BYU's 6-3 win over Utah State last Friday was an ugly game with an ugly ending: With the clock ticking down an apparent Cougars win, freshman quarterback Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending knee injury on the last real play of the night, a 4-yard run up the middle with a little more than a minute remaining. Over the weekend, Hill was diagnosed with damage to the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) in his left knee, which could keep him out not only for the rest of 2012, but also for spring practice next March, possibly setting back his chances of becoming the full-time starter in 2013.
Of course, injuries happen. But that's little solace in this case for BYU coaches, who conceded earlier this week that the play that resulted in Hill's injury should not have happened: With a fresh set of downs and only one timeout remaining for Utah State, the Cougars could have simply kneeled out the final minute without putting the ball (or the players) at risk by running another play. In fact, according to head coach Bronco Mendenhall, coaches wanted Hill to take a knee. But somehow, the message from the sideline got lost in translation:
The coaching staff signaled to Hill that the clock was running and Mendenhall said Hill thought that meant he should run the play that was called — a quarterback draw. The coaches wanted Hill to line up in "victory" formation and kneel down with the ball.
"He took his eyes away. Victory was signaled in right after that and he got hurt," Mendenhall said. "I'm responsible for anything that happens when one of our guys gets hurt. It's really unfortunate. Cleaner communication on our part needs to be done. It's not his fault, it's our fault."
Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman said he told Hill to let the clock run, but Hill "misinterpreted" the signal.
"It's a great excuse, or a great explanation, but it doesn't make anybody feel any better," Doman said. "He called a play and went running to the line of scrimmage. I asked (Mendenhall) to call a timeout, and he didn't get to the ref in time. … It's my fault, at least that's how I feel. I'm responsible for that, and I don't know that I'll ever get over him getting injured the way he did and the circumstances of how it happened."
As far as the depth chart is concerned, the unnecessary injury is cushioned by the timely return of the regular starter, senior Riley Nelson, who is expected to be back in the lineup Saturday against Oregon State after sitting out the last two games (both BYU wins) with a bad back. The Cougars have already lost one offensive starter for the year, offensive lineman
Given BYU's remarkable consistency under Mendenhall, outsiders may be surprised to discover that a vocal segment of the fan base is growing impatient with the offense under Doman, a former Cougars quarterback himself, and the injury to Hill will not help to win them over. BYU has managed just six points in two of its last three games – before Friday's low-octane win over the Aggies, there was the 7-6 loss at Boise State on Sept. 20 – and needed a short field for two of its touchdowns in a wild 24-21 loss at Utah. His last time out, Nelson accounted for four of BYU's five turnovers in the loss to Boise, and yielded to Hill for the Cougars' only scoring drive late in the fourth quarter.
Including that game, BYU has dropped five in a row to teams that finished in the final Associated Press poll over the last three years, with a pair of undefeated, Top 10 teams – Oregon State and Notre Dame – on deck over the next two weeks. With the Beavers and Irish both going through some midseason quarterback flux of their own, this might be a good time to bring that streak to an end.