The public has finally seen James Lark play, and Bronco is getting even more public scrutiny as a result.
I have never thought that Bronco should be fired. He may not be one of the sharpest tools in the shed offensively, but he is so good defensively that any calls for his firing have seemed ridiculous to me. I also never thought that this scenario would ever repeat itself, because we all know as well as Bronco does that there's only one Riley.
But now that Cougar nation has seen Lark first-hand, one remembers that Lark wasn't just benched in preference of Riley, but also in favor of Taysom Hill. Taysom is a totally different animal than Riley, he is bigger, faster, stronger, and has tons more upside. He was just a true freshman this year, and getting him experience for next year wasn't necessarily a bad idea.
But the fact remains, Lark is the best passer on the team and he makes the best decisions with the football in his reads. What more could a coach want from a quarterback than to read defenses and deliver accurate passes to the receivers? The problem is that Bronco wants a running quarterback. The all-important running game must be established, even if it is to the detriment of BYU's offense as a whole.
So while there is only one Riley, this could all happen again, even as soon as Taysom Hill graduates. Whoever the mobile quarterback is that happens to be on the roster competing against Tanner Mangum, that mobile quarterback is going to have a huge advantage in that quarterback competition. That quarterback will help BYU achieve their pillar of establishing the run, and there are no such pillars in the passing game.
Just imagine how good the BYU passing game would have been if Lark had a season and a half of getting all of the starter reps and game experience. He's this good without all of those reps, what could this season have been if he was named Heaps' backup as he should have been in fall of 2011. At that time I thought that Nelson was only listed as the second string because he would come in at times in running situations, so I was completely shocked when Nelson was brought in to replace Heaps against Utah State instead of Lark. If Lark is better than Nelson after Riley has had a year and a half of being the starter, how much better was Lark than Riley at that time!?
That's almost as ridiculous as Bronco deciding to play Riley hurt against Utah, Boise State, and San Jose State! At the beginning of the season, I said that Riley would probably get hurt this year, but that BYU would see no drop off because of it. I didn't know of course that Bronco would choose to play Riley hurt! The backup was better than the starter in the first place, and Bronco still played the starter while he's hurt!
The second problem is that Bronco overvalues experience. Interviewer: "Was this the kind of performance you expected out of James?" Bronco: "I didn't know, I was hopeful that it could be one of those performances that would be a great memory for him..."
Why didn't Bronco know that James would play this well when I did!? It might have a little to do with Heaps being a practice All-Star but a mess in games. Heaps was the exception to the rule however, because there aren't very many football players that are that scared of taking a hit. For the most part, when a player shows certain skills and abilities in practice and in scrimmages those same abilities will come through on the playing field. Lark looked just like he did when I saw him in 7 on 7 and in scrimmages.
I hear some people pointing out that Lark did this against terrible competition so it doesn't mean anything. This was a much tougher defensive match-up for BYU than Idaho was. New Mexico State saw how San Jose State forced BYU to throw the ball, and they tried to do the same thing themselves. They played very aggressively, and like San Jose State, New Mexico State played to stuff the run and put pressure on the quarterback. In both games BYU threw the ball 50 times or more, each quarterback threw for more than 300 yards, the difference is that Lark completed a much higher percentage of his passes and didn't turn the ball over once.
It wasn't just about the numbers though. Lark was very decisive with the ball and made the correct reads in taking what the defense gave him. He delivered the ball very accurately for the most part and got the ball to receivers in some pretty tight spaces. He threw the out route a lot, which is easier for receivers to get open on because there aren't linebackers in the passing windows on those routes. The dangerous part about the out route though is that if the throw is behind the receiver it has a higher chance of being broken up or intercepted because the ball is in the air longer. Lark earned a living off of that route, not because the coverage was bad but because he was putting the ball on the money almost every time.
On a lot of Lark's throws the coverage was actually really pretty good, he wasn't given very many wide open targets. The most wide open target was Hoffman on the deep pass, but that was because Lark learned that New Mexico State had figured out the call for the bubble screen. So they scripted a deep pass to Hoffman off of the bubble screen call. He didn't get sacked as often as Nelson does because he takes what the defense gives him on the short routes and doesn't try to be a hero on a bigger gain.
I firmly believe that Lark would have given BYU the accuracy and decision making that they needed at the quarterback position to have beaten Utah, Boise State, #1 ranked Notre Dame, and San Jose State. I know some people think that an 11-1 BYU wouldn't get into a BCS Bowl game, but I believe that it would have gotten BYU ranked #7 this season and a BCS Bowl bid. Instead, Bronco has BYU fans looking forward to a Poinsettia Bowl game against San Diego State, and I'm not convinced that BYU will win. Rocky Long has also seen the San Jose State film and will force Nelson to throw the ball to beat them.
What Tom Holmoe will probably do now is just pray that BYU can beat SDSU without the help of a replay booth gaffe, and thank heavens that Riley is graduating after that game. Holmoe can't fire Bronco, he's much too good defensively and he has really done wonders for this program since he took over. Doman did the best that he could with the Bronco mandated starting quarterback that Doman was dealt, so it wouldn't make sense to fire Doman. Weber will probably be fired, and Max Hall will probably come back next year as the QB coach GA.
If Taysom Hill plays like I think he will next year, BYU is going to make a lot of noise and they are going to win a few of their games against the perennial powerhouses on the schedule. Taysom Hill will be the most talented passer on the roster and the best running quarterback. It will be the perfect combination for Bronco's desired offense, and the personnel will finally fit the strategy. The last three years will mostly be forgotten, and Bronco will finally win some big games and have BYU in the national spot-light only losing a couple of games by a few points to big-time opponents. The next couple of years will be a great time to be a BYU fan, and Cougar fans can only hope that Bronco doesn't become enamoured by the next inadequate mobile quarterback that comes along after Hill is gone.