One miscommunication, one play, one hit … and one season ended.
That was all it took for the BYU football team to lose freshman quarterback Taysom Hill, who will have surgery on his injured left knee and be out four-to-six months — meaning he won't play again during the 2012 season.
"Taysom got hurt on the third to the last play in our game against Utah State," said Cougar head football coach Bronco Mendenhall. "He received a pretty clear signal from the sidelines that meant the clock is going and he interpreted that to mean run the play. He took his eyes away and 'victory' was signaled in, and right after that he got hurt.
"It was a miscommunication and I'm responsible for anything that happens when any of our guys get hurt."
Mendenhall wasn't the only one to shoulder the blame for the unfortunate injury. BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman, who was on the sideline, was quick to point the finger at himself.
"All the circumstances leading up to it are my fault," Doman said. "I don't know that I'll ever get over him getting injured the way that he did, and the circumstances under which it happened."
Doman explained that when the sideline realized Hill was going to run a play, they tried to get a timeout but the snap came too quickly. But when Hill went down, Doman said he knew right then that everything wasn't right.
"When I saw him take the hit, I knew he was hurt," Doman said. "I just didn't know how severe or what the ramifications of the injury were. You could tell he knew something wasn't quite right in there. We need to get it repaired now rather than later."
Head football athletic trainer Jeff Hurst explained that it is a lateral-side injury to the left knee (lateral collateral ligament) and some structure around that. The medical staff examined Hill right after the game, then an MRI was taken on Saturday.
"He's a competitor," Hurst said. "Obviously he's upset that he can't play. He understands it's a violent game but he's going to work probably as hard as anyone who has ever worked in my experience to get back and get ready to go."
Hurst added that you see a lot more injuries to the other part of the knee, that this was a unique injury in that regard.
This marks the second quarterback BYU has had go down with injury, since senior starter Riley Nelson missed the last two games with a back injury. That has made the team re-evaluate how they will use the QB position.
"It’s not a sustainable model, especially when a quarterback carries the ball 19 times in a game, especially when our quarterbacks run as hard as they do,” Mendenhall said. “They aren’t really avoiding contact but are trying to get every yard possible. Either the carries lessen or we become more risk-adverse at the end, sliding or dodging.”
It's always difficult for the rest of the team to lose a player for the season due to injury, but they know it's part of the game.
"I think it’s tough to lose any of your teammates," said Cougar senior cornerback Preston Hadley. "It’s hard to see but a lot of guys still have to play. The show goes on but we’re going to miss him."
The team has to move on and start getting ready for the upcoming contest with No. 10-ranked Oregon State — that, ironically, announced Monday that starting quarterback Sean Mannion would also be having knee surgery and would miss significant time including Saturday’s game (1:30 p.m., ABC).
Fortunately for BYU, Nelson appears set to return to the lineup.
"If there is a silver lining with the injuries, it just so happens to be when one quarterback is going out, the other is coming back," Mendenhall said. "He's feeling much better. I'll watch him through the week but it was really close last week, so I assume by the time we get to Saturday he'll be ready."
Nelson said he's feeling much better and just has some tuning up to do to get back to full speed.
"I'm getting there," Nelson said. "My conditioning needs to come back, so I'm working hard before and after practice to bring that back. My quickness, my agility, my speed, I feel pretty close. My arm feels good, my motion and release feel good, my arm strength is back, being able to twist the hips and get the power from there. My conditioning is the only thing and they had to rest me completely. I couldn't have done any conditioning while I was sitting out. As I work on that and get it back, I figure I'll be back to 100 percent."
If, however, Nelson has more problems or gets injured again, the Cougars will turn to senior quarterback James Lark.
“James is a really good player,” Mendenhall said. “He’s very persistent and dedicated. He’s waiting his chance.”
Hill joins an unfortunate fraternity of guys who have had to assume a spectator’s role due to injury, a group that includes running back Michael Alisa, offensive linemen Houston Reynolds and Famika Anae, and defensive linemen Ian Dulan and Eathyn Manumaleuna.
Even with those injuries, Mendenhall said he’s satisfied with the overall health of the team at this point in the year.
“I think it’s pretty good,” the head coach said. “I’m encouraged overall. Every year there are a couple of key injuries here and there but I like where we are. I think we are handling it OK.”
Hurst said he feels the same way and believes some of the extra emphasis on recovery has paid dividends.
“I think it’s made a huge difference in our longevity and our ability to stay on the field,” Hurst said. “Their awareness of how they can contribute to that I think has been the biggest benefit as far as the recovery aspect. I think the education over the summer has been beneficial to the program in general and to them as individuals.”
Hadley said he has personally noticed a dramatic difference this fall.
“I definitely notice a big difference,” he said. “Coming out of fall camp last year, my body was just shot. I had shoulder issues. I think the training staff is doing a great job, and the biggest difference is that they are following up with you. In the past, people might have fallen through the cracks but this year it’s really organized. Guys are able to keep playing fast and not play tentative because of injury.”
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.