BYU offense needs to ignore the data and take pass first approach

As the BYU Cougars have tried to deal with injuries, inexperience, and inconsistent play, the offense has adopted a run first philosophy for much of the season. In a lot of ways, that was the logical thing to do.

Starting quarterback Tanner Mangum was out with injury. Wide receivers were also dropping passes. That led to offensive coordinator Ty Detmer preparing a run heavy game plan for the Utah State game. It produced 210 yards on the ground, and BYU jumped out to a 21-7 first half lead.

Ula Tolutau led the way that night with 102 yards rushing. A week later, following a loss to Boise State, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said, "We need to have someone we can hang our hat on, and I think his name is Ula Tolutau."

BYU RB Ula Tolutau carries the ball against Boise State (Isaac Hale, Daily Herald)

With Mangum still less than 100 percent and his replacement Beau Hoge now out with injury, Sitake's sentiments made perfect sense. Data also supported the run first game plan in the next two games against Mississippi State and East Carolina. The data says the same thing for San Jose State Spartans.

The Spartans are 128th in the nation in rush defense allowing 278.3 yards per game. In half of their games (four), opponents ran for over 300 yards (Texas had 406). Last week, Hawaii had a ball carrier eclipse the 200 yard mark.

According to the data, Tolutau should be in for a big game on Saturday. Well, with a 1-7 record on the season, it's time for Detmer to give the data to the dogs. BYU has proven it is the outlier, thus making the data irrelevant. Going into the game last week at East Carolina, the Priates were giving up 272 yards per game on the ground. BYU emphasized the run for three quarters and could only muster 102.

BYU QB Tanner Mangum throws a pass at Mississippi State (Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)

It is time for BYU to return to its roots and take a pass first approach. Opponents have zero respect for Mangum and the Cougars ability to move the ball through the air. That is the data that has proven to be correct. Therefore, the opposing teams have been able to make stopping the BYU run top priority, and BYU hasn't been able to make them pay.

At this point, BYU has nothing to lose. There are five games left in the season, and there is no identity. Next year won't be any better if the offense can't figure out an identity. How can the coaches recruit players to fill needs? How can the coaches develop new schemes if they don't know what player skill sets are available?

Flipping the script and getting back to a pass first game plan is in harmony with what Sitake said earlier this week. Speaking to the press on Monday, he said, "The goal is to be as aggressive as we can and develop an identity as a team."

Sitake continued, "I've expressed my concerns to the coaches and staff and ask that the players keep buying into our culture and team. ... I'm going to stay positive, but there is an urgency to get better now. We need to work hard and be more aggressive. I need everyone to buy into that philosophy.

"We need to score points, no matter what it takes. I'm giving free reign to our offensive staff to get it done and utilize the talent we have."

An aggressive offense is one with a pass first mentality. Those throws need to be all over the field, not just quick screens.

Quarterback is the most important position on offense. BYU thought it had a great one in Mangum, but he has not come close to resembling the player he was in 2015. Why? Is it lack of supporting cast? Has he regressed mentally? BYU needs to find out now, and determine whether the problems are correctable, or if the offense needs a new leader in 2018. If so, who will that new leader be: Hoge or Joe Critchlow?

Bottom line is BYU cannot beat even the worst teams without a respectable passing game. Tolutau is young and could have a great career, but in a supplemental role. The same role filled by Harvey Unga and Curtis Brown. Fixing what is wrong with the passing game will bring more overall, long-term success.

BYU is back in LaVell Edwards Stadium this week, and the offense needs to go back to an offense centered around the passing game.

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