards and no touchdowns with one interception.
"But I feel extremely confident," he said. "There are a lot of other factors going into it. One, I didn't have to worry about a knee injury, or rehabbing that. And so I was able to focus all my time there. But I have also had a year of experience, a year of this offense under my belt as well, so I feel much more confident and comfortable in our offense, and with my capabilities of executing it."
Anae said Hill might have suffered from arm fatigue at the end of last season, and so that was another offseason emphasis: better conditioning, and a weight room regimen that developed the junior's right arm.
"Oh, he has really worked in the offseason, and that is obvious," Anae said Tuesday. "I love his physicality, and he is in great shape, so he doesn't wear down as we go. … Boy, the ball is ripping [out of his hand] and is it sharp, it sure is. Usually a quarterback gets some fatigue in that arm, but wow, four days into it, he is still gripping it and ripping it."
After the first full week of training camp, quarterbacks coach Jason Beck said he has already noticed the improvement in Hill's decision-making ability.
"A lot of it is experience," Beck said. "He is working physically. He is working mentally on the game, just understanding everything better. He's more consistent in his decision and he's quicker in recognizing what is going on and getting the ball out. And he's doing a nice job throwing it accurately."
Hill's path to improvement
• Worked out with former BYU QB John Beck and got throwing instruction from throwing guru Tom House
• Worked as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy in July and advanced to the semifinals of the Air-It-Out-Challenge accuracy contest
• Studied film of other running quarterbacks, including San Francisco 49ers star Colin Kaepernick.
• Named one of the top 25 college football players to watch this season by The Sporting News, landing at No. 15
• Married Emily Nixon, sister of former BYU linebacker David Nixon, in April.
Hill's 2013 season statistics
Att Gain Loss Net TD Lng Avg/G
246 1,595 251 1,344 10 68 103.4
Comp-Att Yrd Pct INT TD Avg/G
236-438 2,938 53.9 14 19 226