Top 5 BYU quarterback performances in their first career starts

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Former BYU quarterback Ty Detmer throws the ball in the memorable game against Miami. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)

Starting at quarterback for the first time, against a Top-10 team, is always a daunting task. That’s the exact scenario Beau Hoge faced when BYU hosted Wisconsin on Saturday. It didn’t produce a positive outcome for him or his team.

Hoge totaled 111 yards on 11-of-20 passing and tossed a pair of interceptions in BYU’s 40–6 loss to the Badgers. It ended up being a modest debut, but his teammates believe the redshirt sophomore will keep climbing the ladder in the weeks ahead.

(Click on infograph to enlarge.)

“He showed glimpses of greatness,” freshman tight end Matt Bushman said. “He made plays when we needed to make them. He played against a great defense in his first career start. There’s things to get better at from all of us, and I think he tried his best.”

Hoge earned the start with Tanner Mangum sidelined by an ankle injury he suffered against Utah. He showed some promise with his mobility and decision making. Still, Hoge could not do nearly enough to help the Cougars overcome an elite Wisconsin team.

“That is the type of team that you aspire to be,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “They did a good job of keeping us on our heels. They possessed the ball and played some great defense.”

Not all BYU quarterbacks experienced rough debuts in their first starts. Many memorable performances came out of these past games and signaled greater things ahead for the Cougars.

1. Marc Wilson vs. Colorado State (1977)

Marc Wilson found himself in a difficult situation heading into the fifth game of his sophomore season. Wilson inherited the starting job from senior Gifford Nielsen, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 24–19 loss to Oregon State. The sophomore was untested and, worse yet, BYU’s upcoming opponent was Colorado State.

The Rams were 5–0 at the time and allowed just 9.2 points per game up to that point. They also had a track record of recent success against BYU, going 2–1–1 against the Cougars in LaVell Edwards first four seasons.

Wilson had no trouble handling Colorado State. He picked apart the Rams’ defense in brutal fashion in a 63–17 victory for BYU. Wilson threw for 332 yards and seven touchdowns, while completing 15-of-25 passes and posting a 256.0 quarterback rating.

BYU finished 9–2 overall and earned a share of the WAC title in his first season as a starter. Wilson eventually led the Cougars to their first undefeated regular season two years later and then spent 10 seasons in the NFL.

2. Ty Detmer vs. New Mexico (1988)

Even as a freshman, Ty Detmer showed flashes of a game-changing ability that helped him rewrite the NCAA record book during his career and paved the way to winning the Heisman Trophy as a junior.

Detmer filled in for injured starter Sean Covey and led BYU to a 65–0 demolition of New Mexico in his only start during his first season. He totaled 333 yards on 24-of-35 passing and became the first BYU freshman to throw five touchdown passes in a game. Detmer posted a 195.6 quarterback rating against the Lobos.

It opened the door for a quarterback battle with Covey. Detmer eventually supplanted him as the full-time starter before his sophomore season. Nearly three decades later, Detmer still holds school records for career passing yards (15,031), passing touchdowns (121) and total offense (14,655).

3. Max Hall vs. Arizona (2007)

Bronco Mendenhall’s most successful stretch at BYU came with Max Hall as his quarterback. Hall led the Cougars to a Mountain West title in  his sophomore season and won at least 10 wins in all three years he played at BYU.

Hall offered a taste of what lay ahead in the 2007 season opener. The sophomore threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns while completing 26-of-39 passes, leading the Cougars to a 20–7 win over Arizona. Hall posted a 145.6 quarterback rating in his debut.

Over three seasons, Hall posted a 32–7 record as a starter — including a 6–3 record against BCS opponents. He totaled 11,569 yards on offense, ranking second all-time at BYU in that category.

4. Gifford Nielsen vs. Air Force (1975)

When he first came to BYU, Gifford Nielsen split time between the football team and basketball team. His focus soon turned to football full-time. Nielsen earned his first start against Air Force in the fifth game of his sophomore season after leading the Cougars to a 16–15 comeback win over New Mexico a week earlier.

Nielsen cemented his grip on the starting job against the Falcons. He threw for 229 yards and a touchdown while completing 14-of-19 passes in a 28–14 victory for the Cougars.

It marked the beginning of big things for Nielsen. He later played six seasons in the NFL with the Houston Oilers. Then, in 1994, Nielsen became BYU’s first player to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

5. Taysom Hill vs. Hawaii (2012)

Before injuries plagued Taysom Hill for the better part of five seasons, he showed he could be an electrifying dual-threat quarterback in his first-ever start. Hill stepped in for injured senior Riley Nelson against Hawaii and did not let his opportunity to shine go to waste.

The freshman dominated the Warriors in BYU’s 47–0 victory. He threw for a modest 112 yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-21 passing. Hill did the bulk of his damage on the ground, rushing for 165 yards and a score on 15 carries.

When healthy, Hill stood out as a prolific runner who could extend plays. He ranks fourth in total offense (9,744 yards) and fifth in career rushing yards (2,815) at BYU.

Honorable Mentions:

Tanner Mangum vs Boise State (2015)

No other BYU quarterback opened their career in as dramatic fashion as Tanner Mangum. He capped his first start against Boise State by tossing a go-ahead Hail Mary touchdown pass, only a week after doing the same thing against Nebraska. Mangum totaled 309 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-28 passing in a 35–24 win over the Broncos.

Robbie Bosco vs Pittsburgh (1984)

In his first start, Robbie Bosco led BYU to a 20–14 upset win over Pittsburgh in the 1984 season opener. Bosco totaled 325 yards on 25-of-43 passing and threw a game-winning touchdown to Adam Haysbert. He eventually led the Cougars to a national championship at season’s end.

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John Coon is a Utah native and has reported on sports in the Beehive State for more than a decade. After stints as a reporter with the Salt Lake Tribune and then the Deseret News, John became a full-time freelance writer and editor in 2011. He currently covers major sports at BYU and the University of Utah for the Associated Press. You can follow John on Twitter at @johncoonsports

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