Taysom or Tanner: Time for a change for BYU football?

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Ari Davis
Taysom Hill throws the ball against UCLA. Hill finished with 250 passing yards. (Ari Davis)

The BYU football team fell to UCLA in its home opener 17-14 on Sept. 17. The Cougars are now 1-2 this season.

While the loss goes in the record book as a three-point defeat, the game was never really that close. The Cougar offense made it to the end zone twice that night. The first time came with the aid of numerous UCLA penalties, the second came in what was essentially garbage time with the Bruins playing prevent defense.

But this is nothing new for BYU football.

Through 12 quarters of play this season, the Cougars have scored just six touchdowns. They’ve yet to break 20 points in a game and are averaging just 17 points per game.

To put that in perspective, Utah State is averaging 20.5. Syracuse is averaging 24. Utah is averaging 27 and Wyoming sits at 28.5.

In short, the BYU offense is leaving much to be desired. It’s something head coach Kalani Sitake addressed after the loss.

“We’ve got to start clicking offensively,” Sitake said. “We need to be able to sustain that and be more consistent. That’s what our focus is going to be next week … Offensively, we’ve got to get going. We’re trying to be patient with it, but we keep running out of time.”

There are a number of issues the Cougars are dealing with offensively.

It all starts up front with the offensive line. The Cougars were without Ului Lapuaho against UCLA, but his absence doesn’t necessarily explain the ineptitude.

BYU rushed for just 23 total yards against the Bruins and Jamaal Williams averaged just two yards per carry.

Unfortunately for the Cougars, the struggles continued in the passing game.

UCLA entered Provo with one sack in two games. The Bruins then picked up four sacks in the first half alone.

“There’s some things we’ve got to work through offensively,” Sitake said. “We have to find more ways to score more points, but we’ll keep working together and get ready for next week.”

But beyond the offensive line, all eyes were on the quarterback.

It took all of eight minutes of game time before there were rumblings of Tanner Mangum’s name circling through LaVell Edwards Stadium and on social media.

The offense looked stagnant and Taysom Hill wasn’t getting it done.

Hill overthrew a wide open Aleva Hifo on the Cougars’ first drive. It looked like Hifo could have walked into the end zone if Hill got the ball to him.

Hill got the starting job thanks, in part, to his athleticism, entering his final season for the Cougars with 2,212 rushing yards in his career. His ability to ditch the pocket and make plays with his legs were an enormous advantage for the Cougars.

But it doesn’t appear he can make those same plays anymore.

Hill finished with -7 rushing yards against UCLA, the first time in his career he finished a game with negative yards rushing. He’s averaging just 3.4 yards per carry this season, a full two yards less than his previous career low.

If his athletic edge is gone, many are asking: Why not try Tanner Mangum?

At this point, it seems to be a valid question.

Mangum completed 64 percent of his passes for 244 yards and a touchdown against UCLA in Pasadena last season. He also appeared to be a near-perfect fit for Ty Detmer’s pro-style offense.

Mangum threw for at least 260 yards in a game seven times last season. Hill has yet to break 260 yards. Mangum threw three interceptions in a game once last season. Hill has already thrown three picks in a game. Mangum completed at least 60 percent of his passes six times last season. Hill has done so just 11 times since the start of 2013 season.

Linebacker Fred Warner intercepted UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen on UCLA’s 33-yard line in the first quarter. The Cougar offense took the field and promptly ran three plays, lost 13 yards and had to punt the ball.

“We didn’t execute like we should have,” Hill said.

Sitake said a quarterback switch was discussed at halftime, but the coaching staff decided to give Hill “more chances,” fearing the offense could get disrupted with a new man under center.

Hill, a team captain, is undoubtedly the Cougars’ leader. If Detmer ultimately decides to make a switch, there’s no going back. A senior captain can’t get benched for an experiment.

If Mangum comes in, he will get the keys to the offense.

With the offense struggling, it’s a move that might happen when the Cougars travel to Maryland to play the West Virginia Mountaineers at FedEx Field on Sept. 24. The game kicks off at 1:30 p.m. MDT.

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