Every aspect of the Brigham Young Cougars offense is under scrutiny this week after scoring less than 17 points for the third consecutive game. One aspect, the BYU run game, has been particularly poor the last two weeks. While the poor run game is cause for concern, fixing it should not be a priority.
The slow start for the run game is nothing new for BYU. This is, after all, the school that made a name for itself by revolutionizing the forward pass. Over the decades, BYU has won games on the road and beaten good teams without a competent run game. The chart below highlights the rushing yards and average yards per carry for some of these occasions.
Comparatively, BYU’s rushing stats the last two games were:
Texas: 43 yards, 1.9 yards per carry
Utah*: 11 yards, 0.5 yards per carry
* 29 yards, 1.4 yards per carry if the bad shotgun snap is taken out
The chart above provides 14 reasons why BYU should not make fixing the run a priority. BYU won, or should have won, all of these games in spite of averaging less than three yards per carry, and never totaling more than 80 yards rushing.
This does not mean that BYU should neglect the run game for the rest of this season. It only means that other areas of concern are more essential to fix right now.
BYU was able to win these games for two reasons: 1) Excellent defense, and 2) Excellent passing.
Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman wants the offense to have a balanced run-pass attack. As ideal as that may be, working on each simultaneously leads to the offense not being good at either one.
Throwing the ball came first at BYU for several years. When the season started, the quarterback was ready to throw for 300 yards the first week of the season—even if it was his first career start. Year in and year out, BYU had three to four receivers who were such great masters of their craft they could get open even if the opposing defense wasn't worried about BYU running the ball.
Right now, Doman needs to fine tune the passing game. Jake Heaps should not be missing open receivers. With Cody Hoffman, Ross Apo, McKay Jacobson, Marcus Mathews, Austin Holt, and Richard Wilson, BYU should be able to pass the ball even if the defense knows the next play will be a pass. The defense should be in a position where it loses no matter what it does. Fine tune the blocking schemes so the boys up front can pick up whatever blitz is thrown at them. Heaps needs to know his reads well enough that he can stay calm and collected in the pocket even when being blitzed.
The benefits of fine tuning the passing game will be substantial. Third down conversions will increase. Dumb, drive-killing penalties will decrease. Field goals will be replaced with touchdowns. There will be no need to get conservative with the play calling. Rather than stall after jumping out to a lead, BYU will be able to extend the lead and put games out of reach.
The tables have been turned. Last year, BYU put the passing game on the back burners for three games and heavily emphasized the run. When the time was right, BYU returned to the passing game. This year, BYU is back to its roots. The passing game is far ahead of the run game. For BYU to start scoring more points and winning games, the offense needs to commit to either the pass or the run. After achieving proficiency in one, then the offense can improve its ability at the other.
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