PROVO, Utah — With a hobbled running back and an inexperienced offensive line, BYU has been relying on quarterback Max Hall, a Mesa Mountain View alum, even more than usual.
PROVO, Utah — With a hobbled running back and an inexperienced offensive line, BYU has been relying on quarterback Max Hall even more than usual.
Hall, a Mesa Mountain View alum, is in his third season carrying on BYU's quarterback legacy and has the seventh-ranked Cougars higher in the polls than they've been in 13 years.
Hopes in Provo are also higher and BYU fans will be in a frenzy if Hall can lead the Cougars (2-0) to a win over Florida State (1-1) on Saturday. It's BYU's home opener and a victory would give the Cougars non-conference wins over the Seminoles and Oklahoma.
"I think this year, we're just worried about ourselves and what we're doing," Hall said. "Everything else, we really can't control. We also know that all it really would take is one loss for us to drop out of there just like that."
The Cougars learned that a year ago when, after a few weeks in the top 10, a loss to TCU ended a 16-game winning streak and sent BYU tumbling from ninth to No. 18.
It also was the end to the Heisman Trophy hype that had building around Hall since he passed for seven touchdowns in a win over UCLA in the third game of the season.
Hall revived at least some of the Heisman talk when he led the Cougars to a 14-13 win over Oklahoma in their season opener. He was 26 of 38 for 329 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Cougars on a 16-play, 78-yard drive to take the lead on a short touchdown pass with 3:03 left.
For the season, Hall has completed 50 of 70 passes for 638 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Cougars have a rebuilt offensive line and played most of the first two games without running back Harvey Unga, who rushed for 1,000-plus yards in Hall's first two seasons. Unga has been out with a pulled hamstring and had just three carries last week after missing the opener.
BYU adjusted the offense over the summer after losing leading receiver Austin Collie to the NFL draft. Collie had 1,538 yards receiving in 2008, and caught 15 of Hall's 35 touchdown passes. The result has been more short routes that need less blocking time from the young line.
Not that Hall can't still throw it deep.
"It's harder for teams to know where the ball is going. I think in the first two games we've done a really good job of that," Hall said. "If we continue to do that and spread the ball around, so that the defense doesn't know what's coming next, it's going to give us a huge advantage on offense."
Hall played just three quarters last week and completed passes to 11 different receivers. Tight end Dennis Pitta, Hall's brother-in-law, has caught 11 passes and five others have at least five in the first two games.
"We're going to face a passer that's superior to anybody we've played so far," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said.
Hall is a senior, but will have only a three-year career with the Cougars. He redshirted one year at Arizona State, and after serving a Mormon church mission had to sit out a year when he transferred to BYU.
In 28 games for the Cougars, Hall has 65 touchdown passes and ranks No. 4 in school history with 8,443 career passing yards. Only Ty Detmer (15,031 yards), John Beck and Jim McMahon have thrown for more at BYU, and Hall could pass McMahon's total of 9,536 yards within a month.
Hall has the Cougars more relaxed than they were a year ago, when they won their first six games, then never really recovered after the TCU loss.
"We have a good time when we're on the field and I think that's one of the biggest changes in the program," tight end Andrew George said. "But the guy gets down to business. He plays hard. He plays harder than really anyone I've seen. He wants to win more than anyone I've seen. He wants to win at everything. It's not just football. He's really competitive."
Hall knows this is his last run at another Mountain West Conference championship and BYU's first appearance in a BCS. If the Cougars can beat Florida State on Saturday, then complete the regular season without a loss, they could conceivably be playing in the BCS title game.
BYU is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 1984 national championship season, and Hall would love to end his career by leading the Cougars to another title. But there are 10 more opponents to get through before that, and Hall knows better than to look too far ahead.
"All I'm concentrating on right now is being a good leader for our football team and making sure I do everything I can to help us win on Saturdays," Hall said, amid the Heisman and national title hype. "If I just keep doing that and keep winning, hopefully they'll be talking about that at the end of the season instead of at the beginning."