Last week, BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL argued that the Brigham Young Cougars offense should wait to fix the run game until the passing game was fine tuned. Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman did not heed this advice, and BYU worked on fixing the run game. After the UCF game, it is even more evident that working on the passing game is more important for BYU than the run game.
BYU had its best rushing game of the season against the UCF Knights, but at what cost? Jake Heaps had his worst passing game. Heaps passed for only 133 yards and his pass efficiency rating was terrible (74.0). The BYU offense had its second worst game of the season with only 260 total yards.
The only reason BYU won the game was vastly superior special teams. Take away the Cody Hoffman touchdown return, and BYU is down to 17 points. Take away Riley Stephenson’s great punting, and BYU doesn’t get such great field position for two other touchdowns.
BYU will never have a good enough running game to score a lot of points game after game after game. Against UCF, BYU used the run game to hold the ball for over 10 minutes in the second quarter, but got zero points to show for it. BYU doesn’t have the players to drive 70, 80, or 85 yards down the field to score if they primarily run the ball. No touchdown drive was longer than 38 yards against UCF. If the special teams had not set the offense up so nicely, BYU probably ends up with two more field goals.
The post last week demonstrated that a fine tuned BYU passing game is capable of beating the elite teams in the country. A fine tuned BYU run game is not. Just go back one year when BYU lost to number 4 TCU, 31-3. BYU could not move the ball in that game.
TCU will do the same this year against BYU if the passing game doesn’t make strides. Until Heaps shows some improvement, no team is going to respect the BYU passing game. They will load up the box to stop the run and make Heaps beat them. That was UCF’s attitude.
On one drive during that scoreless second quarter, the first play was a run for no gain. Heaps then completed a 19-yard pass to JD Falslev for a first down. The next play was another run, which lost a yard. Heaps then completed a 14-yard pass to Richard Wilson for a first down. A 2-yard completion followed. At this point, BYU had run the ball twice for -1 yard. Heaps completed all three of his passes, two of which were over 10 yards and resulted in a first down. UCF didn’t care. Stopping the run was still their first priority. On 2nd-and-8, BYU ran the ball and lost a yard, again. It was now 3rd down and 9 yards to go for a first down. Heaps threw an incomplete, and BYU punted.
UCF had no concern about Heaps stringing together several 10-20 yard completions to score a touchdown. The Knights knew that if they stopped the run and forced the pass, the BYU passing game would stop itself before it reached the end zone.
The passing game is just as important as the run game in the fourth quarter to control the clock and preserve a win. BYU had two chances to put the game away against UCF. First, with 8:46 to play, BYU took over at the 50. A touchdown would make the game 31-17, and essentially seal the win. Three run plays got a first down. On the next play, UCF stopped Bryan Kariya for no gain. Heaps then threw two incomplete passes. With 6:05 to play, BYU punted the ball back to UCF.
The Cougar defense got the ball back for the offense with 2:55 remaining. Running out the clock should be easy, especially when your opponent has only one timeout. BYU couldn’t manage a first down. A pass on 3rd-and-5 was completed, but for only four yards. A fine tuned passing game would have gotten six.
The passing game should be the top priority for the BYU offense. BYU cannot rely on special teams and defense to win every week. BYU needs to be competent at running the ball, but only for complimentary purposes. Until the passing game is fine tuned, BYU will continue to have drives stall, score few points, and need exceptional plays by the defense and special teams to win games.
That is not a formula for success.
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