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Friday, June 28, 2013

BYU Football Top 10 One Hit Wonders: #1 - Jay Miller

Editor's Note: Just as in years past, a list of honorable mention players is included at the end. 

Coaches like LaVell Edwards, Dewey Warren, and Doug Scovil get their fair share of credit for the Brigham Young Cougars becoming the greatest passing attack in college football. Quarterbacks Virgil Carter, Gary Sheide, and Gifford Nielsen also get the credit they deserve. One player who doesn't get the credit he deserves is wide receiver Jay Miller.

It might have been just one season, but the case can be made that without Miller the record-setting BYU aerial attack might have never gotten off the ground.  Although Edwards said from the onset of his coaching tenure that the Cougars were going to throw the ball, the BYU offense produced the nation's leading rusher his first year (1972). In 1973, Edwards found his trigger man in Sheide. What we all forget is that Sheide relied heavily on Miller.

Cody Hoffman was far and away the favorite target for Cougar quarterbacks in 2012 with 100 of BYU's 296 receptions (33.8%). That is nothing compared to what Miller meant to the Cougar offense forty years ago. Miller accounted for 42.6% of all passes caught in 1973 (100 of 235). Nearly half of Sheide's 177 completions were to Miller.

Miller was a sophomore in 1973. He came to BYU the year before from San Jose, California. As a reserve player in 1972 Miller caught just six passes for 30 yards.

He didn't possess any outstanding physical trait that would give him an advantage over defenders, but Miller was able to concentrate on catching the ball very well. Whatever else might be competing for his attention, at the time, he was able to block it out and focus solely on catching the ball. It also helped that Phil Odle, who owned every BYU receiving record in the book, stopped by to give Miller some pointers on route running.

BYU got off to a slow start in 1973. After three games the Cougars were 1-2. Miller was the only consistent performer on the offensive side of the ball with twenty receptions in the first three games (6, 6, 8, respectively). Sheide was injured for the season opener, but earned the starting spot by game four.

That is when the Cougar offense came to life.

Game four was against Iowa State. BYU lost that day, but many remember that as the day Sheide passed for over 400 yards and validated the idea that the forward pass was a viable strategy. What is often lost in that game is how Miller caught 12 passes from Sheide. Miller was now the nation's leading receiver in pass receptions.

It was only the beginning.

Two weeks later against Wyoming, Miller had 112 yards on six receptions. That, however, was just a warm up for the next week.

November 3, 1973, New Mexico came to Provo. Sheide had 408 yards passing on 32 completions. Twenty-two of those passes were caught by Miller. That was a new NCAA record. Miller ended up with 263 yards and three touchdown receptions. The receptions, yards, and touchdowns were all BYU records for a single game. It still is the best individual receiving game in BYU history.

Miller was recognized nationally for his play as the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated Lineman of the Week. He was also the WAC Offensive Player of the Week. 

That wasn't the last time Miller was more than 60 percent of the BYU passing attack. Two weeks later, Miller had 155 of Sheide's 244 passing yards against Weber State. He caught three of Sheide's four touchdown passes.

Two weeks later when the season ended, Miller led the nation in both receptions and receiving yards. He was a Universal Sports first team All-American, and Associated Press honorable mention All-American.

While Miller is BYU's greatest one hit wonder, he might also be the schools greatest story of what might have been. Miller seemed destined to erase all of Odle's receiving records, and set a standard so high that no player may reach it ever again. He still had two more seasons of eligibility after 1973.

Injuries were a huge problem for Miller. During 1973 Miller played most of the season with a broken toe and recurring heel problems. Miller was only able to muster eight receptions for 99 yards his final two years of eligibility (1974, 1976).

1973 Stats: 100 receptions, 1,181 yards, 8 TD
1972, 1974, 1976 stats: 14 receptions, 129 yards

Top 10 One Hit Wonders
10. Ray Crandall (1971), Jon Kormylo (1978)
9. Shane Hunter (2010)
8. Reynaldo Brathwaite (2003)
7. Ezekiel Ansah (2012)
6. Ben Cahoon (1997)
5. Ryan Hancock (1992)
4. Ethan Pochman (1996)
3. Ted Nelson (1970)
2. David Mills (1984)
1. Jay Miller (1973)

Honorable Mention
Steve Sanders, LB, 1985: 77 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 forced fumble, 2 QB hurries

Tim Adams, DL, 1989: 56 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble, 3 QB hurries

Vic So'oto, DL, 2010: 45 tackles, 5 sacks, 11.5 TFL, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble, 8 QB hurries, 1 interception

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com

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